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07/13/2005 Archived Entry: "Finkelstein v. Dershowitz"

An interesting scandal/controversy has been bubbling and still is brewing within academia concerning the forthcoming book "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History" by Norman G. Finkelstein -- a professor of political science at DePaul University. It is basically a full-frontal attack upon the ethics and scholarship of Alan Dershowitz...an attack that Dershowitz tried to kill through political pull and legal bullying. (Didn't he used to be a civil rights lawyer? What...he still is? Oh well, I lost respect for the man when he came out in favor of torture in a post-9/11 world.)

Some background on the Finkelstein/Dershowitz fracas... Wikipedia provides an overview of the origin, "Shortly after the publication of the book The Case for Israel, Norman Finkelstein accused its author, Alan Dershowitz, of 'fraud, falsification, plagiarism and nonsense.' Specifically, Finkelstein noted that in twenty instances that all occur within about as many pages, Dershowitz's book excerpts the same words from the same sources that Joan Peters used in her book From Time Immemorial, a book about the history of Israel that several critics have accused of distortion, and which Finkelstein had labeled a 'monumental hoax.' Several paragraph-long quotes that the two books share have ellipses in the same position, Finkelstein pointed out; and in one instance Dershowitz referenced the same page number as Peters, although he was citing a different edition of the source, in which the words appear on a different page... Finkelstein demonstrated in an October 3, 2003 letter to the Harvard Crimson that Dershowitz reproduced exactly two of Peters' mistakes, and made one relevant mistake of his own. Quoting Mark Twain, 'Dershowitz cites two paragraphs from Twain as continuous text, just as Peters cites them as continuous text, but in Twain's book the two paragraphs are separated by 87 pages'."

(The Wikipedia entry also offers extensive back-and-forth between Finkelstein and Dershowitz, as well as analysis of the possibility of plagiarism. For more on Finkelstein's critique of Dershowitz, see the former's homepage, which seems to be devoted to that subject. See also the subpage The Dershowitz Hoax.)

Dershowitz has gone to great lengths to try and kill the upcoming Finkelstein book. The Los Angeles Times explains, "Governors are asked by members of the public to do lots of things, but the request Arnold Schwarzenegger got from Alan Dershowitz in December was unique: to intervene with the University of California Press' plans to publish a book. Why does Dershowitz care? Because the book in question -- Norman Finkelstein's 'Beyond Chutzpah,' due out next month -- is harshly critical of Dershowitz... But Dershowitz's campaign against the book went beyond his letter to Schwarzenegger. He had his lawyers send belligerent letters to dozens of people who might have power over the process. "

Good news: the University of California Press is going ahead with the book and hopes to meet the original publication date of August 28th. Over the last few months, however, "Beyond Chutzpah" may have become the most vetted book in history. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, "Beyond Chutzpah" [has] been through several rounds of legal vetting. The University of California retained several outside lawyers, including American and British legal experts, to examine the manuscript along with its in-house counsel. Mr. Finkelstein said that the book had been through some 15 drafts in the past eight months." The University of California Press apparently took Dershowitz seriously when he said he would own them if they called him a plagiarist or claimed he did not write his own books. (Indeed, Finkelstein has claimed elsewhere that Dershowitz does not even read his own books.) In response, Dershowitz has launched his own vilification campaign against Finkelstein. For example, on July 5th the right-wing FrontPageMagazine published "Why is the University of California Press Publishing Bigotry?" by left-wing Dershowitz.

Meanwhile, the left-wing may well be deserting its former super-star lawyer. An article in the July 11 issue of The Nation asked, ''Why would a prominent First Amendment advocate take such an action?" -- referring to the attempt to bar "Beyond Chutzpah" from publication.

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