Dershowitz Fires Back at His Critics

By Steven I. Weiss

Published May 20, 2005, issue of May 20, 2005.
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An academic battle simmering for two years is coming to a boil with the release next month of a new book taking aim at Harvard University professor Alan Dershowitz and his support for Israel.

In the new book, “Beyond Chutzpah,” DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein attempts to discredit Dershowitz’s 2003 bestseller, “The Case for Israel.” The title of the new books is a play on Dershowitz’s 1991 book, “Chutzpah,” which made the case for Jewish assertiveness in American life.

For two years, Finkelstein, author of “The Holocaust Industry” and a fierce critic of some Jewish organizations, has been using his Web site to criticize Dershowitz’s book, going so far as to argue that the Harvard professor failed to properly attribute material from Joan Peters’s book, “From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine.”

Dershowitz has vigorously defended the sourcing in his book and is firing back at Finkelstein.

In an essay recently published on the Web site, Dershowitz attacked Finkelstein, as well as Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn, left-wing pundits widely regarded as anti-Israel. Dershowitz argued that the three were guilty of “literary McCarthyism” in their attempts to discredit him.

“The mode of attack is consistent,” Dershowitz wrote. “Chomsky selects the target and directs Finkelstein to probe the writings in minute detail and conclude that the writer didn’t actually write the work, that it is plagiarized, that it is a hoax and a fraud. Cockburn publicizes these ‘findings,’ and then a cadre of fellow travelers bombard the Internet with so many attacks on the target that these attacks jump to the top of Google.”

While Dershowitz has only recently gone public with most of his complaints about Finkelstein, he has for some time engaged Finkelstein’s publishers with warnings about potentially defamatory material in “Beyond Chutzpah.”

“Beyond Chutzpah” is now with its second publisher, University of California Press. “Dershowitz’s interventions slowed the production schedule at New Press,” Finkelstein said. “Given the timeliness of the book, I switched to UC Press, which was able to promise an accelerated production schedule.”

However, Dershowitz claims that Finkelstein’s contract with The New Press was canceled after the publisher “concluded that the material was defamatory.”

Dershowitz said he has contacted UC Press in order to alert “them to any potential defamations.… I just wanted to make sure they were aware of the fact that a previous publisher had canceled a contract.”

Officials at The New Press would not comment on Finkelstein’s contract.

The director of UC Press, Lynne Withey, indicated that although the company plans to publish Finkelstein’s book Dershowitz had succeeded on at least one front: Withey told the Forward that any claim that Dershowitz did not write “The Case for Israel” would likely be removed from Finkelstein’s book. Finkelstein responded to Withey’s comments by saying, “The decision of the press, with which I fully concurred, was to focus on the egregious misrepresentations of the factual record in Dershowitz’s book.”

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