Dershowitz Accused Of Plagiarism

Law school professor denies he relied on another’s work

A DePaul University professor has charged Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz with committing plagiarism in his recent bestselling book The Case for Israel—an accusation that has set off a furious back-and-forth about what does and does not constitute plagiarism.

Norman G. Finkelstein first accused Dershowitz of plagiarism last Wednesday, when both professors were on a talk show called “Democracy Now!” to debate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The charge has also surfaced in the October edition of The Nation, in a column called “Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist,” which cites Finkelstein’s research.

In an interview this weekend, Finkelstein accused Dershowitz of “wholesale lifting of source material” from Joan Peters’ book, From Time Immemorial, in which she argues that Jewish settlements predated the arrival of Palestinians in what is now Israel.

Finkelstein wrote a book contesting Peters’ argument—which he dismisses as a “monumental hoax”—and says he is therefore very familiar with her text.

He said that when he read Dershowitz’s book he recognized a lot of material—more than 20 quotes cited to primary and secondary sources—which mirrored the quotes Peters selected for use in her 1984 book.

Finkelstein argues that even though Dershowitz attributes those passages to their original sources, he should not have relied so heavily on Peters’ work.

While Dershowitz acknowledged that Peters’s book was a resource he used in his research, he dismissed Finkelstein’s charge that this method of research amounts to plagiarism.

“He doesn’t charge that the quotes are untrue or inaccurate,” Dershowitz said in an interview yesterday. “This seems more like a coordinated attack on the book by people who have a strong opposition to the political and ideological issues presented in my book who are afraid to take me on with the merits.”

According to Harvard’s “Writing with Sources” manual, plagiarism “is passing off a source’s information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them; an act of lying, cheating, and stealing.” The manual suggests that a passage found quoted in another scholar’s work should be cited as “‘quoted in’ that scholar.” But it does not explicitly state how to source such a passage when one has returned to the original source to check the citation, as Dershowitz says he did.

In a statement in defense of Dershowitz, James O. Freedman—a former president of Dartmouth College and former dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School—says that Dershowitz, “when he uses the words of others…quotes them properly.”

Freedman cites the Chicago Manual of Style as saying that “with all reuse of others’ materials, it is important to identify the original as the source.”

In his book, Dershowitz points to Finkelstein as a propagator of the notion that “Jews have exploited the Holocaust to gain sympathy for a Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinians, who bear no responsibility for Hitler’s genocide against the Jews.”

Finkelstein declined to comment on his response to the case Dershowitz laid out in the book, but said his bone of contention is more scholarly—he speculates that the Harvard Law School (HLS) professor didn’t do his own research.

Finkelstein said that borrowing citations from Peters’ book is worse than borrowing from others because, he asserts, the book is biased and unreliable. “He not only plagiarized, but he plagiarized from a certifiable hoax.”

As an example, Finkelstein points to a Mark Twain quotation from Innocents Abroad used in both Peters’s book and Dershowitz’s book.

“Dershowitz cites the quote as appearing on the same pages that Peters’s [book] said they appeared on, which are 349, 366, 375, 441 and, 442,” he said. “But Dershowitz cites the quotation to the newest 1996 edition, where the quote appears on pages 485, 508 and 520. He didn’t even bother to check the page numbers.”

Dershowitz responded to this by saying that “the rule in my office is that we check against the original. My research assistant checked against the original, the words are correct, and I don’t know about the rest.”

Dershowitz said he has spoken with HLS Dean Elena Kagan about the accusations and has sent University President Lawrence H. Summers memos about the accusations and his defense.

Dershowitz said he worried that Finkelstein was sending “an insidious message that if you dare to write a pro-Israel book, you risk being called a plagiarist...or having your integrity attacked. This could easily frighten someone with tenure away, but in this case, they picked the wrong person. I have the resources to fight back.”

Finkelstein, who is an assistant professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, has gained some national attention for his accusations.

The October edition of The Nation included a column by Alexander Cockburn, entitled “Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist.”

In the column, Cockburn suggests that Dershowitz is not only a plagiarist, but also a hypocrite, accusing others of a “manufacturing of false anti-history.”

“I don’t make these charges cavalierly,” Finkelstein said. “But I feel very strongly in this case. And it is a disgrace of a book—if this book was made not out of paper but out of cloth, I wouldn’t even use it as a shmatte [rag].”

Dershowitz, however, remains confident about the merits of his manuscript.

When he spoke on MSNBC’s radio earlier this month, he pledged $10,000 to the Palestinian Liberation Organization if someone could “find a historical fact in my book that [one] can prove false.”

Finkelstein attempted to place an advertisement in The Crimson last week with a chart comparing Dershowitz’s quotations to those that appeared in Peters’ book, but The Crimson has not yet run the ad.

The newspaper has requested that several changes be made before the advertisement run, Crimson president Amit R. Paley said last night. According to Paley, Finkelstein is considering the modifications.

“When the Nation was concerned about putting the word ‘plagiarism’ in their headline, they sent my charts to their lawyer, and the lawyer said to go with the title,” Finkelstein said.

Finkelstein said that if The Crimson did not publish his first advertisement, he would take out a full-page ad challenging Dershowitz to a debate at Harvard on the merits of his book.

“I was waiting for The Crimson to publish this ad before I brought up the debate, so students could decide for themselves if this is plagiarism or scandalous scholarship or both,” Finkelstein said.

“If they don’t run it, they are protecting a professor…He is using Harvard’s name to purvey a hoax—he is shaming his institution.”

—Staff writer Lauren A.E. Schuker can be reached at schuker@fas.harvard.edu.