Dershowitz Foes Face Scrutiny

Denied tenure bid, cancelled speech latest fates for enemies of Harvard Law professor

A DePaul University assistant professor who publicly accused Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz of plagiarism in a 2005 appearance at Harvard Law School has received notification that he will be denied tenure in a decision upheld by his institution’s top official, according to a press release by the Chicago university.

Norman G. Finkelstein, the political science professor who also made the allegations of fraudulent scholarship concerning Dershowitz’s 2003 book “The Case for Israel,” saw his bid for job security denied on June 8. The tenure rejection came in part because of a record of “ad hominem attacks” that “divert the conversation away from consideration of ideas and polarize and simplify conversations that deserve layered and subtle consideration,” according to a notification letter from DePaul University President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider posted on Finkelstein’s Web site.

Dershowitz, in a May 4 Wall Street Journal piece entitled “Finkelstein’s Bigotry,” cited the plagiarism allegations—as well as the appearance of a “Hustler-type cartoon” depicting the law professor masturbating before images of dead Lebanese—as evidence of what he called “ad hominem, unscholarly, and extreme” tactics on the part of Finkelstein.

Two DePaul media relations officials declined to clarify further whether the “ad hominem attacks” referenced by Holtschneider alluded specifically to any of Finkelstein’s interactions with Dershowitz. But Finkelstein said in an interview with The Crimson that he “suspect[ed] that the attacks on Dershowitz resonated” at least in part in his being denied tenure. The ousted DePaul professor went on to say that he disagreed with Dershowitz’s claims that he had “commissioned” the off-color cartoon, while maintaining that the accusations of plagiarism he had leveled against Dershowitz were sound.

Finkelstein, whose tenure bid did receive the support of his department, also said that he believed Dershowitz “played the leading role in creating an atmosphere of hysteria” that ensured he would not be able to remain at DePaul, and that there were days when Dershowitz would send two to three e-mails to members of the political science department about him. During a phone interview with Finkelstein conducted by The Crimson, listeners in the background—whom the professor did not name but said were colleagues on the DePaul faculty—audibly expressed their assent regarding the copious extent to which Dershowitz circulated his testimony about the man that he has called a “fraudulent scholar” and a “Jewish anti-semite.”

Contacted for comment last week, Dershowitz said that his only interactions with those involved in the DePaul tenure litigations came in a September e-mail to the former chair of Finkelstein’s department. Dershowitz added that the e-mail—which outlaid what he deemed to be instances of Finkelstein’s flawed scholarship—came in response to a departmental request that he issue them an examination of Finkelstein’s work.

“I hope it was very influential,” Dershowitz said of his correspondence on the tenure decision at DePaul, adding that, having “prevented” Finkelstein from receiving tenure, he was “very proud of [his] work.”

In his recorded statements on the tenure decision, the DePaul official with the final say on the matter appeared intent on downplaying speculation that complaints by Dershowitz or anyone else from outside the university played a role in the outcome.

“I am well aware of the outside interest in this decision, and the many ways in which the university community was ‘lobbied’ both to grant and deny tenure,” Holtschneider wrote in his June 8 letter to Finkelstein. “Examining the written record, I am satisfied that the faculty review process maintained its independence from this unwelcome attention.”

EVOLVING CONTROVERSY

Academics in places other than DePaul have not been able to steer clear of the Finkelstein-Dershowitz conflict.

The Boston Globe reported in late May that Robert Trivers, a noted Rutgers University biologist, had a Harvard speaking engagement cancelled after publishing comments in the Wall Street Journal that referred to Dershowitz as a “Nazi-like apologist.”

The comments came in response to the May 4 Journal article by Dershowitz, in which the author quoted a message Trivers had sent him as support for his claim that “[Finkelstein] has encouraged radical goons to email threatening messages.”

Trivers adamantly maintained that when he did write to Dershowitz, decrying the law professor’s “rationalization of Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians,” his words did not come at Finkelstein’s behest. Finkelstein himself said that Trivers’ work was too mathematically impenetrable for the two to have much in common, and he confirmed that he did not know the noted biologist personally.

“I wish I could claim people of that stature as my friends,” Finkelstein said. “But…how could we be friends? I have no idea what he’s talking about [in his work]. We might as well be talking from Earth to Mars.”

Trivers had been scheduled to speak at Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics (PED) after a process which, he said, involved him being “pestered…and harassed” by PED Director Martin A. Nowak for close to three months.

After putting off a trip to Jamaica for a week so that he could give the lecture, Trivers said, he arrived in Cambridge on the day of the event and was told by Nowak only hours before he was due to speak that the date had been cancelled. A party, scheduled by PED to honor Trivers for his recent receipt of a prestigious scientific award, was also cancelled.

Nowak’s stated reason for the cancellation of both events, Trivers said, was that he had “called a Harvard professor a Nazi.”

According to Trivers, when Nowak was pressed to reveal who had made the decision, the PED director said that he had been “sworn to secrecy.” Nowak did not respond to repeated phone and e-mail requests for comment.

It was Nowak’s secrecy that suggested that the decision to cancel did not come “through regular administrative channels,” Trivers said, leading him to suspect that either Dershowitz—who sits as a faculty affiliate on PED—or Jeffrey E. Epstein—who donated $6.5 million to the creation of PED in 2003 and has retained Dershowitz as a defense lawyer against his 2006 indictment for soliciting prostitution—were responsible for the decision to cancel the speech.

Dershowitz said in an interview with The Crimson that he “would never urge” anyone to cancel a speech, and that in fact he had not been aware that there would be a speech—only a party. Upon being informed that there would be a celebration, the law professor said that he had informed PED that he would not be attending, but would instead stand outside and hand out copies of the message that Trivers had sent him to those entering.

His objection to Trivers’ letter, Dershowitz added, was not the invocation of Nazism, but instead the apparently threatening language that followed.

“Let me just say that if there is a repeat of Israeli butchery towards Lebanon and if you decide once again to rationalize it publicly, look forward to a visit from me,” reads Trivers’ transcription of the offending portion of the message.

Dershowitz said he believed that the message’s promise of a confrontation signaled a physical threat and that he had given it to the Harvard University Police Department upon receipt. He added that while he had not played a direct role in the cancellation of Trivers’ event, he thought that the decision had been made properly.

“I don’t think you should have a party at which a Harvard faculty doesn’t feel comfortable,” Dershowitz said. “I have a right to go anywhere at Harvard without feeling a risk to my bodily integrity.”

Trivers maintained that “no physical threat of any sort was intended,” and that he regretted not making the statement clearer “so that no fool could have thought I was planning to come up there and fight [Dershowitz], for God’s sakes.”

Epstein, the other party that Trivers pinpointed as potentially spearheading the decision to cancel his speech date, could not be reached for comment. Dershowitz said Epstein had “nothing to do with” the decision as far as he knew, although he conceded that he might have been embarrassed by the prospect of Dershowitz standing outside the event handing out letters.

—Staff writer Christian B. Flow can be reached at cflow@fas.harvard.edu