Professor Dershowitz 'Rests His Case'

Letter to the Editors

I have proven beyond any doubt that what Norman Finkelstein and Alexander Cockburn have accused me of doing—properly quoting material I first came across in secondary sources to their primary—follows proper citation form and certainly does not constitute plagiarism (News, “Dershowitz Defends Book,” Oct. 2). They believe I should have cited the material as follows: “Quoted in Peters.” But the Chicago Style Manual specifically says that, “to cite a source from a secondary source ('Quoted in….') is generally to be discouraged, since authors are expected to have examined the works they cite.” I followed this preferred form, and Finkelstein and Cockburn know that. Why, then, have they attacked me? The answer lies in their documented history of leveling similar attacks on the integrity of many other writers who are either pro-Israel or favor justice for Holocaust survivors.

Finkelstein has called Elie Wiesel—whose lifelong devotion to peace and reconciliation earned him the Nobel Peace Prize—a “clown” (See Irish Times, July 1, 2003). He accused Wiesel of lying because Wiesel said that when he was 18 years old “I read The Critique of Pure Reason…in Yiddish.” Here is Finkelstein’s “gotcha” accusation: “The Critique of Pure Reason was never translated into Yiddish” (The Guardian, July 12, 2000). A fairly unambiguous charge. The only problem is that The Critique of Pure Reason was translated into Yiddish and published in Warsaw in 1929. The Harvard Library has a copy and Wiesel did read it. I have seen no apology from Finkelstein.

Nor has Finkelstein apologized for leveling false and disproved charges of “plagiarism,” “fraud,” “hoax,” “hucksterism,” “slipshod scholarship,” “blackmail,” and “profiteering” against some of the world’s most distinguished professors and writers, including Stuart Eizenstadt, Burt Neuborne, Gerald Feldman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Richard Overy, Abba Eban, Yehuda Bauer, Daniel Goldhagen and others. (Goldhagen demonstrated that Finkelstein “fabricated” charges against him, as he did with Wiesel and that “he has no credibility.” Frankfurter Rundschau, Aug. 18, 1987, cited on

Finkelstein has gone so far as to claim that someone else ghost wrote The Case For Israel for me. When I offered to produce my handwritten drafts—I do not type—he backed away from this fabrication, again without apologizing.

In an article in The Financial Times (Aug. 23, 2003), John Authors observed that, “Finkelstein appears to suffer from an almost total lack of self-control. His readers might find him harder to take seriously if they had watched him screaming questions as a heckler at the back of the audience.” They might also better understand his motive for attacking pro-Israel writers if they knew that he regularly compares Israel to “the Gestapo.” “I can’t imagine why Israel’s apologists…would be offended by a comparison with the Gestapo.” He suggested that [they] should be flattered by the comparison. (Ibid). No wonder Gabriel Schoenfeld, in an article in Commentary labeled Finkelstein’s views “crackpot ideas, some of them mirrored almost verbatim in the propaganda put out by neo-Nazis around the world” (Jan. 2001).

His academic colleagues and students apparently do not take him seriously, since—by his own admission—“I [Finkelstein] was thrown out of every [university] school in New York” and is “in exile in [DePaul University] in Chicago,” where he is “not happy” (Irish Times, July 1, 2003). He doesn’t understand why he has had such a “hard time.” Well maybe because he has leveled so many false charges against so many people that he has absolutely no credibility.

Alexander Cockburn deserves only brief mention, since his charges are all derivative of Finkelstein’s. Suffice it to say, that he too makes it a practice to attack prominent Jews who support Israel. His hit list includes the late Irving How, the late Senator Paul D. Wellstone, D-Minn., and Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. When asked whether he believed the “stories” that he reported were “sloshing around the news” involving Israeli complicity in 9/11 and in the Anthrax attack, his response was “I don’t know there’s enough exterior evidence to determine whether they are true or not.” (The New Republic Online 4/8/02). According to Franklin Foer, “Cockburn is the only prominent western journalist to give these slanderous stories any credence.” (Ibid). Columnist Jon Margolis, after exposing several false charges made by Cockburn, asserted that “Cockburn has been abusing reality for decades” and that “as an accuser, Joe McCarthy was more responsible” (Washington Watch, May 11, 1998.) In 1984, he was fired from The Village Voice for hiding a $10,000 “grant” he received from an anti-Israel organization (The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 18,1984).

These then are my accusers, who themselves now stand accused of including me in their long list of those falsely charged with literary crimes.

I will no longer dignify false and empty charges leveled by these serial fabricators. I rest my case.

Alan M. Dershowitz

Oct. 2, 2003

The writer is Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School and author of The Case for Israel.