Dershowitz: I Never Suppressed Israeli Pilots’ Free Speech

To the editors:

I was surprised and disappointed to see The Crimson publish a story about Norman G. Finkelstein’s demonstrably false accusations against me without the reporter having called me to respond to these charges. I know that The Crimson, like other reputable newspapers, has a policy of giving the targets of an attack an opportunity to respond for purposes of the story. Had I been called and told that The Crimson planned to publish Finkelstein’s accusations of perjury and fraud, I would have reminded the reporter that Finkelstein accuses virtually every pro-Israel writer of these literary crimes. I also would have reminded the writer that when Finkelstein first made these accusations more than two years ago, I insisted that Harvard investigate them. Former Harvard President Derek C. Bok was appointed to conduct the investigation and found no plagiarism. Neither did James Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The Harvard Law librarian concluded that my use of citations was certainly correct. I also would have told the reporter that despite Finkelstein’s implication to the contrary, I cited Joan Peters eight times in my book and disagreed with her conclusions.

Following Finkelstein’s speech I was told by a student that Finkelstein had accused me of having recently flown to Israel “to advise their government on how to suppress the free speech of Israeli pilots.” I called The Crimson reporter and told her that was a lie. Now Finkelstein is claiming that it is true and he provided four sources to prove his point. One of the articles is in German and another in Hebrew, languages which Finkelstein does not read or understand. I have had them translated and neither of them supports his false allegation that I tried to suppress the free speech of Israeli pilots. The truth is, that I have repeatedly defended the right of Israeli pilots to publicize their disagreement with Israel’s policy of targeted killing, despite my personal disagreement with their views on the merits of the issue. Indeed, I have praised Israel for allowing such dissent even from its own soldiers. I have never—and would never—“advise[d] their government on how to suppress the free speech of Israeli pilots.” Finkelstein’s statement that I did so is a categorical and all too characteristic lie. I went to Israel to participate in, and encourage, the open marketplace of ideas about a controversial practice.

That is why it is important to heed the following warning of the historian Peter Novick, who, according to Finkelstein, inspired his scholarship: “No facts alleged by Finkelstein should be assumed to be really facts, no quotation in his book should be assumed to be accurate, without taking the time to carefully compare his claims with the sources he cites.” When one checks the sources, more often than not it turns out that Finkelstein just makes it up out of whole cloth.


Cambridge, Mass.

Nov. 7, 2005

The writer is Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.