Accusations Fly in Academic Feud

Harvard Law prof tries to prevent publication of book about Israel

Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz has found himself at the center of an imbroglio involving issues ranging from anti-Semitism to the First Amendment after he tried to discourage the University of California Press from publishing a forthcoming book about Israel.

In the book in question, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” Norman G. Finkelstein—a professor of political science at DePaul University whose contentious positions on Israel and criticisms of the modern presentation of the Holocaust have angered many Jewish groups—argues that supporters of Israel deflect charges against the country by calling its critics anti-Semites.

An article in the Nation, set to appear on July 11, contends that Dershowitz, whose academic work is assailed in the book, made several attempts to persuade Finkelstein’s publisher, the University of California Press, not to publish “Beyond Chutzpah.”

Dershowitz, an outspoken critic of Finkelstein and no stranger to controversy himself, admitted to making such overtures, but said that his requests were not intended to bar the book’s publication entirely. Rather, he says, he tried to encourage the press to give “serious consideration” to publishing Finkelstein’s charge that Dershowitz did not actually write, and may not have even read, one of his own books, “The Case for Israel”—an accusation that Dershowitz calls “a clear, willful, and defamatory lie.”

The University of California Press has said it will move forward with plans to publish Finkelstein’s book in August—although the suggestion that Dershowitz did not read his book has been removed from the text.

According to Dershowitz, Finkelstein wrote an e-mail to Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan explaining that he would criticize Dershowitz in “Beyond Chutzpah.” But Finkelstein went further in the e-mail, reportedly writing that Dershowitz “has come to the point where he’s had so many people write so many of his books [that] it’s sort of like a Hallmark line for Nazis….They churn them out so fast that he has now reached a point where he doesn’t even read them.”

Dershowitz balked at Finkelstein’s words.

“That’s like being accused of being a child molester,” he said in an interview last week. “Any journalist has the right to make an honest mistake, but you do not write something you know is false.”

“I write every word by hand, and I have a hundred witnesses to prove it,” he added.

Finkelstein did not respond to requests for comment from The Crimson.

In reaction to the article in The Nation, Dershowitz offered an explanation that he hoped would clarify his intentions concerning “Beyond Chutzpah,” which he said he believes were distorted in the article.

“I want it to be published, but not by the University of California Press,” he said. “I think it should be published by a press that publishes this kind of trash….No legitimate newspaper and no legitimate publishing house would allow a knowingly false statement to be published.

“What is the University of California Press doing down in the gutter with this guy?” he asked.

Lynne Withey, the director of the University of California Press, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday that she “disagree[s] completely” with Dershowitz’s charge that the press is “getting down in the gutter” by publishing “Beyond Chutzpah.”

“Finkelstein’s book was reviewed by six outside experts and approved by our Editorial Committee, which consists of 20 [University of California] faculty, appointed by the university’s Academic Senate,” she wrote. “It is a thoroughly researched, very scholarly book. It just makes arguments that [Dershowitz] doesn’t like.”

Withey added that it was not clear to her whether Dershowitz only wanted Finkelstein’s book to be published by another press.