August 15, 2005
Editor’s note: A brief reply by Finkelstein is appended below.
STATEMENT OF ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ
Norman Finkelstein, and his publisher University of California Press (UCP), have undertaken a systematic media attack on me in order to generate publicity for an anachronistic and irrelevant book that would otherwise receive little or no attention. The Finkelstein book is largely about disputes between Amnesty International, B’Tselem and Israel regarding Israeli responses to suicide bombings during the period between 2000 and 2003. It also focuses on the proper method for citing sources (such as quotations by well-known authors that are quoted by other authors). Since the second intifada is now over and Israel and the Palestinians are moving toward peace, there is unlikely to be much interest in a book that deals with past disputes and footnotes, especially by an author whose previous books have been savaged by reviewers as inaccurate and distorted. In an effort to get the media to focus on this uninteresting book, Finkelstein and the University of California Press have accused me of starting a letter-writing campaign against the publication of Finkelstein’s book, which they claim endangers academic freedom. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the attached letter, which they deliberately mischaracterized, shows. The only threat to academic freedom comes from Finkelstein’s long history of baseless ad hominems attacks on the integrity of virtually every writer who supports Israel or justice for Holocaust survivors. As the UCP and Finkelstein well know, I have never tried to prevent Finkelstein’s book from being published. Indeed, I await its publication and its inevitable devastation in the marketplace of ideas.
My objection was two-fold: first, Finkelstein’s book is a self-proclaimed sequel to an earlier book that the New York Times described as “a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and which several reviewers characterized as bigoted and anti-Semitic. Finkelstein is a Holocaust revisionist who is lionized by neo-Nazis for his absurd claims that a worldwide Jewish conspiracy exists, headed by Steven Spielberg, Leon Uris, Elie Wiesel, Daniel Goldhagen and others. Almost no one—except neo-Nazis—takes him seriously. He suspects his own mother of being a kapo and cooperating with the Nazis during the Holocaust. Leon Weiseltier was correct when he characterized Finkelstein as follows: “You don’t know who Finkelstein is. He’s poison, he’s a disgusting self-hating Jew, he’s something you find under a rock.” The professor who stimulated Finkelstein’s “juvenile, self-righteous, arrogant and stupid” book on the Holocaust—Peter Novick of the University of Chicago—made the following statement about Finkelstein’s scholarship:
"As concerns particular assertions made by Finkelstein . . . the appropriate response is not (exhilarating) “debate” but (tedious) examination of his footnotes. Such an examination reveals that many of those assertions are pure invention. . . . 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."
Professor Novick called Finkelstein’s book “trash” and a “twenty-first century updating of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’”
Now Finkelstein has decided to write a book about Israel, a country he boasts of never having visited and says he knows “very little about.” This lack of knowledge surely shows in his work. Nor has he bothered to interview the relevant people on either side of these complex and divisive issues. When asked why he doesn’t conduct interviews or do original research, he responded, “Why should I interview people?” It is shocking that a university press would hide behind academic freedom in defending its decision to publish such trash by an author of such low scholarly repute. This is not about academic freedom—the University of California Press is free to publish whatever it chooses. It is about academic standards. Plainly, the University of California Press’s decision to publish Finkelstein’s drivel was influenced largely by sympathy for his radical ideology.
I have never tried to prevent publication of Finkelstein’s work, but I do not believe that it deserves the imprimatur of a university press. It should be published by the kind of publishers that have previously distributed some of his work in Europe, namely, those associated with bigotry and neo-Nazism. That is my opinion—an opinion shared by many—and I have the same right to express it as they do to publish his book.
Nor does academic freedom protect Finkelstein’s desire to publicize his shoddy work by making knowingly false and defamatory statements about me. My letter to the University of California Press was stimulated by an e-mail Finkelstein wrote to the dean of the Harvard Law School that included the following:
"I am right now completing a book manuscript for University of California Press, a large part of which is devoted to Alan Dershowitz. I spoke today to Sara Rimer who informed me that Harvard “completely exonerated” Dershowitz of all plagiarism charges…. My book will devote a full chapter to conclusively documenting Dershowitz’s plagiarism. I will also demonstrate that he almost certainly didn’t write the book, and perhaps didn’t even read it prior to publication."
In an effort to provoke me, Finkelstein has gone even further accusing me of not having written any of my books: “it’s sort of like a Hallmark line for Nazis…[T]hey churn them out so fast that he has now reached a point where he doesn’t even read them.” He has also compared me to Adolf Eichmann.
The First Amendment does not protect the dissemination of knowingly and willfully false and defamatory information, even about a public figure, nor should it. I sent the UCP my handwritten manuscript of The Case For Israel (I don’t type or use a computer. I wrote every word of The Case For Israel by hand) and there is not a single phrase or sentence in it that was “plagiarized.” Finkelstein knows this, but he also knows that leveling such charges garners publicity. I advised the UCP that there would be legal consequences if they persisted in publishing Finkelstein’s knowingly false statements, since such statements are plainly not protected by the First Amendment. They made the decision to remove these false statements—they claim on the basis of editorial considerations—but have decided to publish the book. It is interesting to note that the so-called panel of “scholars” who approved the Finkelstein book did so when the demonstrably false allegation that I didn’t write The Case for Israel was still in the manuscript. So much for their review process! Now they are determined to use me to try to try to generate media attention for the book. The U.C. Press has characterized the letter I wrote to them as “an attack on academic freedom.” In doing so they have issued a false press release claiming that I have somehow violated their academic freedom. Finkelstein has also put the following false headline on his website in order to generate media attention. “DERSHOWITZ WINS: University of California will not publish BEYOND CHUTZPAH.” Some media have, in fact, fallen for these ploys and have written articles about this contrived controversy.
I will no longer participate in this transparent ploy to gather media attention for Finkelstein and his publisher. I answer all of his charges fully in Chapter 16 of my forthcoming book The Case For Peace, to be published by Wiley in August. My book deals with important and current issues, such as the prospects for peace in the immediate future. Finkelstein’s deals with the irrelevant past that both Israelis and Palestinians are trying to put behind them. Let the marketplace judge our books. As far as I’m concerned, the public controversy is over and I will comment no further on the false charges leveled by Finkelstein and the UCP. Let them henceforth pay for their own publicity, instead of trying to get it on the cheap by launching phony attacks against me.
I will not debate Finkelstein. I have a longstanding policy against debating Holocaust deniers, revisionists, trivializers or minimizers. Nor is a serious debate about Israel possible with someone who acknowledges that he knows “very little” about that country. I will be happy to debate any legitimate experts from Amnesty International or any other human rights organization. Indeed, I have a debate scheduled with Noam Chomsky about these issues in the fall.
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