Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Dershowitz-Finkelstein Affair

Shortly after the publication of the book The Case for Israel, Norman Finkelstein accused its author, Alan Dershowitz, of what Finkelstein called “fraud, falsification, plagiarism and nonsense." Specifically, Finkelstein noted that in twenty instances that all occur within about as many pages, Dershowitz's book excerpts the same words from the same sources that Joan Peters used in her book From Time Immemorial, a book about the history of Israel that several critics have accused of distortion, and which Finkelstein had labeled a "monumental hoax." Several paragraph-long quotes that the two books share have ellipses in the same position, Finkelstein pointed out; and in one instance Dershowitz referenced the same page number as Peters, although he was citing a different edition of the source, in which the words appear on a different page.

Table of contents
1 Responses and Opinions
2 The $10,000 challenge: Finkelstein & Dershowitz on Democracy Now!
3 Other accusations and replies
[1]">4 Similarities between Dershowitz's and Peters' references [1]
5 External links

Responses and Opinions

Dershowitz has responded that all of the excerpts were at least compared to, if not directly drawn from, authoritative texts, and that they are accurate; a claim that Finkelstein has chosen not to dispute. Dershowitz has also characterized the excerpts as quotations that historians and scholars of the region cite routinely, such as Mark Twain and the reports of government commissions.

The conclusion Finkelstein drew from the similarities was that Dershowitz had not researched his sources directly, but instead in twenty instances had used Peters' book and without crediting her. Finkelstein found a mis-attribution that he said supported this conclusion. In writing his book, Dershowitz had attributed an Orwellian neologism to Orwell himself, when actually Peters had coined it in her book in an allusion to Orwell, in which she mentioned him by name (her neologism "turnspeak" resembles the 1984 author's "Newspeak"). The mistake by Dershowitz, Finkelstein said, fit a pattern of cribbing from Peters while not crediting her. Academic propriety demanded that she be credited, he said.

On the basis of Finkelstein's comparisons, acerbic left-wing political commentator Alexander Cockburn joined him in concluding that Dershowitz had drawn his excerpts directly from Peters' book. This he characterized as unscholarly. Noting a footnote in which Dershowitz referred to the controversial status of Peters' book and said that he did not "rely" on it for "conclusions or data," Cockburn assessed Dershowitz furthermore as having more or less lied about what Cockburn and Finkelstein concluded he had done. Echoing Finkelstein's charge of plagiarism, Cockburn called on Harvard to fire Dershowitz as a professor.

Dershowitz replied to the various charges of academic impropriety at length (see [1]). Among various points of contention, he wrote that in fact he had not been reticent to credit Peters. "I cited her eight times in the first eighty-nine pages (Ch. 2, fn 31, 35; Ch. 5, fn 8; Ch. 12, fn 34, 37, 38, 44, 47)." He also disputed that in the twenty instances identified by Finkelstein the proper practice would have been to credit Peters, instead of the original source as he had done.

It appears that Harvard intends to take no action.

The $10,000 challenge: Finkelstein & Dershowitz on Democracy Now!

In a related dispute, Finkelstein rose to a challenge that Dershowitz had issued previously, where in defending his book Dershowitz had offered to donate $10,000 to the PLO in the name of anyone who could find a factual error anywhere within its 264 pages. In a confrontation that was broadcast on the radio, Finkelstein showed that a reference Deshowitz had cited for a count of between 2,000 and 3,000 emigrant Arabs actually gave the range as between 200,000 to 300,000. Dershowitz replied that the mistake could not have been intentional on his part, because he had used these numbers to counter a claim that no Arabs at all had emigrated during the interval he had been addressing, and because it would only have served his argument better to have gotten the numbers right. "Obviously, the phrase '2,000 to 3,000 Arabs' refers either to a sub-phase [of the emigration] or is a typographical error," Dershowitz said. Finkelstein was not persuaded.

Other accusations and replies

Dershowitz has asserted that Finkelstein's and others' accusations of plagiarism are insincere and that the real motivation is a dislike for his political advocacy for Israel. He linked the attacks on his reputation to accusations against Elie Wiesel and others, saying they represented an organized and well-funded effort. He also characterized them generally as baseless.

In particular he cited Finkelstein's accusation against Wiesel in the book The Holocaust Industry. Finkelstein called Wiesel a liar for claiming to have read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason in Yiddish. Finkelstein said no translation of the work existed in Yiddish at the time. Dershowitz responded that this was not so, asserting that one had been published in Warsaw in 1929. "The Harvard Library has a copy and Wiesel did read it," Dershowitz wrote.

Finkelstein describes this latter claim as false and inept, writing that the only Yiddish Kant text the library owns is a single-chapter of the Critique of Practical Reason--a different and far less renowned work than the one referred to by Wiesel and Dershowitz.


Similarities between Dershowitz's and Peters' references [1]

The Case for Israel p.17 Source cited: Palestine Royal Commission Report, pp. 11-12.

From Time Immemorial p.178

Source cited: Palestine Royal Commission Report, pp. 11-12.

Note both excerpts are somewhat misleading and commit the same error:

Palestine Royal Commission Report (i.e. the document that both books cite)

Occurs on p.11, not pp.11-12 as cited.

The Case for Israel p.20 Source cited: Wm. T. Young to Viscount Canning, January 13, 1842.

From Time Immemorial p.188

Source cited: Wm. T. Young to Viscount Canning, January 13, 1842.

External links