"A case of plagiarism?" from Globe and Mail (Toronto)

October 4, 2003

In News

by Nomi Morris
p. D20

How do you take a free-flowing debate of the type common at dinner
tables and on TV talk shows and translate it into a book-length
essay? If you are a journalist, you weave quotations and examples
through the text to bolster your case. If you are a Harvard law
professor like Alan Dershowitz, you also painstakingly footnote
every point, lending an air of academic scholarship to the work and
presumably insulating you from censure.

The Case for Israel has 13 pages of tightly printed footnotes which,
annoyingly, allow Dershowitz to somewhat sloppily cite many facts,
figures and opinions without their sources being clearly evident. A
few flips to the book’s notes was enough to placate this reviewer.

It therefore came as a surprise to learn that Dershowitz was accused
of plagiarizing from a 1984 work by Joan Peters, From Time
Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine.
Peters’s name appears nowhere in Dershowtiz’s chapters on the early
demographic make-up of the area which became Israel. But she is
cited in several footnotes, the first including a rather cryptic
additional note: “Peters’ conclusions and data have been challenged
. . . I do not in any way rely on them in this book.” Other
quotations from Peters are cited back to their original sources,
among them Mark Twain’s writings on his travels in the Middle East,
and the British Peel Commission report of 1937.

Dershowitz’s main accuser is Norman G. Finkelstein, a political
science professor at DePaul University in Chicago who has long been
pitted against Dershowitz on the opposite side of the
Israel-Palestinian debate. Finkelstein, who has written a rebuttal
of Peters’s book, called Dershowitz “a plagiarist” while both were
on a talk show. “He not only plagiarized, but he plagiarized from a
certifiable hoax,” Finkelstein told the Harvard Crimson student
newspaper. Finkelstein also tried to get the newspaper to run an ad
showing what Dershowitz allegedly lifted from Peters. Alexander
Cockburn, another intellectual opponent of Dershowitz’s, then used
Finkelstein’s research for an article in the Oct. 13 issue of The
Nation (Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist).

Not surprisingly, Dershowitz came back kicking, calling Finkelstein
and Cockburn’s charges “biased, ideologically driven accusations
leveled by two rabid anti-Israel polemicists.” In a letter to the
Harvard Crimson (Sept. 30), Dershowitz enlisted the aid of James O.
Freedman, former president of Dartmouth. He wrote: “There is no
claim that Dershowitz uses the words of others without attribution.
…he quotes them properly and generally cites them to the original
sources.” Dershowitz has said that Finkelstein’s action shows “that
if you dare write a pro-Israel book, you risk . . . having your
integrity attacked.”

It bears noting that this type of controversy is rampant on
campuses. Dershowitz hardly shied away from attacking several fellow
academics in his book. He attacked Finkelstein, but was most
aggressive toward his nemesis, MIT linguistics professor Noam
Chomsky. Of course, the arguments get even messier when the players
are Jewish, which provokes whispered charges of either blind loyalty
to Israel or the “self-hating Jew’” syndrome. Dershowitz was rather
bold in devoting a chapter to Jewish and Israeli champions of the
Palestinian cause, being careful not to label all such activists as
self-hating Jews — but concluding that they abet the enemy. There is
a Jewish saying which is a self-mocking tribute to diversity of
thought: “Put two Jews together and you get three opinions.” A
modern-day addendum might be that when you put two Jewish professors
together you get at least three books, several articles and possibly
a lawsuit.


“Dershowitz v. Israel-bashers”
Globe and Mail (Toronto)
4 October 2003
by Nomi Morris
pp. D19-D20

The Case for Israel
By Alan Dershowitz
Wiley, 264 pages, $29.95

There is the Arab-Israeli conflict. And there is the war of words
that swirls around it, in which each side seeks to convince the
larger world of the justice of its cause — and to denigrate the
legitimacy of the other side’s claims. Alan Dershowitz, outspoken
Harvard law professor best known for defending difficult clients
such as Klaus von Bulow and O. J. Simpson, decided it was time he
issued a spirited defence of Israel. In his foreword, he writes that
he has been formulating this book since 1967, motivated by the rabid
anti-Israel rhetoric he has encountered for years on campuses around
the world. He is also justifiably concerned about the integrity of
international agencies such as the United Nations, which apply a
double standard to the Jewish state on issues of war and human

The Case for Israel, with a blue-and-white Star of David on the
cover that suggests the Israeli flag, will particularly hit the spot
for supporters of Israel who have long felt the Jewish state is
singled out for unfair treatment in the court of public opinion and
whose outrage over the past three years of suicide bombings is the
prism through which they view the conflict. “It is the thesis of
this book that no nation in the history of the world that has faced
comparable threats to its survival — both external and internal —
has ever made greater efforts at, and has ever come closer to
achieving the high norms of the rule of law (human rights and civil
liberties),” Dershowitz writes. “Yet no civilized nation in the
history of the world, including totalitarian and authoritarian
regimes has ever been as repeatedly, unfairly and hypocritically
condemned and criticized by the international community as Israel
has been over the years.”

He opens his argument by saying he is critical of many Israeli
policies and is a believer in a two-state solution. But, he tells
us, that is not what this book is about. This book is to set the
record straight, to balance the radically pro-Palestinian writings
of influential academics such as Columbia literature professor
Edward Said, who died Sept. 25, and MIT linguistics professor Noam

The book is organized in 32 chapters, each opening with one of the
“slurs, slanders and misrepresentations that have been hurled at
Israel over the years,” such as: European Jews displaced
Palestinians, Jews exploited the Holocaust, Israel created the Arab
refugee problem, Israel tortures Palestinians, Israel is a racist
state. Under the heading The Proof, Dershowitz rebuts each item,
sometimes with incisive brilliance, sometimes with the same kind of
strident hyperbole used by Israel’s detractors. The result is a
stellar example of what is known in Israel as hasbara. Literally
translated from Hebrew as “explanation,” hasbara would be called
“public relations” by its professional practitioners — many of them
Israeli diplomats and American Jewish leaders. It might be
translated as “propaganda” by others who are more concerned with how
to end the war itself than how to win the war for public opinion.

Dershowitz’s book is far too sophisticated to be dismissed as mere
propaganda. But it is a polemic. And like every good polemic, it
succeeds through selection, omission, philosophic extrapolation and
comparisons with other countries and historical events — and by
presenting debatable premises as incontrovertible fact. Since the
book’s appearance, Dershowitz has boldly offered $10,000 to anyone
who can prove he has written something inaccurate.

But when it comes to the Middle East, there is often a fine line
between outright inaccuracy and differing interpretations of the
same event. For instance, Dershowitz, like many Israelis and
Americans, takes Yasser Arafat’s rejection of Israel’s peace offer
at Camp David in July 2000, as proof that Palestinians are still
bent on eliminating the Jewish state. After all, it marked the third
time this century Palestinians had rejected a two-state solution
(the earlier occasions were the Peel Commission recommendations of
1937 and the UN partition plan in 1947). Few would deny that Arafat
made a tragic mistake in walking away from the last serious peace
talks and in opting, yet again, for violence. But that doesn’t mean
the Palestinians were never serious about accepting a mini state in
the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Dershowitz gives no analysis of the
1993-2000 Oslo peace process and the degree to which Israeli land
confiscations, daily Palestinian checkpoint humiliations, Israeli
settlement activity and other factors had fatally eroded Palestinian
trust in Israel’s intentions. By the time Arafat and his cronies
actually got to Camp David, they were on very shaky ground in terms
of their own domestic support. And a few Palestinian negotiators
have since revealed they genuinely feared they were being misled by
some of the maps and numbers presented by the Israelis.

The Case for Israel succeeds admirably in most of what it sets
forth. Its failing is what is left out. For instance, Dershowitz
gives short shrift to the entire issue of Israeli settlements and
the role they played in undermining Palestinian good will during the
Oslo years. He gives the settlements a cursory six-paragraph chapter
in which he says, “Although I am personally opposed to the
settlements, I do not believe they are the real barrier to peace.”

His “case” is most satisfying in its historical sections, offering a
cogent summary of the demographics of the region between 1882 (the
first major influx of Jewish settlers to Palestine) and 1948 (when
Israel declared statehood). Israel’s original settlers were not
“imperialist” agents of great powers Britain and France, but Jewish
refugees from Europe, who bought — and did not steal — land that was
largely free of permanent (rather than migratory) inhabitants.

Dershowitz is also correct in asserting that Palestinian nationalism
— even the notion of a Palestinian nation — arose in the late 1950s
and early 1960s, long after the establishment of Israel. Previously,
local Arab aspirations were articulated by pan-Arabism, which was
ascendant in the region, and local Arab inhabitants considered
themselves part of larger Syria.

The book is also convincing in its premise that terrorism has worked
for the Palestinians over time, and that it would be immoral for
Israel and the United States to reward terrorism by offering any
concessions before there is a major crackdown by the Palestinian
leadership on groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This is Ariel
Sharon’s basic operating philosophy, which has been completely
accepted by the Bush administration.

Likewise, Dershowitz conducts a useful discussion of moral
relativism, bemoaning attempts to equate Palestinian suicide attacks
against Israeli civilians with Israeli army operations to crush
Palestinian combatants, which often result in Palestinian civilian
deaths. “Both are wrong, but the former is far more culpable than
the latter, because of the differing purposes,” he writes. “No
civilized society regards premeditated first-degree murder as
morally equivalent to negligent homicide.” This is a fine argument
on the philosophical level. But the experience of the past few years
has showed that Israel’s often harsh crackdowns in Palestinian
territories have utterly failed as a deterrent to terror or as a
motivator for the Palestinians to abandon violence. Winning the war
of words on this point is a hollow victory indeed when the result on
the ground is to radicalize further the Palestinian population.

But the major omission in Dershowitz’s otherwise laudable tome is
any acknowledgement of Israel’s relative strength in the region,
however hard won it was. Dershowitz argues as if Israel’s very
existence is currently as threatened as it was in 1947, when, in
fact, Israel’s last war of survival was the 1973 Yom Kippur war. No
doubt, three years of suicide attacks have leveled a psychological
blow to Israel unparalleled since 1973. But the second Palestinian
uprising does not threaten the existence of Israel any more than the
attacks on the World Trade Center signaled the imminent demise of
the United States.

I’m not saying Israel should be punished for the skill of having
survived and thrived. But nowhere in Dershowitz’s philosophical
musings does he pose the question: If two children are fighting over
a finite number of marbles, how should the parent intercede if the
older, larger, stronger child is holding onto the bulk of the
marbles and won’t let go as the younger, angry child keeps hitting
and hitting?

I’m not convinced Dershowitz or anyone else in the year 2003 need
prove Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. It has been an
internationally recognized fact for 55 years, which even the most
vociferous European critics of Israel would acknowledge as a
starting point. It is only fringe intellectuals and Muslim
extremists who argue otherwise. And leading up to the 2000 Camp
David talks, even most of the Arab world had grudgingly accepted
that Israel was here to stay. (The Gulf states for example, could
not wait to begin doing business with the Jewish state.)

Still, Dershowitz has convinced me that in some circles his book is
sorely needed. It should be required reading in university Middle
East courses and for diplomats heading to the region. It has
provided a genuine service by laying out the Israeli and Jewish
perspective on the history of the conflict. It may well be the
perfect volume to hand to, say, a neighbour with little knowledge of
the Middle East who is upset by television images. It may be just
the gift for, say, a European intellectual whose post-Second World
War anti-militarism has jaundiced his view of modern Israel.

But for those already steeped in the arguments of the Arab-Israeli
conflict, for those who have investigated on the ground, far beyond
the war of words waged in ivory towers in greater Boston, there is
much missing here.

I, for one, await a forward-looking sequel of more than the
seven-page summary Dershowitz offers at the end of this book. I
would like to see America’s leading defence lawyer go beyond making
the case for Israel. I would like to see him write The Case for

*Nomi Morris, who has followed the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1976,
was Middle East bureau chief for Knight Ridder Newspapers,
1998-2001. She covered the July 2000, Camp David talks and the first
year of the current Palestinian uprising, which has so far lasted
three years.*