Behind Beyond Chutzpah: Professor's Allegations Sets Dershowitz In Motion

March 15, 2005

In News

by Steven Zeitchik, PW Daily — 5/17/2005

For years, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein have been feuding brutally and publicly. Now the fight is spilling over into publishing.

It’s a duel already responsible, at least indirectly, for one publisher pulling out from publishing Finkelstein’s book and for the author’s new house, the University of California Press, pushing it back several months.

The book, Beyond Chutzpah, is a point-by-point rebuttal of Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. It also continues allegations that Finkelstein has long made that the Harvard professor invented facts in, plagiarized parts of and in fact may even have not written his 2003 book The Case for Israel.

Finkelstein and Dershowitz have engaged in sniper fire for years, with the argument surfacing nastily on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now program two years ago. The two have deep ideological divides on Jewish issues ranging from Israel to cultural treatment of the Holocaust, with each considering the other a radical, to put it mildly.

But the most contentious claim this time is over the authorship of The Case for Israel, published by Wiley in August 2003. The evidence and counter-evidence is complicated but basically, Finkelstein’s charges stem from citations Dershowitz made of Joan Peters’ 1984 book on the subject From Time Immemorial, and turns on questions of primary and secondary sourcing. Finkelstein also disputes a number of facts in the book, which he says were distorted to serve Dershowitz’s ideological ends. Dershowitz, of course, says Finkelstein is doing the same thing.

The announcement of the book’s publication by the New Press prompted Dershowitz to send a number of letters to the publisher that the house’s Colin Robinson calls “extremely aggressive.”

While the letters did not make the house change its plans, the publisher did want to push back the book from spring to fall–because of the sensitivity, Robinson says, the house wanted to see the finished manuscript before it catalogued it–and Finkelstein exercised an out clause.

Beyond Chutzpah (a double-entendre meant to also refer to Dershowitz’s book Chutzpah), then went to the University of California Press, where the house scheduled it for June–and then quietly pushed it back to August. Somewhere in that time, Dershowitz sent several letters to the house in which he made “serious accusations about Finkelstein as a person and as a scholar,” according to someone familiar with the letters.

Dershowitz also sent letters to the office of governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (UC Press receives sate funding as part of the California school system.) A response from that office to Dershowitz obtained by PW shows that it reads, in part, that the governor “is not inclined to otherwise exert influence in this case because of the clear, academic freedom issue it presents.”

Dershowitz acknowledged sending letters to several parties but says that he simply wanted to draw attention to what he believes are factual errors. “My goal has never been to stop publication of this book, but to eliminate as many of the demonstrable falsehoods as possible through a careful vetting, which thus far the University of California Press has not to my knowledge done.”

For her part, UC publisher Lynn Withey says the book had indeed been fact-checked and given added rounds of peer and legal review. She says that the reason for the delay are that some changes needed to be made, but that they were not prompted by Dershowitz’s missive. “All of the changes have been editorial,” she says. She notes that the plagiarism case is now made in an appendix.

Some observers were puzzled by Dershowitz’s strategy of behind-the-scenes lobbying; as a legal tactic its track record isn’t very good, and as a press strategy it’s hardly much better. One source noted that its intention could be to get UC to remove explicit accusations that Dershowitz did not write A Case for Israel, which could be grounds for a libel suit from Dershowitz.

The house, Withey acknowledged, is walking a tightrope between rabblerousing and capitulating. “We really don’t want to get into a continued antagonism between these two authors, and they’ve been at each other for a while,” she says. “But Finkelstein has an important message and an incredible amount of documentation and an important argument that needs to be heard.”

This article originally appeared in the May 17, 2005 issue of PW Daily.