July 9, 2005

In News

By Marcella Bombardieri, Globe Staff

In the latest chapter of a fierce academic feud, Alan M. Dershowitz, the celebrity Harvard Law School professor, tried to pressure the University of California Press not to publish a book critical of Israel that also attacked his scholarship.

The press is publishing the book despite Dershowitz’s efforts, but with significant changes. The book will no longer include author Norman G. Finkelstein’s claim that Dershowitz did not write, ”The Case for Israel,” nor will it use the word ”plagiarize” in its argument that the Harvard law professor inappropriately borrowed from another work, according to the director of the press.

An article in the July 11 issue of the left-wing magazine The Nation asked, ”Why would a prominent First Amendment advocate take such an action?”

But Dershowitz argues that he wasn’t trying to quash the book altogether, just to fight back against libel and prevent the book from getting the imprimatur of a respected publisher. ”It should be published. Let it be devastated in the marketplace, but I don’t think a university press should be publishing this kind of garbage,” he said in a phone interview yesterday. ”Harvard University Press would never publish trash like that.”

Dershowitz sent letters, which he declined to provide to the Globe, to a variety of University of California Press officials, and even to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is an ex officio member of the University of California’s board of regents.

”I told the UC press, ‘If you say I didn’t write the book or plagiarized it, I will own your company,’ ” said Dershowitz, who argued that Finkelstein’s accusations are a ploy for publicity. ”The First Amendment protects mistakes that are inadvertent, but it doesn’t prevent willful lies.”

Finkelstein, who teaches at DePaul University in Chicago, wrote in an e-mail to Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan last year that his book would document that Dershowitz plagiarized ”The Case for Israel,” and that Dershowitz ”almost certainly didn’t write the book, and perhaps didn’t even read it prior to publication.”

Last year, Kagan asked former Harvard president Derek Bok to examine Finkelstein’s plagiarism allegation. Bok determined no plagiarism had occurred, law school spokesman Michael Armini said yesterday. Dershowitz also said that he refutes Finkelstein’s allegations in his own forthcoming book, ”The Case for Peace.”

Although advance copies of Finkelstein’s book, ”Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” have already distributed to some critics, the book has undergone further changes since then.

The edits were based not on Dershowitz’s efforts to fight the book, but simply on the desire to be careful, said Lynne Withey, director of the University of California Press. ”Clearly when you are challenging someone’s ideas and research methods, you have to be very careful that you are being completely accurate,” said Withey, who added that ”we wouldn’t be publishing this book if we didn’t think it was on very solid academic grounds.”

She said the book was reviewed by six outside readers, 20 University of California faculty members on the press’s editorial committee, and a fact-checker.

The editing process became so tense that at one point Finkelstein wrote on his website that Dershowitz had won. But the author and his publisher patched up their differences, and the editing is almost complete. In an interview yesterday, Finkelstein declined to discuss specific changes, saying that ”in my opinion, no matters of substance have been revised.”

”I do not see any claim of mine that has been withdrawn in the final version,” he added.

”Beyond Chutzpah” is to be published in August and has garnered laudatory publicity blurbs, like one from MIT linguistics professor and activist Noam Chomsky, who called it ”a very solid, important, and highly informative book.”

But Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, is an extremely controversial author. His book, ”The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering,” which argues that American Jews exploit the Holocaust, was trashed in 2000 by a review in the New York Times, which called it ”a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ which warned of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.”

Marcella Bombardierican be reached