Dershowitz-Billiington et al. – Wiener exchange in The Nation

September 21, 2005

In News

Editor’s note: Finkelstein’s comment follows the letters below, pointing out curiosities such as:

“Billington et al. claim that they themselves checked Dershowitz’s references against the originals. Yet, they never explain how, if this was the case, The Case for Israel exactly reproduces Joan Peters’s errors of transcription from the originals, as I copiously document in Beyond Chutzpah.”

John Wiener’s original article: “Giving Chutzpah New Meaning“, The Nation, 06.23.2005.

This article can be found on the web at:

Tsuris Over Chutzpah
[from the August 29, 2005 issue of The Nation]
Cambridge, Mass.

Jon Wiener’s screed ["Giving Chutzpah New Meaning," July 11] is based on a
misrepresentation of my correspondence. I wrote to the directors of the
University of California Press (with a copy and cover note to the Governor)
emphasizing that "I have no interest in censoring or suppressing [Norman]
Finkelstein’s freedom of expression." In a further letter, I made it clear
that "I am not trying to get the Governor to prevent the publication of Finkelstein’s
book." The purpose of my letters was to encourage the UCP to give
"serious consideration" to its decision to publish a defamatory lie
(that I did not write The Case for Israel).

My letter was
stimulated by an e-mail Finkelstein sent to the dean of Harvard Law School
stating that he was "completing a manuscript for the University of
California Press" that will "demonstrate that [Dershowitz] almost
certainly didn’t write the book, and perhaps didn’t even read it prior to
publication." Finkelstein has gone even further, asserting that I didn’t
write any of my books: "[Dershowitz] has come to the point where he’s had
so many people write so many of his books…. it’s sort of like a Hallmark line
for Nazis…. they churn them out so fast that he has now reached a point where
he doesn’t even read them." (This was after he compared me to Adolf

Finkelstein knows
that I wrote every word of the text of The Case for Israel by hand (I do not
type, and I sent my handwritten manuscript to his publisher). He also knows
that Harvard–after an investigation, which I sought–dismissed his absurd
charges of plagiarism. Indeed, I was awarded a "dean’s prize" for
"exceptional scholarship" for a subsequent book. Neither the First
Amendment nor academic freedom protects knowing falsehoods, as the Supreme
Court said in New York Times v. Sullivan and as Finkelstein knows, since he
threatened to sue the Washington Post in 2002 for calling him a "Holocaust

The other purpose of my letter was to inform UCP what Professor Peter Novick, whose work stimulated Finkelstein’s book on the Holocaust, had said about Finkelstein’s
reliability as a scholar: "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."

Novick also concluded that the book, with its concoction of an international Jewish conspiracy, is a "twenty-first-century updating of The Protocols of the
Elders of Zion" and a piece of "trash."

I questioned whether a university press should be lending its imprimatur to a sequel to what
the Times also characterized as "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."

I wrote the UCP that "Finkelstein will have no difficulty having his defamatory bigotry
published by the kind of publisher who specializes in this kind of material and
whose imprimatur will not be misused by Finkelstein." Imagine if a
university press were contemplating the publication of a racist, homophobic or
sexist book. Many of Finkelstein’s supporters would be demanding that it be
censored in the name of "speech codes" and "political

In my sequel to
The Case for Israel, titled The Case for Peace — to be published in September — I demolish Finkelstein’s claims, proving that he has made up quotes and facts.
Finkelstein himself acknowledges that he has never been to Israel, knows
"very little about Israel" and conducts no original research or
interviews. It certainly shows in his work. I challenge Nation readers to read
my book and then judge.

Cambridge, Mass.

It is one thing
for Jon Wiener to launch a tendentious attack against Alan Dershowitz.
Professor Dershowitz thoroughly deals with the Wiener-Finkelstein line of
argumentation in his forthcoming book, The Case for Peace. It is another matter
altogether for Wiener to insinuate–without any substantiation at all–that
Professor Dershowitz’s research assistants are guilty of academic dishonesty.
We are deeply offended by Wiener’s implications that we would not check the
original sources cited in Professor Dershowitz’s books. For as long as any of
us can remember, the standard operating procedure in Professor Dershowitz’s
office has always been for us to check out or request the original sources from
the Harvard libraries.

It was
journalistically inappropriate for Wiener not to interview any of Professor
Dershowitz’s research assistants, who would have firsthand knowledge of what
his instructions to "cite" a source actually mean.

HOLLY BETH BILLINGTON (research assistant 2002-2004)
ERIC CITRON (2003-2004)
C. WALLACE DeWITT (2004-2005)


Irvine, Calif.

What Alan
Dershowitz did had previously been unthinkable: ask a governor–in this case,
Arnold Schwarzenegger–to intervene with a publisher’s decision to publish a
book–in this case, the University of California Press’s decision to publish a
book by Norman Finkelstein criticizing Dershowitz. The governor, to his credit,
refused. His office replied to Dershowitz, "You have asked for the
Governor’s assistance in preventing the publication of this book," but
"he is not inclined to otherwise exert influence in this case because of
the clear, academic freedom issue it presents." Thus the star of The
Terminator sought to teach a lesson about academic freedom to a Harvard law

Dershowitz now
quotes from what he says is a "further letter" to the governor
explaining that he didn’t really mean what he said in his original letter. When
I interviewed him, I asked for a copy of this "further letter," but
he refused to let me see one–which made me and my editors wonder whether it
was real.

Dershowitz says
he didn’t want to prevent UC Press from publishing the book in question, but
other letters show this isn’t true. He had his lawyers send belligerent letters
to dozens of people who might have power to block the book. For example, a
letter from Dershowitz’s attorney Rory Millson of Cravath, Swaine & Moore
was sent to Lynne Withey, director of the UC Press, declaring that "the
press’s decision to publish this book" was "wholly illegitimate"
and "part of a conspiracy to defame" Dershowitz. It concludes,
"The only way to extricate yourself is immediately to terminate all
professional contact with this full-time malicious defamer."

The UC Press
decided to publish Finkelstein’s book after a demanding review process. The
manuscript was sent out for peer review by six leading scholars in the field;
then publication was recommended by a committee of twenty UC faculty members.
This manuscript was also reviewed by several libel attorneys. Dershowitz
apparently hasn’t seen the forthcoming book, but nevertheless he’s sure the
dozens of people who reviewed it for the press are wrong. But even if he’s
right about that, seeking to stop its publication is a violation of the
author’s freedom of speech and a challenge to the academic freedom of the
University of California. The appropriate response to speech that is wrong is
not to silence it but to argue against it–because nobody has a monopoly on the
truth, not even Alan Dershowitz.

But all this is
not really about Alan Dershowitz. It’s about Israel. Norman Finkelstein’s book,
Beyond Chutzpah, which I’ve read in galley form, is harshly critical of
Dershowitz’s book The Case for Israel, taking on his defense of Israel’s
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Finkelstein challenges Dershowitz by
citing mainstream groups like Amnesty International, the Israeli human rights
organization B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch. The book is a series of
juxtapositions–arguments by Dershowitz on Israeli practices of torture,
assassinations, treatment of Palestinian children and water and land rights,
followed by refutations from human rights organizations. The cumulative effect
is a devastating portrait of widespread Israeli violations of human rights
principles and international law.

Dershowitz leaves
it to his student research assistants to respond to charges of academic
dishonesty. Finkelstein argued that Dershowitz lifted twenty footnotes in his book
The Case for Israel from another book (Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial),
without indicating that’s where he found them. According to the definition of
plagiarism at Harvard, where Dershowitz teaches, plagiarism is not just quoting
someone without attribution–it is "passing off a source’s information,
ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them."

My article quoted
Dershowitz’s instructions to Holly Beth Billington: "Holly Beth: cite
sources on pp. 160, 485, 486 fns 141-145." He was referring to footnotes
in Joan Peters’s book–thus claiming Peters’s research as his own work. That
would make him guilty of academic dishonesty. When I asked Dershowitz about
this, he said, "I went to the Harvard library," found and read the
original sources–which made it OK, he said, not to run a footnote that
included the phrase "cited in Peters." Now Billington et al. say they
are the ones who went to the library–not Dershowitz himself. If they are
right, that makes his statement to me untrue.

Billington et al.
say I should have asked them about this. But I don’t need to interview Holly
Beth to find out what "cite" means; that’s in the dictionary–and
it’s different from "go to the library and check."


Finkelstein comments:

Alan Dershowitz has repeatedly stated that his barrage of letters regarding Beyond Chutzpah were prompted by and in reaction to an email I sent Dean Kagan of Harvard Law School in December 2004.  Yet Dershowitz first began issuing his threats eight months earlier to New Press, my original publisher, which received three multi-page single-spaced letters from him between April and June 2004 alone. It’s cynical pretense that an e-mail of mine provoked
him. It’s also unclear why, if his motives were benign, Dershowitz marked his letters “PERSONAL, CONFIDENTIAL AND-OFF-THE-RECORD COMMUNICATION – NOT FOR PUBLICATION,” and why he’s adamantly refused to make publicly available his correspondence with New Press, University of California Press and Governor Schwarzenegger.

Holly Beth Billington et al. express indignation that Wiener impugned their academic integrity. This display of indignation poses problems, however:

(1)    Holly Beth’s name first came up
in connection with the Dershowitz plagiarism charge on 15 December 2003 in the
same Nation letters page (“Dershowitz Redux,” “Cockburn Replies”). If she’s so shocked and appalled by these accusations, it’s a wonder that it took her nearly two years to respond to them;

(2)    One might reasonably infer that
the six signatories to the above letter were Dershowitz’s research assistants
for The Case for Israel.  Yet, a
check of the acknowledgments page shows that only two of these witnesses worked
on the book. The others only
became his research assistants after publication of the The Case for
Israel. (On the other hand, four
of the six named research assistants listed in The Case for Israel did not sign
the above letter.) It’s peculiar
that they would publicly attest to his “standard operating procedure” for The
Case for Israel when they had nothing to do with it and Dershowitz would almost
certainly have changed his operating procedure after the toxic fallout from The
Case for Israel. Incidentally, if
Dershowitz’s operating procedure in The Case for Israel was standard, then it
would seem legitimate to assume that his prior publications were similarly

(3)    Billington et al. claim that they
themselves checked Dershowitz’s references against the originals. Yet, they never explain how, if this
was the case, The Case for Israel exactly reproduces Joan Peters’s errors of
transcription from the originals, as I copiously document in Beyond
Chutzpah. No one who actually
checked the originals could have made these identical errors.