Dershowitz In Panic Mode

May 19, 2005

In News


Publication of The Case for Israel has made me the target of vicious personal attacks. A systematic effort to discredit the book, and me, has been undertaken by a well-organized group of Israel bashers led by Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and Alexander Cockburn. As soon as the book reached the bestseller lists and began to get good reviews around the country, this triumvirate went to work. They had a model for their attack going back 20 years.

The mode of attack is consistent. Chomsky selects the target and directs Finkelstein to probe the writings in minute detail and conclude that the writer didn’t actually write the work, that it is plagiarized, that it is a hoax and a fraud. Cockburn publicizes these “findings,” and then a cadre of fellow travelers bombard the Internet with so many attacks on the target that these attacks jump to the top of Google. Because no one has thus far exposed the pattern, each attack may seem plausible on first impression. But when the pattern is examined and exposed, the entire enterprise becomes clear for what it is: a clear attempt to chill pro-Israel advocacy on university campuses by a form of literary McCarthyism.

Many people know who Noam Chomsky is. The jacket of one of his books describes him, without irony, as “arguably the most important intellectual alive.”[1] But some are also aware of the darker side of his record—including of supporting, praising, and working with neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers. Chomsky’s most notorious bedfellow is Robert Faurisson, who called the Holocaust a “hoax,” denied the existence of Hitler’s gas chambers, claimed that the diary of Anne Frank was a “forgery,” and described the Jewish claims for Holocaust reparations as a “fraud.” Chomsky leapt to Faurisson’s support, praising him as a scholar who had done “extensive historical research” and to describe his lies about the Holocaust as historical “findings.”[2] Chomsky did not see any “hint of anti-Semitic implications” in Faurisson’s claim that the so-called Holocaust was a fraud perpetrated by the Jewish people against Germany. Chomsky, the linguist, assured his readers that “nobody believes there is an anti-Semitic connotation to the denial of the Holocaust… whether one believes it took place or not.”[3] As Paul L. Berman summarized Chomsky’s record on these issues: “Chomsky’s view of anti-Semitism is positively wild. His definition is so narrow, neither the Protocols of the Elders of Zion nor the no-Holocaust delusion fit into it…. I am afraid that his present remarks on anti-Semitism and Zionist lies disqualify him from ever being taken seriously on matters pertaining to Jews.”[4]

Ever since his close association with neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers compromised his credibility on “matters pertaining to Jews,” Chomsky has tended to leave it to surrogates to continue his campaign of vilification against the Jewish community. His primary surrogate is Norman Finkelstein.

Chomsky has characterized Finkelstein as one of his “very close friends”[5] and “a very fine scholar.” (Chomsky has also characterized the work of Ward Churchill—the Colorado professor who called the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns”—as “excellent, penetrating and of high scholarly quality,” and his achievements as “of inestimable value.”) Chomsky has urged audiences “to come listen to” Finkelstein because he can speak about Israel “with more authority and insight… than anyone I can think of.” This, about a man who boasts of “publicly honoring” and showing “solidarity with Hezbollah,” the anti-American terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction by violence.

Finkelstein is a transient academic who describes himself as “in exile” at DePaul University because he has been—by his own account—”thrown out of every school in New York.”[6] He has been fired by Brooklyn College, N.Y.U., and several other schools for “incompetence,” “mental instability,” and “abuse” of students with politics different from his own, according to a high-ranking official at one of the schools. Finkelstein has admitted, “Never has one of my articles been published in a scientific magazine.”[7] And deservedly so, as Peter Novick, whose book The Holocaust in American Life Finkelstein has characterized as “the initial stimulus for [his] book,”[8] wrote: “As concerns particular assertions made by Finkelstein concerning reparations and restitution, and on other matters as well, 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.”[9]

Finkelstein has said that he “can’t imagine why Israel’s apologists would be offended by a comparison with the Gestapo”[10] and asserted that Israel’s human rights record is “interchangeable with Iraq’s” when it was ruled by Saddam Hussein.[11] He has said that most alleged Holocaust survivors—including Elie Wiesel—have fabricated their past, are “bogus,” and that those seeking reparations are “cheats” and “greedy.” Because of my support of Israel, he has compared me to “Adolf Eichman [sic],”[12] and accused me of expressing “Nazi moral judgments.”[13] When challenged to defend his frequent comparison between Jews and Nazis, he has responded, “Nazis never like to hear they’re being Nazis.”[14] He is a popular speaker among German neo-Nazis; one, Ingrid Rimland, whose husband, the notorious Ernst Zuendel, wrote The Hitler We Loved And Why, even referred to him admiringly as the “Jewish David Irving” (“Jüdischer David Irving”)—a reference to the British Holocaust denier and Hitler admirer. The comparison is apt because Finkelstein has reportedly praised the Holocaust-denying Irving as “a good historian!”[15] and as having “made an indispensable” contribution to our knowledge of World War II.”[16]

A German writer has observed that “seldom has a Jew been more celebrated by brown propaganda that Finkelstein.”[17] Another writer aptly described him as a Jew who “supports anti-Semitism.”[18] Gabriel Schoenfeld has labeled his views as “crackpot ideas, some of them mirrored almost verbatim in the propaganda put out by neo-Nazis around the world.”[19] His books do not sell in America, but they are best-sellers among the growing number of neo-Nazis in Germany.

The third member of this smear team is Alexander Cockburn. Cockburn has used his column at The Nation, and his online radical hotspot Counterpunch, to publicize many of their most outrageous claims. He himself is virulently anti-Israel. In 1984 he was fired from the Village Voice for hiding a $10,000 “grant” he received from an anti-Israel organization.[20] When asked whether he believed the “stories” that he reported were “sloshing around the news” involving Israeli complicity in 9/11 and in the anthrax attacks, his response was, “I don’t know there’s enough exterior evidence to determine whether they are true or not.”[21] Columnist Jon Margolis, after exposing several false charges made by Cockburn, asserted that “Cockburn has been abusing reality for decades” and that “as an accuser, Joe McCarthy was more responsible.”[22]

The story of this unholy alliance among Chomsky, Finkelstein, and Cockburn begins nearly 20 years ago with the publication of a book entitled From Time Immemorial, by a woman named Joan Peters. The book, an unlikely bestseller, was largely a demographic study of the population of the area that eventually became Israel. Peters’ conclusion was that the Arab political claim that the Palestinians who left or were expelled from Israel during the war of Independence (1947-1948) had lived in the area from time immemorial was exaggerated.

When Noam Chomsky learned of the Peters book, he became outraged because its thesis undercut his ideological opposition to Israel. He raised questions about whether Peters had actually written the book, claiming in print that it was “signed by Joan Peters,”[23] but “probably it had been put together by some intelligence agency….”[24] In describing the book, Chomsky totally distorted its content, alleging that it “purported to show that the Palestinians were all recent immigrants,”[25] that “there were really no Palestinians,”[26] and that “if Israel kicks them all out there’s no moral issue…”[27] Nowhere in Peters’ 622-page book does she make any of these claims. Chomsky telephoned Finkelstein, then a graduate student already notorious for the virulence of his anti-Zionism, and directed him to expose Peters’ book as “a fraud.” According to Finkelstein’s own account, Chomsky told him “that if I go through the book more carefully, [I’d] probably discover that the whole thing is a fraud.”[28] Any legitimate academic would have rejected Chomsky’s unscholarly directive out of hand, but not Finkelstein. Here is how he responded: “Well, you know, I’m a person of the left, and when you get a call from Professor Chomsky, his wish is your command.”[29] And, of course, Finkelstein granted Chomsky this wish: he “discovered” that Peters had concocted a “spectacular hoax,” a “fraud from start to finish.”[30] Exactly what Chomsky had directed him to find! Finkelstein also accused Peters of “plagiarism.”[31]

Having arranged for the hatchet job, Chomsky, who had not himself done any of the research, went even further than Finkelstein in publicizing Finkelstein’s alleged conclusions. He said that the entire Peters book “was completely faked” and that “the whole thing was a hoax”[32]—claims that Finkelstein had not come close to proving.

The third member of this nasty attack team, Alexander Cockburn, made similar claims. Cockburn wrote articles publicizing Finkelstein’s unfair attack against Peters. He characterized her conclusions as “fraudulent,” “mad,”[33] and immoral.

The Chomsky-Finkelstein-Cockburn mode of ad hominem attack proved particularly successful against Peters because the words “hoax,” “fraud,” “fake,” and “plagiarism” are so dramatic and unforgettable, as is the charge that Peters did not actually write the book, but merely signed a KGB-style forgery concocted by “some intelligence agency.” It did not seem to matter that none of these charges made by Chomsky, Finkelstein and Cockburn were even close to the truth. All Finkelstein had managed to show was that in a relatively small number of instances, Peters may have misinterpreted some data, ignored counter-data, and exaggerated some findings—common problems in demographic research that often appear in anti-Israel books as well.

To date, Finkelstein has targeted at least the following writers who support Israel and seek justice for Holocaust survivors: Elie Wiesel, Stuart Eizenstat, Martin Gilbert, Daniel Goldhagen, Burt Neuborne, Yehuda Bauer, Gerald Feldman, Richard Overy, Abba Eban – calling these distinguished Jews “hucksters,” “hoaxters,” “thieves,” “extortionists,” and worse. The pattern of attack is always similar.

Thus, it was only natural that the anti-Israel triumvirate would target me in a similar manner after the publication of The Case for Israel. The well-planned and carefully coordinated response to The Case for Israel employed exactly the same words they had employed so successfully against Peters (and others).

They first claimed—as they had with Peters—that I did not “write this book,” that I did not even “read it,” and that I “had no idea what was in the book.” Recently Finkelstein claimed that I don’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.… [I]t’s sort of like a Hallmark line for Nazis… [T]hey churn them out so fast that he has now reached a point where he doesn’t even read them.”[34]

The implication was that some Israeli intelligence agency or propaganda unit wrote it and had me sign it—as they claimed was the situation with Peters’ book. The problem for them is that I don’t type or use a computer, so that every word of the text was handwritten by me in my own handwriting—and I still have the manuscript. Even after I publicly offered to make the manuscript available for anyone to examine, Finkelstein repeated the false charge on a C-SPAN television broadcast.[35]

Well, if I did actually write it in my own hand, I must have copied it or plagiarized it. That was the next charge. And guess who I plagiarized it from? Joan Peters, according to Finkelstein, Chomsky, and Cockburn. The problem with their charge is that Peters’ book was entirely demographic and historical, whereas more than 90 percent of my book deals with contemporary events that took place after the publication of Peters’ book. The other, even more serious problem for them is that they could not come up with a single sentence, phrase or idea in my book that came from another source and was used without quotation marks, attribution, and citation. Indeed, I explicitly cited Peters’ book numerous times while disclaiming reliance on its conclusions because I disagreed with some of them. That, of course, means there was no plagiarism. But Finkelstein knew from his previous experience that the charge of plagiarism, if leveled, would be more likely to garner media attention than simple criticism of my conclusions.

In order to level this spurious charge, Finkelstein made up a false quotation, which he called the “smoking gun:”[36] “[I]n the proofs, it…says: Copy from Joan Peters.[37] It does…. There was no question about it.” He thus alleges that I instructed a research assistant to “copy”[38] from another author without citations. But he simply makes up the word “copy.” The note says precisely the opposite: “cite sources on pp. 160, 485, 486, footnotes 141-145.” The instruction is to be certain that the material is properly cited. This is not proof of plagiarism; it is proof of scholarship.

That is why James O. Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth, University of Iowa, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, concluded after reviewing the Finkelstein charge:

I do not understand [Finkelstein’s] charge of plagiarism against Alan Dershowitz. There is no claim that Dershowitz used the words of others without attribution. When he uses the words of others, he quotes them properly and generally cites them to the original sources (Mark Twain, Palestine Royal Commission, etc.) [Finkelstein’s] complaint is that instead he should have cited them to the secondary source, in which Dershowitz may have come upon them. But as the Chicago Manual of Style emphasizes:

Importance of attribution. With all reuse of others’ materials, it is important to identify the original as the source. This not only bolsters the claims of fair use, it also helps avoid any accusation of plagiarism.

This is precisely what Dershowitz did. Moreover, many of the sources quoted both by Dershowitz and Peters are commonly quoted in discussions of this period of Palestinian history. Nor can it be said that Dershowitz used Peters’ ideas without attribution. He cites Peters seven times in the early chapter of his book, while making clear that he does not necessarily accept her conclusions. This is simply not plagiarism, under any reasonable definition of that word.

Professor Charles Fried, the former Solicitor General of the U.S. and the Beneficial Professor of Law at Harvard, agrees, calling the Finkelstein accusation “stupid, unfair and ridiculous… from a biased accuser.”[39] The distinguished chief-librarian at Harvard Law School also concluded that I had done nothing improper. An inquiry by Harvard cleared me of any wrongdoing.

Finkelstein, of course, knows this, but he also knows that a false charge once made tends to stick, even if it has been authoritatively disproved. The media regards plagiarism as such an explosive charge that even absolute innocence is no defense. After the charge against me was authoritatively dismissed as wholly without merit, it continued to be recycled and even expanded. Finkelstein’s tiny accusation—that I cited Peters merely eight times instead of a dozen times in two small chapters totaling seven pages of my 264-page book—totally false as it is—has ballooned into a charge that I plagiarized “all” or “large parts” of my book from Peters, despite the fact that the majority of my book deals with events that occurred after the publication of Peter’s book. For example, here is what Chomsky has said: “large parts of the book were simply plagiarized from a well-known hoax….” It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The only new element in this tired tactic is the creative use of the Internet.

Despite his demonstrable lies, Finkelstein is a popular speaker at anti-Israel events on university campuses around the world. He is not quite as popular as Chomsky and Cockburn, but he is paid handsomely by student groups anxious to promote his anti-Zionist rants. The members of the McCarthyite triumvirate are invited to campuses far more frequently than centrist, moderate pro-Israel speakers. There is something very wrong with this picture, but now that the pattern of literary McCarthyism has been exposed, perhaps the picture will change.

[1] Noam Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants (Tucson: Odonian Press, 1993).

[2] Werner Cohn, “Chomsky and Holocaust Denial,” from eds. Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Anti-Chomsky Reader (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2004), p. 124.

[3] Scot Lehigh, “Men of Letters,” Boston Phoenix, June 16-22, 1989, p. 30

[4] Paul L. Berman, reply to “Chomsky: Freedom of Expression? Absolutely,” Village Voice, July 1-7, 1981, p. 13, 15.

[5] Eds. Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, (New York: New Press, 2002), p. 245.

[6] “‘I won’t lie down and take the insults,'” Irish Times, July 1, 2003, p. 13.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Norman Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry, p. 4

[9] Peter Novick, “Offene Fenster und Tueren. Ueber Norman Finkelsteins Kreuzzug,” in: Petra Steinberger (ed.): Die Finkelstein-Debatte, (Piper Verlag: Muenchen 2001), p. 159 (translated from German)

[10] John Dirlik, “Canadian Jewish Organizations Charged With Stifling Campus Debate,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April/May 1992, p. 43.

[11] Norman Finkelstein, “A Reply to Henry Kissinger and Fouad Ajami,” Link, December 1992, p. 8.

[12] Y.M.D. Fremes, “Interview with Professor Norman G. Finkelstein,” Palestine Chronicle, November 24, 2003.

[13] May 15, 2004, public forum at the Vancouver Public Library.

[14] Simon Rosenblum and Len Rudner, “In a nasty neighbourhood, Israel needs to be tough,” Record, June 16, 2003.

[15] Anne Applebaum, “The battle for the Holocaust Legacy,” Sunday Telegraph, July 16, 2000 (accessible at

[16] Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry, p. 71.

[17] Eds. Martin Dietzsch and Alfred Schobert, „Ein „jüdischer David Irving”? Norman Finkelstein im Diskurs der Rechten—Erinnerungsabwehr und Antizionismus” (Duisburg, Germany: Unrast Verlag), p. 6 (translated from German).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Gabriel Schoenfeld’s response to critics, “Holocaust Reparations,” Commentary, January 2001, p. 20.

[20] “Village Voice Suspends Alexander Cockburn Over $10,000 Grant,” Wall Street Journal, January 18,1984, p. 12.

[21] Franklin Foer, “Relativity Theory; Alexander Cockburn’s Dubious Theories,” New Republic, April 22, 2002, p. 12.

[22] Jon Margolis, “A treatise on columnist Alexander Cockburn,” High Country News, May 11, 1998.

[23] Eds. Mitchell and Schoeffel, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, p. 244 (emphasis original).

[24] Ibid., p. 245.

[25] Ibid., p. 244 (emphasis added).

[26] Ibid. (emphasis added).

[27] Ibid. (emphasis added).

[28] May 15, 2004, public forum at the Vancouver Public Library, “Is Criticism of Israel Anti-Semitic?” (accessible at

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32]Mitchell and Schoeffel, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, p. 245.

[33] Alexander Cockburn, “My Life as an ‘Anti-Semite,'” from eds. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, The Politics of Anti-Semitism (Oakland, Calif.: AK Press, 2003), p. 25.

[34]Norman Finkelstein ‘Ambushes’ Alan Dershowitz (Part II): theExperiment, Dec. 6, 2003, accessible at

[35] Book TV, April 11, 2004.

[36] May 15, 2004, public forum at the Vancouver Public Library.

[37] Finkelstein, “Israel-Palestine Conflict: Roots of conflict, prospects for peace,” Calgary, April 3, 2004

[38] Ibid.

[39] Lauren A. E. Schuker, “Dershowitz Defends Book,” Harvard Crimson, October 2, 2003, p. A8.

Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. His latest book is “Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights.”