July 8, 2005
Accusations Fly in Academic Feud
By DANIEL J. T. SCHUKER
Friday, July 08, 2005
Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz has found himself at
the center of an imbroglio involving issues ranging from anti-Semitism to
the First Amendment after he tried to discourage the University of
California Press from publishing a forthcoming book about Israel.
In the book in question, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of
Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” Norman G. Finkelstein-a professor of
political science at DePaul University whose contentious positions on
Israel and criticisms of the modern presentation of the Holocaust have
angered many Jewish groups-argues that supporters of Israel deflect charges
against the country by calling its critics anti-Semites.
An article in the Nation, set to appear on July 11, contends that
Dershowitz, whose academic work is assailed in the book, made several
attempts to persuade Finkelstein’s publisher, the University of California
Press, not to publish “Beyond Chutzpah.”
Dershowitz, an outspoken critic of Finkelstein and no stranger to
controversy himself, admitted to making such overtures, but said that his
requests were not intended to bar the book’s publication entirely.
Rather, he says, he tried to encourage the press to give “serious
consideration” to publishing Finkelstein’s charge that Dershowitz did not actually
write, and may not have even read, one of his own books, “The Case for
Israel”-an accusation that Dershowitz calls “a clear, willful, and
The University of California Press has said it will move forward with
plans to publish Finkelstein’s book in August-although the suggestion
that Dershowitz did not read his book has been removed from the text.
According to Dershowitz, Finkelstein wrote an e-mail to Harvard Law
School Dean Elena Kagan explaining that he would criticize Dershowitz in
“Beyond Chutzpah.” But Finkelstein went further in the e-mail,
reportedly writing that Dershowitz “has come to the point where he’s had so many
people write so many of his books [that] 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.”
Dershowitz balked at Finkelstein’s words.
“That’s like being accused of being a child molester,” he said in an
interview last week. “Any journalist has the right to make an honest
mistake, but you do not write something you know is false.”
“I write every word by hand, and I have a hundred witnesses to prove
it,” he added.
Finkelstein did not respond to requests for comment from The Crimson.
In reaction to the article in The Nation, Dershowitz offered an
explanation that he hoped would clarify his intentions concerning “Beyond
Chutzpah,” which he said he believes were distorted in the article.
“I want it to be published, but not by the University of California
Press,” he said. “I think it should be published by a press that publishes
this kind of trash..No legitimate newspaper and no legitimate
publishing house would allow a knowingly false statement to be published.
“What is the University of California Press doing down in the gutter
with this guy?” he asked.
Lynne Withey, the director of the University of California Press, wrote
in an e-mail Tuesday that she “disagree[s] completely” with
Dershowitz’s charge that the press is “getting down in the gutter” by publishing
“Finkelstein’s book was reviewed by six outside experts and approved by
our Editorial Committee, which consists of 20 [University of
California] faculty, appointed by the university’s Academic Senate,” she wrote.
“It is a thoroughly researched, very scholarly book. It just makes
arguments that [Dershowitz] doesn’t like.”
Withey added that it was not clear to her whether Dershowitz only
wanted Finkelstein’s book to be published by another press.
“He tried to convince us not to publish,” she wrote. “I have to assume
that means he doesn’t want the book published at all.”
Dershowitz responded that he believes that the committee’s approval
reflects “a completely biased selection.”
“I have no objection to arguments on the merits, but Finkelstein has
refused to confront me on the merits,” he said. “I’m very confident in
the conclusions I made in “The Case for Israel.'”
Withey told Inside Higher Ed why the University of California Press
decided to remove Finkelstein’s suggestions that Dershowitz did not write
“The Case for Israel.”
“It was unclear the point he was trying to make, and he couldn’t
document that, so we asked him to take it out,” she said, noting that there
could have been multiple readings of the reference in Finkelstein’s
Dershowitz said he sees the press’ decision as a victory.
“They took it out because they knew that if the reference had appeared,
I would have sued them, I would have owned the University of California
Press, and the First Amendment would have been in fine shape,” said
Dershowitz, who is a well known defender of the First Amendment. “If they
say that I either didn’t write the book or that I plagiarized it, I
will sue them.”
The article in The Nation, written by Jon Wiener, a history professor
at the University of California at Irvine, struck a particularly
powerful cord because it implied that Dershowitz’s actions in this instance
make him a hypocrite.
“The way you challenge an untrue book is not to prevent its
publication, but to argue against it in print,” Wiener said. “If you go back to
John Stuart Mill.you don’t try to silence your opponents, you argue
“I think I’ve served the interest of the First Amendment,” Dershowitz
responded. “In America, you just can’t get away with writing false
stories about people.”
According to Wiener’s article, which was posted online on June 23,
Dershowitz’s lawyers sent letters to University of California demanding
that the press not publish the book, and Dershowitz himself asked
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and top administrators at the University
“No one as far as I can tell has tried to get a governor to intervene
in publishing a book,” Wiener said in an interview.
In last week’s interview, Dershowitz expressed his satisfaction with
the present outcome, saying that he hopes Finkelstein’s work will be
“judged in the marketplace of ideas.”
-Staff writer Daniel J. T. Schuker can be reached at