The Real Issue Is Israel's Human Rights Record

August 26, 2005

In News

A statement by Norman G. Finkelstein upon publication of Beyond Chutzpah

Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University is currently best known
for his advocacy of the “most excruciating” torture against terrorist
suspects such as a “needle being shoved under the fingernails.”
The alleged purpose of this torture is to extract a truthful confession
but its real consequence, as human rights organizations have pointed out,
is to produce whatever statements are necessary to end the suffering.
For 15 months Dershowitz has applied a variant of this truth-seeking
technique — less physically painful but no less excruciating — to
prospective publishers of Beyond Chutzpah, which offers a critical
examination of Israel’s human rights record and Dershowitz’s defense of
it. Enlisting one of the most powerful law firms in the country after his
personal initiatives proved unsuccessful, Dershowitz has repeatedly
threatened to bankrupt highly respected publishers with litigation if
they didn’t cancel publication of my book. He could then proclaim that the
cancellation confirmed the “truth” that Beyond Chutzpah didn’t meet
scholarly standards.

Dershowitz justified these blackmail tactics on the ground that Beyond Chutzpah
libels him. Yet, when I first began to expose his gross scholarly misconduct,
Dershowitz publicly declared at UCLA (on 21 October 2003) that he wouldn’t
respond with a libel action because he believed “so strongly in the First Amendment
and full freedom of speech.” Ironically, just as he was threatening my publishers
with expensive and time-consuming lawsuits, Dershowitz denounced Holocaust denier
David Irving, who had sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel, with these words: “Before
Irving lost his case [against Lipstadt], several publishers had refused to issue
books critical of Irving, out of fear of his bringing expensive and time-consuming
lawsuits. That was a chilling of free speech” (Afterword to Lipstadt’s History on
; his emphasis).

My publisher, University of California Press, was understandably at great pains
to fend off a potential lawsuit by Dershowitz; for an academic publisher the
associated costs would have been ruinous, to the point of making certain victory
meaningless. On occasion our relationship became strained and at one point it
appeared as if we had reached an impasse. However, through the skillful mediation
of Nation magazine senior editor Roane Carey (who was the freelance editor of
Beyond Chutzpah) and others, a satisfactory compromise was reached that protected
the interests of both publisher and author, and, most importantly, preserved the
integrity of the book. I would like personally to extend my heartfelt thanks to
all who supported me and the press during this difficult period.

Unable to suppress publication of my book, Dershowitz has instead declared victory
on the ground that certain allegations about his scholarly misconduct have been
removed from the final text. Resorting to blackmail and censorship is not normally
reason for boasting. It’s also difficult to understand how the publication of a
book copiously documenting that The Case for Israel is among the most
spectacular academic frauds ever published on the Israel-Palestine conflict should
be cause for his gloating.

More to the point, is it accurate to state that allegations of mine have been removed?
An appendix to Beyond Chutzpah irrefutably demonstrates that Dershowitz not only
massively lifted information and ideas from another author, Joan Peters, without
attribution, but that he did so from a book, Peters’s From Time Immemorial,
universally dismissed as a fraud. It is left to readers to decide whether Dershowitz
committed plagiarism as defined by Harvard University — “passing off a source’s
information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them.” The appendix also
explicitly recounts my previous conclusion that Dershowitz didn’t have “a clue of his
book’s content” and that he was “manifestly ignorant of the content of his own book”
(Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 95, 254). Again, it is left to readers to draw the only possible
inference. In light of the comprehensive falsification of sources in
The Case for Israel that I have documented, Dershowitz might have been better
advised to disclaim authorship. As I stated to him on Democracy Now!, “For your
sake, I truly hope you did not write this book.”

Finally, I would like to comment on Dershowitz’s repeated claim that I stated that my
late mother was a Nazi collaborator (kapo). In an article for
(“Why is the University of California Press Publishing Bigotry?,” 5 July 2005),
Dershowitz alleged that “[Finkelstein] suspects his mother of having been a kapo (‘really, how
else would she have survived?’ he asks rhetorically),” while in a statement posted on
his Harvard University Law School webpage, Dershowitz wrote that “He suspects his own
mother of being a kapo and cooperating with the Nazis during the Holocaust”
( A more elaborate version of this
claim appears in his new book The Case for Peace:

Finkelstein even doubted his own mother’s denial that she was a kapo,
asking whether her frequent statements that “the best didn’t survive”
constituted “an indirect admission of guilt?” The most he was willing to
do was “assume” that his mother answered him “truthfully.” But he
questioned even that assumption: “Still, if she didn’t cross fundamental
moral boundaries, I glimpsed from her manner of pushing and shoving
in order to get to the head of a queue, which mortified me. . . . Really,
how else would she have survived?”

My late mother was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, Maidanek concentration camp and
two slave-labor camps. Every member of her family was exterminated. After the war
she was a key witness in an INS Nazi deportation hearing and at the trial of Maidanek
concentration camp guards in Germany (where I was also present). She has been written
up in many histories of these postwar hearings. Here is the excerpt from my memoir
that Dershowitz consulted to reach his conclusion:

Except for allusions to relentless pangs of hunger, my mother never spoke
about her personal torments during the war, which was just as well, since I couldn’t
have borne them. Like Primo Levi, she often said that, being “too delicate and refined,
the best didn’t survive.” Was this an indirect admission of guilt? Much later in life I
finally summoned the nerve to ask whether she had done anything of which she was ashamed.
Calmly replying no, she recalled having refused the privileged position of “block head”
in the camp. She especially resented the “dirty” question “How did you survive?” with
the insinuation that, to emerge alive from the camps, survivors must have morally
compromised themselves. Given how ferociously she cursed the Jewish councils, ghetto
police and kapos, I assume my mother answered me truthfully. Although acknowledging that
Jews initially joined the councils from mixed motives, she said that “only scum,”
reaping the rewards of doing the devil’s work, still cooperated after it became clear
that they were merely cogs in the Nazi killing machine. When queried why she hadn’t
settled in Israel after the war, my mother used to reply, only half in jest, that “I had
enough of Jewish leaders!” The Jewish ghetto police always had the option, she said, of
“throwing off their uniforms and joining the rest of us” — a point that Yitzak Zuckerman,
a leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, made in his memoir. (It was always gratifying to
find my mother’s seemingly erratic or harsh judgments seconded in the reliable testimonial
literature.) Still shaking her head in disbelief, she would often recall how, after Jews
in the ghetto used the most primitive implements or even bare hands to dig bunkers deep
in the earth and conceal themselves, the Jewish police would reveal these hideouts to the
Germans, sending their flesh-and-blood to the crematoria in order to save their own skins.
One of the first acts of the ghetto resistance was to kill an officer in the Jewish police.
On a sign posted next to his corpse — my mother would recall with vengeful glee — read the
epitaph: “Those who live like a dog die like a dog.” Still, if she didn’t cross fundamental
moral boundaries, I glimpsed from her manner of pushing and shoving in order to get to the
head of a queue, which mortified me, how my mother must have fought Hobbes’s war of all
against all many a time in the camps. Really, how else would she have survived?
(, “Haunted House”)

Comparing the actual text with his presentation of it gives a hint of how Dershowitz
typically reports sources in his publications. I will forgo comment on the moral
character of an individual who defames a survivor of the Nazi holocaust after her

Beyond Chutzpah is now on its way to bookstores. It is my sincere hope that the
repulsive sideshow created by Dershowitz will quickly be forgotten and that the
book’s real purpose will now come into focus: Israel’s horrendous human rights
record in the Occupied Territories and the misuse of anti-Semitism to delegitimize
criticism of it.

25 August 2005
New York City