October 21, 2005
[Editor’s note: Readers’ letter(s) to Tom Segev follow this article.]
Sharon recommends a book
By Tom Segev
21/10/2005 | Haaretz.com
Alan Dershowitz is a leading, famous lawyer who teaches at Harvard University. He is known as “a friend of Israel.” Norman Finkelstein is a professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago. He is known as “an enemy of Israel.” Currently, both have new books out in the United States in which they vilify each other in the basest and most personal way. Finkelstein’s book
paints Dershowitz as a Zionist scoundrel who “lifted” most of his arguments from another Zionist scoundrel.
Dershowitz’s book paints Finkelstein as a mentally unbalanced anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and
promoter of terror.
Combined, the books are spread over 578 pages and retail for close to $50 (plus tax). Israel
and the Palestinians are secondary characters; the main protagonists are Dershowitz and
Finkelstein themselves. Their egos overflow on every page. It’s embarrassing and funny –
and worth every cent.
The Dershowitz-Finkelstein duo has a long history. Dershowitz says that Finkelstein
essentially started out as a puppet of the renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, who has
long been one of Israel’s most prominent critics. This lends a more apt, local
dimension to this war between the forces of light and darkness: Chomsky teaches
at MIT, which like Harvard is situated in Cambridge on the banks of the Charles
River, which separates Cambridge from Boston. The local Boston Phoenix newspaper
is fond of covering this drama. But Finkelstein is a big boy now, too, and
already speaks for himself.
Both of these professors are Jews who do not live in Israel and who tend to
identify reality with what they read and write themselves. Both are captive to
the faith that ascribes supreme importance to the written and spoken word.
Therefore, they frequently argue about what they – and others – have written
and said, and invest mighty efforts in learned prefaces and footnotes, accusing
each other of distortions and fabrications. History is important to them and so
is the Internet. Dershowitz has 483,000 mentions on Google; Finkelstein has only
195,000. But look how it starts, Dershowitz writes: Already at the top of the
Google search list, there’s a site that slams him.
It’s important to Dershowitz to convey the impression that supporters
of Israel like him are subject to terror on the part of McCarthyites like
Finkelstein. Israel supporters are fearful and keep quiet, he maintains.
Finkelstein also wants to come across as an underdog; people are trying
to shut him up, he maintains. Neither one of them is shutting up, that is for sure.
Each derives his success from the clear label that identifies him as “for”
or “against” Israel. Dershowitz previously published a best-seller, which
was translated into several languages, including Hebrew, entitled
“The Case for Israel.” Finkelstein attributes a wonderful statement to
Dershowitz that the latter doesn’t deny: “Almost all criminal defenders,
including most of my clients, are factually guilty of the crimes they have
been charged with.” But, being the good defense attorney that he is, he
presents Israel as pure as the driven snow, with all of its transgressions
seemingly having evaporated.
Finkelstein burst onto the scene with an odd book that portrayed Israel as
the little sister of Nazi Germany. It should come as no surprise that
Finkelstein’s books are widely read in Germany, says Dershowitz, neglecting
to mention that the German edition of his book isn’t doing too poorly,
either. Finkelstein’s new book, “Beyond Chutzpah,” was written in response
to Dershowitz’s book. He attacks Dershowitz for not having learned anything
from the appalling reports about Israel by human rights organizations,
including Israel’s B’Tselem organization. But it appears that, above all,
he is out to prove that Dershowitz “lifted” his arguments from another
dubious book – “From Time Immemorial” by Joan Peters (which has also been
published in Hebrew). Peters sought to prove that a majority of the Arabs
came to the Land of Israel only after the Zionists started to make it bloom.
Middle East historian Yehoshua Porat examined Peters’ sources and found that
some were fabricated. More than 20 years have passed, but Finkelstein and
Dershowitz are still bickering about the book as if it just came out
yesterday. Dershowitz rejects some of Peters’ claims. But he and Finkelstein
aren’t arguing about her thesis, rather about the question of whether
Dershowitz properly cited quotations from her book or “lifted” them instead.
It’s apparent from Dershowitz’s writing that some of Finkelstein’s findings
embarrass him. He responds with a harsh personal attack on Finkelstein. Thus,
for their $22.95 plus tax, book buyers suddenly find themselves treated to
a discussion of whether Finkelstein’s mother was a kapo at Auschwitz. Not
many pages later comes an extensive discourse on the origins of the name
“Ari Ben-Canaan” the hero of Leon Uris’ “Exodus.”
Dershowitz is quicker: Finkelstein is still arguing with the Harvard
lawyer’s last book while Dershowitz already has a new one out in the
stores, called “The Case for Peace.” Now it turns out that Dershowitz has
only been pretending to sound like a rightist. In fact, both professors
believe that the land of Israel must be divided into two states. This
places both on the center-leftist side of the public debate in Israel
and fleetingly opens a big window of opportunity, with a glimmer of hope
shining on the horizon: Perhaps there is a chance for a peace process
between the two professors.
And now, pay attention here, dear students, because the plot thickens:
The book jacket for Dershowitz’s latest offering bears warm,
sales-promoting words of recommendation by none other than a reader
named Ariel Sharon. He praises Dershowitz’s support for Israel, his
opposition to terror and his defense of peace: “Alan Dershowitz has
been in the forefront of making the case for Israel and against
terrorism. Now he turns his attention to making the case for peace.
He understands, as I do, how difficult it is to achieve peace with
security. He confronts these difficulties with insight and with the
benefit of years of experience.”
With all his years of experience, in his book Dershowitz advocates a
simple way to resolve the conflict: a withdrawal from the West Bank
and the dismantling of settlements, in accordance with the Camp David
and Taba proposals; the stationing of an international force; a
division of Jerusalem. The Arab part, including the mosques on the
Temple Mount, would come under Palestinian sovereignty. Israel would
preserve its sovereignty over the Jewish parts. The other sections of
the Old City would be “relatively easy to divide,” he writes.
Gosh, the answer is so easy and simple. Why didn’t anyone think of
it before? If Mr. Sharon, who praised Dershowitz so highly, also
agrees, perhaps even Finkelstein will be satisfied. Now there’s a
question for the Prime Minister’s Office.
Its careful and reproachfully worded response consists of five points:
“1. The statements that appear on the cover of Mr. Dershowitz’s book
were approved by the Prime Minister’s Office; 2. The aforementioned
paragraph refers to Mr. Dershowitz and not to his book; 3. Mr.
Dershowitz was told that the statements are ascribed to Mr. Sharon as
a private person and not as the prime minister of Israel; 4. The
statements were made without any connection to the specific book,
whose content was not and is still not known to us; 5. For the sake
of removing any doubt, it should be emphasized that Mr. Dershowitz’s
recommendations [for a solution], as they appear in your question,
are totally opposed to the stance of the prime minister and he
absolutely does not endorse them.”
And so, dear students, apart from what we’ve learned today about
the two professors in America, we have also learned that what you
see looking out over the Charles isn’t the same as what you see
looking out over the Jordan.
From: “Jonah Seaman”
Subject: Sharon Recommends a Book: A Reply
Date: Fri, 21 Oct 2005 21:44:23 -0400
Dear Tom Segev,
I am a reader of your books and articles in Haaretz. I have recently
read your article “Sharon Recommends a Book” regarding the conflict
between Alan Dershowitz and Norman Finkelstein. As one who has been
following this controversy for some time I feel obligated to point
out several things. While the conflict between Dershowitz and
Professor Finkelstein has taken on a personal nature that does not
mean that the debate is without value or that the two positions are
equitable: both are right or both wrong.
I have taken this passage from Richard Lourie’s novel, “The
Autobiography of Joseph Stalin” told from the Stalin character’s
point of view:
No less a person than George Bernard Shaw has written to the
Secretary of the British Committee for the Defence of Leon Trotsky:
“The strength of Trotsky’s case was the incredibility of the
accusations against him…But Trotsky spoils it all by making the
same sort of attacks on Stalin. Now I have spent nearly three hours
in Stalin’s presence and observed him with a keen curiosity, and I
find it just as hard to believe that he is a vulgar gangster as that
Trotsky is an assassin.”
Of course, there’s a terrible flaw in the logic of people like
Shaw. They see that the accusations made against Trotsky are wild
and grotesque, Therefore, they can’t possibly be true. So far,
correct. Then they see that the accusations made by Trotsky against
Stalin are also wild and grotesque. Logic dictates that Trotsky’s
accusations against Stalin must also be way off the mark. No longer
correct. What I have already down and what I am now doing far
exceeds anything their imagination’s capable of. They just don’t
have the range.
I feel that your article makes the same mistake that the Stalin
character points in George Bernard Shaw. Because Dershowitzs’ claims
about Finkelstein being a Neo-Nazi, and anti-Semite, Holocaust
Denier, etc. are grotesque and false, then Finkelstein’s own
assessments of Dershowitz (which have been verified) being a liar,
plagarizer, and fraud must also be false. This is not the case.
Someone who is forceful, even combative in telling the truth is not
equivalent to someone is forceful and combative in asserting a lie.
A strong opinion, even one influenced by personal feelings, is not
necessarily wrong. And Finkelstein has demonstrated, backed up by an
enormous amount of evidence, that Dershowitz and his arguments are,
simply put, bunk.
“Beyond Chutzpah” is meticulous in assessing Dershowitz’s claims and
finds that his facts are wrong and his logic twisted. Throughout
Dershowitz’s “Case for Israel” he cites sources to back up his own
claims but as Finkelstein points out, the sources he cites are of
dubious nature and trustworthiness and most do not in anyway support
Regarding everything from allegations of Palestinian suicide bombers
being infected with Hepatitis-B and HIV, through Jenin, the Peel
Report and on, Finkelstein demonstrates that Dershowitz manipulated
and distorted the facts, and the sources Dershowitz’s cite actually
prove Dershowitz wrong, to say nothing of the sources Dershowitz
refused to cite: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International,
B’Tselem, even Israeli papers like Haaretz.
Regarding “From Time Immemorial,” Dershowitz has at numerous points
used the same citations as Joan Peters, quoting entire passages of
Mark Twain (the EXACT same passages as Peters) and while he claimed
to cite them from a different edition of Twain, the page numbers
cited in Dershowitz’s notes are identical to the ones Peters used,
despite the fact that the passages are on different pages in the two
While Dershowitz has on paper claimed to support a two-state
solution, his actions are utterly opposed to it. During a Referendum
in Cambridge and Sommerville in 1988, which advocated condemning
Israeli human rights abuses in the West Bank and favored the
creation of a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories,
From the Washington Report of Middle East Affairs:
Dershowitz, urging a “No” vote in the referendum said: “What we
don’t want is a one-sided attempt to de-legitimate, indeed destroy,
Israel’s very existence. It should come as no surprise to many of us
that those who favor this resolution also favor the dismantling of
Israel. It only calls for action against a country which, on a list
of human rights complaints and violations would, by any standard,
rank in the top 10 percent around the world.”
In an erroneous attack on Arab countries in general, Dershowitz
claimed, “There hasn’t been an election in any Arab state since the
beginning of history.” Dershowitz further astonished his audience by
seeking to equate Arab courts and laws with Israeli occupation
procedures. He claimed that “Every single prisoner in every Arab
country is administratively detained.”
He added, without explanation, that “The US would suffer horribly
for having a Palestinian state in the Middle East.”
Looking at the facts, one is left with two choices: That Alan
Dershowitz is a distorter, a liar or is the unknowlegable person to
have ever picked up a pen and written on the Middle East. In other
words: Dersh is either lying or stupid. And it simply is not
possible to be that stupid.
To: “‘Norman Finkelstein'”
Date: Sat, 22 Oct 2005 09:39:11 -0500
“The only place I have ever been where all the Jews are stupid is Israel.”
The Israeli Jew Tom Segev seems rather determined to prove the American Jew Philip Roth (author of the above) correct in his assessment, having just written one of the most idiotic and trivializing reviews of your work yet to appear. Indeed, perhaps it requires an Israeli knack for denial to live a stone’s throw from such incomprehensible suffering, expressing practiced indignation every now and then before returning to one’s familiar routines. For a supposed scholar, Segev’s palpable animosity toward footnotes, history, sources and plain facts places him outside the “reality-based community” so abhorred by the Bush administration. Is this where he feels most comfortable these days? Frankly, I would have enjoyed seeing Segev, who bills himself an authority on such matters, savage Beyond Chutzpah. At least there would be something to discuss! Instead, a tiresome character assassination of the very sort he blames you for. He appears to acknowledge Peters’ book as long-since discredited, then attacks you for pointing to Dershowitz’ plagiarism of this same discredited work to buttress the same discredited arguments in a wildly popular work of pro-Israel propaganda which has done incalculable damage to public understanding of this immensely serious issue. All this in the pages of Israel’s most popular daily.
Segev’s message is clear:. Go back to sleep, Israel. Ignore what is being said outside our borders. The Americans, with their footnotes and facts can not hope to understand our complex world. We on the left will call, in the faintest possible voice, for an end to the occupation, tomorrow, the day after, when our great and far-sighted country gets around to it, and those on the right will shout NEVER and NOT ONE MORE INCH. So you see, we already have things all taken care of here. You Americans kindly butt out of our affairs!
Quite revolting, but what else is new?
richard harth .
From: ms. ronam
Sent: Tuesday, November 29, 2005 12:00 PM
Subject: Dear Segev: it is unscrupulous Jews like you that cause resentment of Jews!
Dear Tom Segev:
I read your article “Sharon recommends a book” with the utmost contempt for your attempted deceit. You may have fooled others, but you certainly haven’t fooled me. As I read through your article, I chuckled. Like most Zionists, you managed to stand reality on its head. You attempted to reverse the roles of the debunked Harvard “professor” Dershowitz who has been exposed as a fraud and a plagiarist with that of the real Professor Finkelstein who happens to have an unflinching moral and professional integrity. Let’s take a look at your unscrupulous and shameful conduct. I like to highlight text as I read, and here are the points that I “lifted” off your article. (BTW: why did you enclose the word “lift” in your article in quotes in regards to Dershowitz? Do you still have any doubt that Dershowitz did not LIFT text of other books?) What your article aims at is a reversal of roles. The fraudulent “Professor” Dershowitz in your article comes smelling like roses and the man of integrity and professional conduct Finkelstein is made to look like the villain. Nice try! Let’s take a look:
1. Alan Dershowitz is a leading, famous lawyer
2. Who teaches at Harvard University?
3. He is “a friend of Israel.”
4. Dershowitz has 483,000 mentions on Google;
5. Dershowitz previously published a best-seller, entitled “The Case for Israel.”
6. Finkelstein is still arguing with the Harvard lawyer’s last book while Dershowitz already has a new one out in the stores, called “The Case for Peace.”
1. a puppet of the renowned linguist Noam Chomsky
2. But Finkelstein is a big boy now, too, and already speaks for himself.
3. Finkelstein has only 195,000 (mentions on Google) Vs (483,000 for Dershowitz)
4. Supporters of Israel like him (Dershowitz) are subject to terror on the part of McCarthyites like Finkelstein.
5. Finkelstein burst onto the scene with an odd book that portrayed Israel as the little sister of Nazi Germany.
6. It should come as no surprise that Finkelstein’s books are widely read in Germany
You lose credibility when you stretch the truth too far. You were being absurd and silly when you wrote: ” More than 20 years have passed, but Finkelstein and Dershowitz are still bickering about the book as if it just came out yesterday”. Sir: If I were to write a best-seller book copying and pasting fromv- say- “Gone with the Wind”, would you then say that I couldn’t be held accountable for my theft, because the book I am stealing from is 60 years old? Wouldn’t you agree that you argument is very absurd, to say the least?
Dear Sir: I am a woman-of-color who in recent times have come to regard most Jews as enemies of people-of-color. It is unscrupulous people such as you and Dershowitz that propel me in that direction; and it is Jews likes Finkelstein by virtue of their honesty and integrity that manage to reverse the tide of hate and resentment that has been fermenting inside of me against you and your kind.