Dershowitz vs. Cockburn (including exchange of letters)

October 13, 2003

In News

Alexander Cockburn

Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist

Let’s start with a passage from Alan Dershowitz’s latest book, The
Case for Israel, now slithering into the upper tier of Amazon’s sales
charts. On page 213 we meet Dershowitz, occupant of the Felix
Frankfurter Chair at Harvard Law School, happily walloping a French
prof called Faurisson, charged by the FF prof from Harvard U as being
a fraud and a Holocaust denier: "There was no extensive historical
research. Instead, there was the fraudulent manufacturing of false
antihistory. It was the kind of deception for which professors are
rightly fired-not because their views are controversial but because
they are violating the most basic canons of historical scholarship."
Let me now usher into the narrative an important member of the cast:
From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over
Palestine, a 601-page book by Joan Peters, published in 1984.
Peters’s polemical work strove to buttress the old Zionist thesis
that the land of Israel had been "a land without people, awaiting a
people without land." Peters’s book was soon discredited as a charnel
house of disingenuous polemic. The coup de grâce was administered by
Professor Yehoshua Porath in The New York Review of Books for January
16 and March 27, 1986.

Though neither Peters nor her book appears in the index to The Case
for Israel, they both get a mention in note 31 of chapter 2, where
Dershowitz cites the work of a nineteenth-century French geographer
called Cuinct [sic], and adds, "See Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial
(Chicago: JKAP Publications, 1984). Peters’s conclusions and data
have been challenged. See Said and Hitchens, p. 33. I do not in any
way rely on them in this book." "Them" clearly refers to Peters’s
conclusions and data.

This brazen declaration is preceded in chapters 1 and 2 by repeated,
unacknowledged looting of Peters’s research. I have before me a
devastating comparative archive of these plagiarisms, compiled by
Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on
the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering and Image and Reality of the
Israel-Palestine Conflict. Here are but four from twenty thus far
discovered in the first two chapters alone.

"In the sixteenth century," the learned Dershowitz remarks on the
seventeenth page of his book, "according to British reports, ‘as many
as 15,000 Jews’ lived in Safad, which was a ‘center of rabbinical
learning.’" Source cited by Dershowitz: Palestine Royal Commission
Report, pp. 11-12. Turn now to page 178 of Peters’s book, published
nineteen years earlier: "Safed at that time, according to the British
investigation by Lord Peel’s committee, ‘contained as many as 15,000
Jews in the 16th century,’ and was ‘a centre of Rabbinical
learning.’" Source cited by Peters: Palestine Royal Commission
Report, pp. 11-12. Originality displayed by Dershowitz: downgrading
"Rabbinical" to a lower-case r.

Same page of Dershowitz: "[A]ccording to the British consul in
Jerusalem, the Muslims of Jerusalem ‘scarcely exceed[ed] one quarter
of the whole population.’" Source cited: James Finn to Earl of
Clarendon, January 1, 1858. Peters (p. 197): "In 1858 Consul Finn
reported the ‘Mohammedans of Jerusalem’ were ‘scarcely exceeding
one-quarter of the whole population.’" Source cited: James Finn to
Earl of Clarendon, January 1, 1858.

Dershowitz (p. 20): "Nor could the Jew seek redress, as the report
observed: ‘Like the miserable dog without an owner he is kicked by
one because he crosses his path, and cuffed by another because he
cries out-to seek redress he is afraid, lest it bring worse upon him;
he thinks it better to endure than to live in the expectation of his
complaint being revenged upon him.’" Source cited: Wm. T. Young to
Viscount Palmerston, May 25, 1839. Peters (p. 187): "[T]he life for
Jews described in 1839 by British Consul Young: ‘[S] Like the
miserable dog without an owner he is kicked by one because he crosses
his path, and cuffed by another because he cries out-to seek redress
he is afraid, lest it bring worse upon him; he thinks it better to
endure than to live in the expectation of his complaint being
revenged upon him.’" Source cited: Wm. T. Young to Viscount
Palmerston, May 25, 1839.

Dershowitz (p. 27): "J.L. Burkhardt [sic] reported that as early as
in the second decade of the nineteenth century, ‘Few individualsSdie
in the same village in which they were born. Families are continually
moving from one place to anotherSin a few yearsSthey fly to some
other place, where they have heard that their brethren are better
treated.’" Source cited: John Lewis Burckhardt, Travels in Syria and
the Holy Land (New York: AMS Press, 1983), p. 299. Peters (p. 163):
"John Lewis Burckhardt graphically described the migratory patterns
he found in the early 1800s: ‘[S]Few individualsSdie in the same
village in which they were born. Families are continually moving from
one place to another[S]in a few years[S]they fly to some other place,
where they have heard that their brethren are better treated.’"
Source cited: John Lewis Burckhardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy
Land (London: 1882), p. 299.

For those who, on the monkeys-writing-Shakespeare analogy, may
speculate that Dershowitz somehow replicated Peters’s researches
unknowingly, I should add that in two very long passages, one from a
letter from Wm. T. Young to Col. Patrick Campbell (May 25, 1839), and
the other from Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, Dershowitz
reproduces the quotes with ellipses in exactly the same places as

Amid this orgy of plagiarism, Dershowitz understandably gets confused
about sources. Claiming to be inspired by George Orwell, Peters in
her book coined the term "turnspeak" to signal an inversion of
reality. Dershowitz is apparently so nervous of citing Peters in any
way that he credits the term "turnspeak" to Orwell, accusing critics
of Israel of "deliberately using George Orwell’s ‘turnspeak.’"
Over to Harvard president Lawrence Summers-or will the man so happy
to dress down Prof. Cornel West be more timid when it comes to
confronting the occupant of the Felix Frankfurter Chair? All you have
to do is remind him of Dershowitz’s words about Prof. Faurisson.

The Nation, October 27, 2003

Letters Exchange

‘Plagiarized!’ ‘Total NonsenseS’
Cambridge, Mass.

Alexander Cockburn’s politically motivated claim that I "plagiarized"
from Joan Peters is total nonsense ["Beat the Devil," Oct. 13]. Let’s
begin with what is undisputed: Every word written by others appears
with quotation marks, is cited to their original or secondary sources
and is quoted accurately. This means that they are not plagiarized.
James Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth and the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences, has concluded, after reviewing the
relevant material, that what I did was "simply not plagiarism, under
any reasonable definition of that word."

Cockburn’s claim is that some of the quotes should not have been
cited to their original sources but rather to a secondary source,
where he believes I stumbled upon them. Even if he were correct that
I found all these quotations in Peters’s book, the preferred method
of citation is to the original source, as the Chicago Manual of Style
emphasizes: "With all reuse of others’ materials, it is important to
identify the original as the source. ThisShelps avoid any accusation
of plagiarismSTo cite a source from a secondary source (‘quoted inS’)
is generally to be discouragedS."

It is especially cynical that Cockburn would have me cite the quotes
to Peters, since Norman Finkelstein-his source-has alleged that
Peters herself originally found these and other quotes in earlier
books. Should I have cited those books? That is why citing the
original source is preferred.

I came across the quoted material in several secondary sources. They
appear frequently in discussions of nineteenth-century Palestine. The
Mark Twain quote, highlighted by Cockburn, appears in many books
about the subject. I came across it in 1970 while preparing a debate
about Israel for The Advocates. Cockburn also points out that I quote
some of the same material from the Peel Report that Peters quotes,
but he fails to mention that I also use many quotes from the report
that do not appear in Peters’s book. I read the entire report and
decided which parts to quote. I rely heavily on the Peel Report,
devoting an entire chapter (Six) to its findings. They are quoted
directly, with proper attribution.

Cockburn refers to Finkelstein’s "devastating chart," which compares
several quotes from my books with quotes from Peters’s book. By
juxtaposing these quotes, he makes it appear that I am borrowing
words from her. But these are all quotes-properly cited in my
book-from third parties. Of course they are similar, or the same. One
does not change a quote. And since I did find some of the quotes in
Peters’s book, as she found them in others, it should come as no
surprise that the ellipses are sometimes similar or the same.
It is important to recall that my book is a brief for Israel. It does
not purport to be a work of original demographic research, as
Peters’s does. A few pages are devoted to summarizing the demographic
history, and these pages rely heavily on quotes from others to make
my points. I found most of my quotes in secondary sources. When I was
able to locate the primary source, I quoted it. When I was unable, I
cited the secondary source. Contrary to Cockburn’s implication that I
cited Peters once, I cited her eight times in the first eighty-nine
pages (Ch. 2, fn 31, 35; Ch. 5, fn 8; Ch. 12, fn 34, 37, 38, 44, 47).
Of my more than 500 references, fewer than a dozen were found in
Peters and cited to original sources. Although we use a few of the
same sources-and we each use many sources not used by the other-I
come to different conclusions from Peters about important issues. As
I made clear in my book, "I do not in any way rely on" Peters’s
conclusions or demographic data for my arguments. Peters’s basic
conclusion is that only a small number of Palestinians lived in what
later became Israel. She provides specific figures, which have been
disputed. My very different conclusion is that:

There have been two competing mythologies about Palestine circa 1880.
The extremist Jewish mythology, long since abandoned, was that
Palestine was "a land without people, for a people without a land."
The extremist Palestinian mythology, which has become more embedded
with time, is that in 1880 there was a Palestinian people; some even
say a Palestinian nation that was displaced by the Zionist invasion.
The reality, as usual, lies somewhere in between. Palestine was
certainly not a land empty of all people. It is impossible to
reconstruct the demographics of the area with any degree of
precision, since census data for that time period are not reliable,
and most attempts at reconstruction-by both Palestinian and Israeli
sources-seem to have a political agenda.

I offer very different and rougher estimates, which Cockburn and
Finkelstein do not challenge, as they do Peters’s. How then can I be
accused of plagiarizing ideas or conclusions with which I disagree,
from a book that I cite eight times, using the preferred form of

Why then would Cockburn attack me so viciously? The answer is in his
sentence bemoaning the fact that a pro-Israel book is "slithering
into the upper tier of Amazon’s sales charts." He disapproves of my
message and of the fact that it is reaching a wide audience. Instead
of debating me on the merits, he has tried to destroy my credibility
with a false accusation. (This is not the first time he and
Finkelstein have gotten together and employed this tactic against
people with whom they disagree.)

Let people read The Case for Israel and judge it for themselves
against Cockburn’s charges. I have sent his attack and my response to
President Summers. I have nothing to fear from false charges.

Alan M. Dershowitz


Every time he tries to leap to firmer ground, defending the rotten
standards of scholarship in his rotten book, Dershowitz sinks in
deeper. Start with his defiant declaration from the dock that he did
not commit plagiarism because "every word written by others appears
with quotation marks, is cited to their original or secondary sources
and is quoted accurately." This skates (rather clumsily, I have to
say) round the question of what source Dershowitz actually did use
for his citation and whether or not he acknowledged it. Often he used
Peters and pretended he didn’t, which would get him into very hot
water at Harvard if he were a student and not the Felix Frankfurter

Here are Harvard’s own rules, set forth in Writing With Sources: A
Guide for Harvard Students: "Plagiarism is passing off a source’s
information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them."
And also: "When quoting or citing a passage you found quoted or cited
by another scholar, and you haven’t actually read the original
source, cite the passage as ‘quoted in’ or ‘cited in’ that scholar
both to credit that person for finding the quoted passage or cited
text, and to protect yourself in case he or she has misquoted or

I discussed only Dershowitz’s first two chapters, as dissected by
Norman Finkelstein, his nemesis in this affair, who points out that
twenty-two of the fifty-two footnotes to these chapters are lifted
from Peters without attribution. Finkelstein recently laid waste
Dershowitz’s attempts at self-exculpation in the Harvard Crimson. As
Finkelstein points out, one problem for the beleaguered prof comes in
the form of ellipses. Dershowitz echoes Peters’s ellipses. Another
problem identified by Finkelstein: For Twain, Dershowitz cites from
one edition and Peters from another, but the page numbers he cites
are from Peters’s edition, not his. So Peters’s text is where he got
the quote.

Yet another problem goes to the concluding sentence from the Harvard
guidelines quoted above. Dershowitz echoes Peters’s mistakes. From
Twain she cites as one continuous text what are in fact two separate
paragraphs separated by eighty-seven pages. Dershowitz follows suit.
He’s handcuffed to Peters in a more serious breach of scholarship
when he plagiarizes her erroneous citation of British consular
official Wm. T. Young’s supposedly first-person description to Lord
Canning of an instance of anti-Semitism in Jerusalem. The description
was not Young’s but a memorandum by one A. Benisch, which Young was

Another bloodied glove, as it were, comes with Dershowitz’s
attribution of the unlovely neologism "turnspeak" to George Orwell.
This was a coinage by Peters, who cited Orwell as having inspired it.
Glazed with literary pillage, and ever eager to suppress the fact
that he was relying heavily on one of the most notorious
laughingstocks of Middle Eastern scholarship, Dershowitz seized on
Orwell as the source, once again cutting Peters out.
Quoting The Chicago Manual of Style, Dershowitz artfully implies that
he followed the rules by citing "the original" as opposed to the
secondary source, Peters. He misrepresents Chicago here, where "the
original" means merely the origin of the borrowed material, which is,
in this instance, Peters.

Now look at the second bit of the quote from Chicago, chastely
separated from the preceding sentence by a demure three-point
ellipsis. As my associate Kate Levin has discovered, this passage
("To cite a source from a secondary sourceS") occurs on page 727,
which is no less than 590 pages later than the material before the
ellipsis, in a section titled "Citations Taken from Secondary
Sources." Here’s the full quote, with what Dershowitz left out set in
bold: "’Quoted in.’ To cite a source from a secondary source ("quoted
inS") is generally to be discouraged, since authors are expected to
have examined the works they cite. If an original source is
unavailable, however, both the original and the secondary source must
be listed."

So Chicago is clearly insisting that unless Dershowitz went to the
originals, he was obliged to cite Peters. Finkelstein has
conclusively demonstrated that he didn’t go to the originals.
Plagiarism, QED, plus added time for willful distortion of the
language of Chicago’s guidelines, cobbling together two separate

Some time ago three judges on a Florida appeals court overturned a
$145 million landmark judgment against tobacco companies. In their
decision the judges appropriated without acknowledgment extensive
swaths of the brief put forward by the tobacco companies’ well-paid
lawyers. The judges were sued for judicial plagiarism, and, as so
often, Dershowitz had a pithy quote: "If a student ever did what this
judge did, he’d be tossed out on his rear end from Harvard Law
School. We teach our students as a matter of ethics that when you
borrow, you attribute."

Amherst professor Sayres Rudy, who says his credentials are "from the
ground up," i.e., based on honor codes he enforced (Davidson) or
examined (UVA, The Citadel), has studied the Dershowitz/Peters case:
"I can say unequivocally that under Davidson College’s and other
schools’ honor codes Dershowitz’s quotations constitute plagiarism,
with clear attempt to deceive as to (A) his research and (B) his
findings. Thus his plagiarism is serious and unambiguous, and if it
were a student in question, the debate would regard levels of
punishment. Maximal punishments would be considered without any
doubt, including at UVA expulsion, at Davidson two-term suspension,
and at military schools such as West Point or The Citadel a

But then, Dershowitz isn’t a student. He’s the Felix Frankfurter
Professor at Harvard Law School, meaning presumably that he’s beyond
reform. Two-tier justice for all!

Alexander Cockburn