Harvard Crimson on Dershowitz, Walt, Mearsheimer & Finkelstein

April 7, 2006

In News


Crimson Staff Writer

The debate over a Kennedy School administrator’s paper criticizing pro-Israel activists in the U.S. is heating up, with both sides accusing each other of manipulating and misusing sources.

The debate has academics and activists questioning the integrity of two prominent Harvard professors’ scholarship.

The Kennedy School of Government (KSG) website is the field of battle, with Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz posting a 46-page rebuttal Wednesday charging that his opponents have assembled a “collage of misinformation.”

The furor stems from a paper written last month by Kennedy School Academic Dean Stephen M. Walt and the University of Chicago political scientist John J. Mearsheimer claiming that American foreign policy toward the Middle East is controlled by the “Israel Lobby,” a “loose coalition” of politicians, journalists, think-tanks, and Jewish leaders.

Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 announced last week that he will allow full-time members of other Harvard faculties to post responses to KSG professors’ “working papers” on the school’s website. The announcement came after Dershowitz sought to post a rebuttal to the Walt-Mearsheimer paper on the site.


Dershowitz charged that “Mearsheimer and Walt rely heavily on discredited allegations and out of context quotations found on extremist, disreputable sources, including well-known hate websites.”

Walt and Mearsheimer assert that “the creation of Israel involved crimes against…the Palestinians,” an assertion that Dershowitz attacks.

They say that “the mainstream Zionist leadership” never intended to accept a resolution in which Jews and Palestinians would share control of a single state, or in which Palestinians would have an independent nation.

To prove their claim, Walt and Mearsheimer quote Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, as having said at a meeting in the late 1930s: “After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.”

Dershowitz says that quote was taken out of context. He cites the work of former Harvard visiting professor Efraim Karsh, who reprinted a transcript of a July 1938 Jewish Agency meeting at which Ben-Gurion made the remark that Walt and Mearsheimer quote.

But Ben-Gurion makes clear, according to the transcript, that he does not support the forcible transfer of Arabs, saying that such population movements should occur only “through mutual understanding and Jewish-Arab agreement.”


Dershowitz’s paper, in addition to criticizing the Walt-Mearsheimer take on Ben-Gurion, also assails the professors’ quotation of journalist Max Frankel’s memoirs.

Walt and Mearsheimer write: “In his memoirs, for example, former [New York] Times executive editor Max Frankel acknowledged the impact of his pro-Israel attitude on his editorial choices.” They cite Frankel as saying: “I myself wrote most of our Middle East commentaries. As more Arab than Jewish readers recognized, I wrote them from a pro-Israel perspective.”

Dershowitz takes issue with that quotation, alleging that Walt and Mearsheimer “did not read Max Frankel’s autobiography, but rather came across the quotation somewhere far less reputable.”

Walt and Mearsheimer identify Frankel as the “executive editor” of the Times, a position in charge of the paper’s news operations. An executive editor who inserted his own political viewpoint into news commentaries would be widely accused of flouting journalistic ethics.

But in the section of Frankel’s memoirs that Walt and Mearsheimer quote, Frankel is writing of his prior experiences as the Times’ editorial page editor, a position entirely separate from the paper’s news operations. In the period of Frankel’s life to which the quote refers, his job was to draft opinion pieces.


Dershowitz himself came under fire yesterday from a longtime critic, DePaul University professor Norman G. Finkelstein, who questioned whether his own words were taken out of context in Dershowitz’s paper.

Dershowitz charges that Finkelstein blamed the U.S. for the Sept. 11 attacks. “[W]e [the U.S.] deserve the problem on our hands because some things Bin Laden says are true,” Dershowitz quotes Finkelstein as having said. Dershowitz says the quote comes from website, which is heavily critical of Israel and which posted an interview with Finkelstein in December 2001.

In a phone interview yesterday, Finkelstein pointed to the full quotation provided at

On the website, Finkelstein says he agrees with Bin Laden’s assertion that Americans cannot be secure until the non-Western world is as well—not that the he agrees with Bin Laden’s overall agenda or terrorist tactics.

According to the website, Finkelstein told “Frankly, part of me says—even though everything since September 11 has been a nightmare, ‘you know what, we deserve the problem on our hands because some things Bin Laden says are true’. One of the things he said on that last tape was that ‘until we live in security, you’re not going to live in security’, and there is a certain amount of rightness in that.”

Finkelstein said last night: “Here you have people like Dershowitz who make me out to be a lunatic. And he has the audacity, really the chutzpah, to denigrate [Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s] sources?” Finkelstein asked: “Is there no shame?”

But Dershowitz said last night: “I’ll stick with my sources.” He called for the debate to move away from its focus on sources and back to the merits of the arguments.

Walt and Mearsheimer did not return repeated requests for comment.

Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at