Into the Valley of Death

November 2, 2005

In News

Crimson Staff Writer

DePaul University Professor Norman G. Finkelstein, who sparked an impassioned quarrel two years ago when he accused Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz of plagiarism, will make a controversial appearance on his opponent’s home turf tomorrow to deliver a speech on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

In an interview last week, Finkelstein said that he plans to present a summarized version of the introduction to his latest book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.” In the book, Finkelstein decries what he calls “playing The Holocaust and ‘new anti-Semitism’ cards” in defending Israel’s actions in the Middle East.

But Finkelstein said that he will also touch on his ongoing feud with Dershowitz, who he charged with committing plagiarism in September 2003.

Dershowitz has repeatedly denied the allegations. In July, he attempted to discourage the University of California Press from publishing Finkelstein’s latest tome, but was unsuccessful in the effort.

The introduction to Finkelstein’s book includes comments on the alleged plagiarism in Dershowitz’s 2003 book “The Case for Israel,” which Finkelstein contends is “among the most spectacular academic frauds ever published on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

Finkelstein’s appearance on campus—sponsored by Justice for Palestine (JFP), a pro-Palestinian group at Harvard Law School—has prompted some controversy since it was announced last month.

Dershowitz called JFP’s decision to invite Finkelstein “shameful” and urged the group to invite a different speaker.

“They can get much better people to make the case for Palestine than Norman Finkelstein, because he just makes the ad hominem case against those who support a moderate resolution for peace,” he said.

In October, JFP invited Dershowitz to debate Finkelstein, but Dershowitz said he declined the invitation because “there’s nothing to debate.”

In a staff editorial two weeks ago, the Law School’s student newspaper, The Record, urged JFP to reconsider its speaking invitation to Finkelstein.

“Finkelstein advances batty conspiracy theories about lots of people, and especially about one particular type of people—that is, Jews,” the newspaper wrote on Oct. 20.

But Finkelstein denounced the editorial’s claims and said that the paper had failed to “weigh the evidence.”

“In the whole unfolding of events for the past two years, I’ve seen only one batty conspiracy theory,” he said, referring to Dershowitz’s accusation that Finkelstein conspired with MIT’s Noam Chomsky to vilify pro-Israel professors.

Finkelstein also claimed that the editorial had not been written by The Record, whose opinion editor, Mitchell D. Webber, is one of Dershowitz’s research assistants.

“That wasn’t written by this fellow. He just took everything that Professor Dershowitz sent him,” Finkelstein said.

Dershowitz denied the accusation and said he had no knowledge of the editorial prior to its publication.

JFP Co-Chairman and Treasurer Arsalan M. Suleman said the group stands by its decision to host Finkelstein.

“We think that Professor Finkelstein’s work is really good, scholarly writing,” Suleman said. “We thought he would bring a fresh voice to the Harvard Law campus.”

Suleman said that the group originally asked Finkelstein to refrain from centering his speech on the allegations against Dershowitz.

“We made it clear to Professor Finkelstein that this was not designed to provoke anyone or to focus on Professor Dershowitz,” Suleman said. “We wanted him to focus on more of the substantive parts of ‘Beyond Chutzpah’…the human rights abuses in Israel and the ongoing occupation.”

But Finkelstein said that he was never told what to discuss and would not honor such a request.

“Never in my life have I allowed anyone to dictate to me what I was going to say,” he said. “And [JFP] certainly did not dictate that to me.”

Finkelstein’s speech is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. tomorrow in Langdell Hall North on the Law School campus. It is entitled “Israel and Palestine: Misusing Anti-Semitism, Abusing History.”

—Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at