Review Essay: Norman Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History

November 11, 2005

In News

Editor’s note: letter exchange between Alan Dershowitz and Matthew Abraham below the review.

reviewed by Matthew Abraham

Most of the controversy surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict is, in my view, contrived. The purpose of contriving such controversy is transparently political: to deflect attention from, or distort, the actual documentary record. One can speak of, basically three sources of artificial disagreement: (1) mystification of the conflict’s roots, (2) invocation of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust (“ideological
instrumentalization of the event, the Nazi Holocaust), and (3) on a different plane, the vast proliferation of sheer
fraud on the subject (
Beyond Chutzpah: The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History 7).

“The purpose of Beyond
is to lift the veil of contrived
controversy shrouding the Israel-Palestine conflict” (18).

The publication of Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah: The
Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History
much-awaited sequel to his controversial The Holocaust
Industry: The Exploitation of Jewish Suffering
a curious moment in U.S. intellectual history. The main
title of the book, “Beyond Chutzpah,” is a play on the title
of Alan Dershowitz’s bestselling book, Chutzpah—a
reference to the Yiddish term which means to be pushy or
assertive (“assertive insistence on first-class status among
our peers” (Chutzpah 9) . To go “beyond chutzpah,”
then, is to enter a realm of absolutism, intolerance, and
fanatical devotion where criticism lodged against someone
who has gone beyond chutzpah, even when it is
well-warranted, can not be heard because of blind faith in
something or someone and a belief in one’s own goodness—a
clear reference to philosemitic doctrine in its protection
and promotion of Jews and Jewish interests (footnote 1).
Beyond Chutzpah
is a curious book because of the
remarkable circumstances preceding its publication, with
Alan Dershowitz, the author of The Case for Israel
(a focal point of sharp criticism in Beyond Chutzpah),
a self-professed civil libertarian who teaches at Harvard
Law School, waging an unprecedented campaign against the
University of California Press to block the printing and
distribution of the book.

How often does one write a letter to the
governor of a state enlisting his help in preventing the
publication of a samizdat publication, which has received
the imprimatur of a prestigious university’s editorial board
and the thumbs up from six internationally recognized
experts on the U.S.-Israel-Palestine conflict? Well, that is
exactly what Dershowitz did when he wrote a “friendly note”
to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last May
seeking the Terminator’s help in separating UC Press from
the lies of “an academic hitman” and “full-time malicious
defamer.” In addition, Dershowitz bombarded UC press with
call after call and letter after letter throughout the
spring and summer in a clear intimidation effort, intimating
that he would sue the press if certain libelous
accusations—that he did not write and perhaps did not even
read The Case for Israel—were not removed. While
these accusations were relatively minor in comparison to
Dershowitz’s gross ignorance of the diplomatic and
historical record about the conflict, the essence of the
debate became embroiled around minutiae pertaining to
correct citation protocols.

While claiming that his real intention
was never to block publication of the book, “I want it to be
published so that it will be demolished in the court of
public opinion,” Dershowitz clearly sought to create a
situation where any press entertaining the publication of
Beyond Chutzpah would be placed in the crosshairs
of potentially lengthy and ruinous litigation. Dershowitz
wrote to Colin Robinson, an editor at the New Press, which
initially expressed an interest in publishing Beyond
, about supposed inaccuracies in the
manuscript. Dershowitz claimed that upon receiving this
letter New Press dropped the book. Not true according to
Robinson, who pointed out that it was Finkelstein who
withdrew from the contract, using an “opt out” clause, when
it became clear that Dershowitz’s letters, inquiries, and
legal threats would delay publication. As Lynne Withey, UC
executive press director, noted in the midst of the
controversy “He doesn’t want the book published.” As
Dershowitz stated in one of his many pubic diatribes, “It is
shocking that a university press would hide behind academic
freedom in defending its decision to publish such trash by
an author of such low scholarly repute.” It is somewhat
surprising that Dershowitz would argue this point since
Finkelstein is a well-respected, Princeton trained,
political scientist with several internationally recognized
books to his credit. This is not about academic freedom,”
Dershowitz continued,”—”the University of California Press
is free to publish whatever it chooses. It is about academic
standards. Plainly, the University of California Press’s
decision to publish Finkelstein’s drivel was influenced
largely by sympathy for his radical ideology”
Not since the days of Stalin has a devotee, committed to
upholding the party line, acted with such discipline toward
a holy state. In Dershowitz’s case, the holy state is
Israel. In Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein goes into
minute detail, leaving no stone unturned, while documenting
the bizarre cost discipleship to a holy state extracts from
its adherents.

Beyond Chutzpah is basically
divided into three main parts. The first part examines the
rise of the “new anti-Semitism” as a political weapon
employed by U.S. supporters of Israel that accomplishes
three basic goals: a) detracts from the historical and
diplomatic record, which confirms that Israel has never been
interested in having peace with its Arab neighbors
(particularly the PLO), and in fact has been fearful of a
cessation of conflict and hostilities which would put in a
place a comprehensive settlement that has been supported by
an international consensus for thirty-eight years but its
implementation has been blocked by the U.S and Israel; b)
creates controversy where no real controversy exists to
confuse and obfuscate the conflict’s roots, i.e. Israel’s
systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population of
the West Bank and Gaza from the beginning of Zionism’s entry
into Palestine; and c) employs holocaust imagery and
rhetoric which casts Jews, not Palestinian Arabs, as the
victims at the present historical moment—suggesting that
Israel, as a haven for all Jews in the event of another
holocaust, must be defended at all costs no matter how
indefensible its behavior.

The second part of the book, and perhaps
the most important, focuses on the Israeli government’s
thirty-eight year commitment to implementing ethnic
cleansing policies and apartheid practices against
Palestinian Arabs in the form of torture, targeted
assassination, the use of Palestinian civilians as human
shields, administrative detention, home demolition, illegal
seizures of land and water aquifers, and the unequal
application of the law. As Ze’ev Schiff, a celebrated
Israeli military correspondent, has confirmed, Israel as a
matter of policy has long targeted the Palestinian civilian
population—in fact, the IDF has drawn no distinction between
Palestinian combatants and Palestinian civilians. Much of
the evidence for this claim can be found in the writings and
diaries of Moshe Sharett, Moshe Dayan, and Ben-Gurion. Using
the findings of mainstream human rights organizations such
as Amnesty International, B’tselem (an Israeli
organization), Human Rights Watch, as well as Palestinian
human rights organizations, Finkelstein in six
tightly-argued chapters provides a near point-by-point
demolition of Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel;
revealing that there truly is very little quality control
regulating the production of “scholarship” about the
U.S.-Israel-Palestine conflict in the United States.
Otherwise, how could The Case for Israel have been
showered with so much praise by U.S. cultural elites when it
is so at odds with what is found in the writings of Israeli
prime ministers, military historians, and scholars?
(footnote 2).

The third part of Beyond Chutzpah contains the
appendixes documenting that Dershowitz lifts material from
Peters’ From Time Immemorial without proper
attribution in his The Case for Israel (see:

Alan Dershowitz Exposed: What if a Harvard Student Did This?
misrepresents the history of the conflict and recent
“diplomatic efforts” such as Sadat’s offer of peace in 1971
and the Camp David meeting between Clinton, Barak, and
Arafat in 2000; and badly distorts the positions of his key
nemesis, Noam Chomsky, who has favored a resolution of the
conflict according to the international consensus. Now,
Dershowitz claims Chomsky’s thirty-eight year position as
his own, while portraying Chomsky as an “extremist” for
rejecting what Dershowitz says he has supported all along—a
two-state solution. Twenty-two of the fifty-five footnotes
in the first two chapters of The Case for Israel
come from Time Immemorial, although Dershowitz
cites the primary sources and the page numbers that Peters
lists, as if Dershowitz actually checked the original
documents. Anyone who checks the original sources can see
that Dershowitz simply reproduces Peters’ research as his
own—often with comical results. In advanced page proofs of
The Case for Israel it is clear for all to see that
Deshowitz directed his research assistant, Holly Beth
Billington, to cite various obscure nineteenth century
sources back to the primary sources instead of to From
Time Immemorial
where he originally found them. It’s
clear that Dershowitz did not check the primary sources
when, for example, he cites the 1996 edition of Mark Twain’s
Innocents Abroad. Here is the citation as provided
in The Case for Israel: “Mark Twain, The
Innocents Abroad
(New York: Oxford University Press,
1996), pp. 485, 508, 520, 607-608.” These pages, which
Dershowitz lists as coming from this edition, correspond to
the pages of the 1881 edition that Peters relied upon. This
discrepancy is corrected, along with all the other
twenty-one other misattributions Finkelstein highlights, in
the paperback edition (footnote 3).

Despite all the contrived controversy, Finkelstein claims
that the Israel-Palestine conflict—at least within serious
scholarly treatments—is fairly straight forward from the
standpoint of the historical record (footnote 4).
Unsurprisingly, as those who are familiar with Finkelstein’s
previous books surely know, Beyond Chutzpah, in
describing the sad state of affairs governing discussion of
the U.S.-Israel-Palestine conflict is very, very
funny—relentless in its documentation of how morally and
intellectually bankrupt what Finkelstein calls the Holocaust
Industry has become in shielding Israel against critical
discussion, while also unsparing in noting the cruel irony
that pro-Zionist Jews are no longer perceived as the world’s
greatest victims, but because of their privileged status as
an ethnic group and Israel’s ruthless assault on
international law, the world’s most coddled apologists for
state violence. Indeed, as Finkelstein has spent much of his
adult life demonstrating, the Holocaust Industry actively
fears that the Holocaust, Israel, and the conflict will
become objects of a rational discussion. As Finkelstein’s
rigorous and tightly argued polemic proves, Israel’s
apologists, in an attempt to obfuscate the roots and real
grievances within the conflict, employ the charge of
anti-Semitism to remove from the playing field anyone who
questions the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist as an
apartheid state with no declared borders and which seeks to
impose unheard of measures upon its Arab neighbors under the
mantra of “security needs”; the U.S.-Israel special
relationship; and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and
Gaza. Unfortunately, these very important points often got
lost in the midst of Finkelstein’s public feuds with

The public spectacle began nearly two years ago when
Finkelstein squared off in a debate about The Case for
on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now. During
that debate, Finkelstein vowed to provide documentation,
which would disprove Dershowitz’s insistence that he was the
target of a simple ad hominem and bigoted attack, alleging
that The Case for Israel was “a fraud concocted from another
fraud”: a reference to Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial
which sought to prove, in the words of Golda Meir, that
there are in fact “no Palestinians.” As Finkelstein recounts
in the book’s introduction, he reached a personal milestone
in the course of writing Beyond Chutzpah. Nearly
twenty years earlier, he came upon Peters From Time
, a book that sought, in light of Israel’s
public relations disaster in Lebanon, to shore up the faith
among the Zionist faithful by insisting that Palestinians do
not and have never had a valid moral, diplomatic, or legal
claim about land dispossession against Israel. In fact, in
Peters’ world, the Palestinian claims of injustice and
dispossession were manufactured to advance the political
objectives of the Arab states against Israel. Finkelstein’s
decision to publicly expose From Time Immemorial as
a “threadbare hoax” was a definite turning point in his life
and academic career. Indeed, as Finkelstein reflects in the
book’s first few pages, his work has since that time been in
one way or another been connected to the
U.S.-Israel-Palestine conflict.

Finkelstein has long been known as an intellectual who
shatters favored pieties, and as a result, often faces
extraordinary barriers in reaching a mass audience. As a Jew
and the son of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein has been
battling the U.S. Zionist establishment in one way or
another since the since his parent’s passing. He has in many
ways been preparing to write this book, a slaughter-house of
sacred cows if you will, for the last twenty-five years.
Beyond Chutzpah
is one of those rare books that has the
potential to change the very nature of the debate about the
U.S.-Israel-Palestine conflict because of its unstinting
devotion to seemingly long-lost intellectual ideals such as
truth, intellectual honesty, integrity, the historical
record and a willingness to go where others refuse to go in
crying out “J’accuse” against the powerful—even when doing
so will lead to your ostracism and perpetual underemployment
(footnote 5).

Finkelstein’s most devastating indictment, however, is not
necessarily of Alan Dershowitz; instead, he goes much
further, exposing much of the U.S. intellectual culture and
the cultural institutions within the United States which
have actively conspired in blocking an accurate rendering of
the historical and diplomatic record on the
U.S.-Israel-Palestine conflict. I suspect Mario Cuomo and
Henry Louis Gates Jr., who both provided gushing praise for
The Case for Israel, will now be asked “Did you
really read the book, and if so, do you really understand
what’s at stake in this conflict?”

The point, of course, is not that
Dershowitz is a charlatan. Rather, it’s the
systematic institutional bias
that allow for books
like The Case for Israel to become national best
sellers. Were it not for Dershowitz’s Harvard pedigree,
the praise heaped on this book by Mario Cuomo, Henry
Louis Gates Jr., Elie Wiesel, and Floyd Abrams, the
favorable notice in media outlets like the New York
and Boston Globe, and so on, The
Case for Israel
would have had the same shelf life
of a publication of the Flat-Earth society (17; emphasis
in original).

If often seem that much of academic life
revolves around moving people away from commonsense
understanding, with the insistence that the world is more
complex than it seems on first impression. But when the
straight-forward analysis is often more accurate than the
complex one, particularly with respect to a miserable state
of affairs, one must then wonder what is gained by the
hand-wringing, polite evasion, and obfuscation. Attempts to
evade accountability, when ofte Such is often the case when
evaluating the Israeli government’s criminal behavior, the
deployment of the so-called new anti-Semitism, and the U.S.
intellectual community’s seeming steadfast commitment to
avoiding its complicity in crimes of state. Indeed, one gets
the sense that education often pushes individuals to shut
down their ability to connect with average beings. Through
his conception of the differend, for example, the postmodern
dandy, Jean Francois Lyotard, sought to definitively prove
the existence of the Nazi gas chambers, despite the fact
that the people who manned them and those who passed through
them are long gone. How, Lyotard seems to ask, do we obtain
justice for those who can no longer speak for themselves, or
for those who have no access to this thing called “justice”
through the dominant discourse? How can the powerless ever
obtain justice? No one has yet to use Lyotard’s questions,
nor his concept of the differend, to explain how a
Palestinian might prove that he was in fact dispossessed of
his land, his livelihood and his dignity and how he lives
under occupation in the face of the daunting obstacle of
ever locating a critical idiom which would allow him to
convince a U.S. audience that he has in fact suffered an

It’s long been recognized, within the
humanities disciplines of the academy, for example, that to
speak of such entities as “facts,” “the historical record,”
“scholarly consensus,” and—heaven forbid—”truth,” is to make
oneself vulnerable to the charge of being a simpleton. After
all, interpretative or discourse communities determine what
is “truth” based on agreement. Even when faced with the
painful task of owning up to gruesome realities, invocations
of such academic mainstays as the “social construction of
truth,” “postmodern geographies,” and “the radically
perspectival and indeterminate nature of language,” the
utter simplicity of some phenomena in the world continue to
defy the academic intelligentsia, particularly in the United
States. While we often smirk when we hear the phrases
“intellectual honesty” and “intellectual integrity,” because
the powerful don’t have to subscribe to these norms,
often—figures such as Dershowitz—blatantly flout them,
leaving members of the common herd aghast when, in the
defiance of all available evidence, Israel can be described
as the main proponent of peace in its ongoing removal of the
Palestinians from what will soon be a greater Israel. Just
as he described what he termed “the Holocaust Industry,” in
a book of that title, creating a distinction between the
holocaust (the historical event) and the Holocaust (the
ideological creation carefully nurtured by Israel’s
apologists to immunize the Israeli government against the
international community’s condemnation of the occupation of
the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza).
Finkelstein alleges that there’s anti-Semitism, a age-old
form of prejudice directed against Jews that any decent
person would be opposed to and dedicate their life fighting
against, and then there’s “anti-Semitism”—the latter being
an ideologically serviceable mystery religion which accrues
considerable benefits for the Israeli government in its
oppression of the Palestinians. Finkelstein goes even
further, claiming that the new anti-Semitism ends up
coddling Zionist Jews, particularly American Zionist Jews,
protecting them from much-deserved scrutiny in their
toadying for special dispensations as oppressed “chosen
people,” while in fact being the most privileged ethnic
group in the United States. As he writes:

Legitimate questions can surely be
posed regarding when and if Jews are acting as people
who happen to be Jewish or acting “as Jews,” and, on the
latter occasions (which plainly do arise), regarding the
actual breadth and limits of this “Jewish power,” but
these questions can only be answered empirically, not a
priori with politically correct formulae. To foreclose
inquiry on this topic as anti Semitic is, intentionally
or not, to shield Jews from legitimate scrutiny of their
uses and abuses of formidable power (83).

Finkelstein determines that Abraham
Foxman, Elie Wiesel, Daniel Goldgagen, Israel Singer, Edgar
Bronfman, Alan Dershowitz, and a whole host of others—who
Finkelstein derisively labels as “the Holocaust
Industry”—have been running a lucrative extortion racket
with the sole aim of shielding Israel from worldwide
scrutiny as it continues an all-out assault with the United
States on international law. In various ways, throughout
Beyond Chutzpah
, Finkelstein demonstrates that the very
logic behind the charge of “the new anti-Semitism” falls
apart when it is subjected to elementary rationality. It is,
according to Chesler’s The New Anti-Semitism,
anti-Semitic to associate all Jews with Israel [“Anyone who
does not distinguish between Jews and the Jewish state is an
anti-Semite”], but by Chesler’s lights it is also
anti-Semitic not to do so [“American and Diaspora Jews” must
understand that “Israel is our heart and soul…we are family”
(her emphasis)] (qtd. in Beyond Chutzpah, 82). The
charge of anti-Semitism, and the concomitant fear of being
labeled an anti-Semite, has led too many people to stop
thinking for themselves; relying instead upon necessary
political results instead of serious analysis. If the charge
of anti- Semitism can be used so widely, to thrash anyone
who challenges so-called “Jewish interests,”—which usually
means one has dared to criticize “Israeli policies”—what in
fact has been constructed but a new form of totalitarianism?
This is, in fact, Finkelstein’s larger question: when will
the hysteria and madness—which parade as serious
argument—stop and rationality set in within this discussion
about Israel-Palestine, where the baldest clichés parade as
serious argument?

As Finkelstein explains, each time the
Israeli government faces a public-relations disaster usually
in the form of international condemnation for its military
exploits, as it did after the ’82 Lebanon War and in light
of the Sabra and Chatila massacre, which Israeli troops
oversaw, or as it did during the First and Second Intifada,
a new alarm is raised about anti-Semitism being on the rise.
A more fundamental question arises in this context: How is
it that the anti-Semitism of the Nazis has been transferred
to the Palestinians of the occupied territories? This
transfer is a part of Zionism’s deal, which is rarely
problematized. This facile transfer represents one of the
Holocaust Industry’s greatest triumphs and requires a good
deal of historical reckoning. A lachrymose narrative has
been accepted as “standard history,” whereby the hatred that
Palestinians direct toward Jewish occupiers must be
understood through the lens of anti-Semitism. As Joseph
Massad points out:

While much of Israel’s violence is
“explained” by the pre-Israel status of European Jews,
Palestinian violence is also viewed hermeneutically
through the status of those same Jews, the status of the
Palestinians as products of their own separate history
being deemed irrelevant. After all, “[t]he only history
is white.” Israel’s actions, however, are believed to
stem from the status of those Jews who arrived on the
shores of Palestine after fleeing the Nazi regime and
the holocaust, only to be confronted by another violence
anti-Semitic campaign, this time by Palestinian Arabs
and Arabs from neighboring countries intent on expelling
them from their last and only haven. Thus, Israel’s
violence, regrettable as it may be, is in effect viewed
as self-defensive in nature. In the same vein,
Palestinian violence, which was/is in self-defense
against foreign invaders, is also “explained” out of
context as part of this anti-Semitic campaign against
Jewish refugees. All discourse involving Palestinians
and Israel has been and continues to be situated within
the bounds of these hermeneutical axioms—whereby, among
other qualifiers, Jews are always refugees fleeing the
holocaust when, in fact, they need to be viewed in the
context of two separate histories and discourses ("The
Persistence of the Palestinian Question," Cultural
, Fall 2004, 98).

Unfortunately since Israel’s triumph
against “Third World upstart” General Abdel Nasser in the
Six-Day War, the historical record has been so polluted by
Holocaust propaganda, propaganda meant to highlight Jewish
suffering to the exclusion of the suffering of other ethnic
groups, that any critical discussion of Israel has been a
near impossibility. Finkelstein lays the vital ground for a
rational discussion about Israel, the U.S.-Israel special
relationship, and Israel’s thirty-eight years of oppression
against the Palestinians. To these ends, Finkelstein turns
his critical insights toward showing that there’s nothing
new about the “new anti-Semitism,” highlighting that there
is a clear correlation between when the anti-Semitism alarm
is rung and the propaganda needs of Israel’s U.S.
apologists; who must deploy a continual stream of agitprop
against anyone or anything seeking to present a clear-eyed
understanding of what Noam Chomsky has called the
“international consensus”—a reference to the fact that the
United States and Israel have been actively blocking
resolution of the conflict through military and diplomatic
coercion. In polite circles, this is called the “peace
process,” an Orwellian term which distorts the very real
techniques of domination and control through which the
United States and Israel blocked serious attempts at
obtaining peace in the Middle East, i.e., a not
out-of-the-ordinary display of the power of the doctrinal
system and the fanatic racism of articulate Western elites.
In brief, the U.S government provides the ideological,
military, and diplomatic cover for Israel’s occupation and
its steady stream of human rights violations in the occupied
territories. That, in fact, according to Finkelstein is what
the new anti-Semitism is all about—a desperate ploy to bury
Israeli and U.S. war crimes.

The facts on the Israel-Palestine are
fairly straightforward, all Holocaust Industry propaganda to
the side. Once one understands that the founding of Israel
had little to do with the holocaust, but instead that the
holocaust was seized upon by Zionists to found a state [“As
the suffering of DPs was used as a bargaining chip in the
struggle against immigration quotas imposed by the British,
who controlled Palestine until the state was established, a
Jew immigrating to the West was one less suffering Jew
knocking on Palestine’s doors. The migration of Jews to
places other than Palestine was thus discouraged, sometimes
even blocked by force. Attempts to evacuate child survivors
to England and France immediately after Liberation in 1945
were thus thwarted, on Ben-Gurion’s explicit instructions” (Grozinsky
12)]; that the vast majority of holocaust survivors—who
sought to come to the U.S. but were blocked from doing so by
Zionists in Palestine—were coerced into immigrating to
nowhere but Palestine, in Yosef Grodzinsky’s words as “good
human material” (footnote 6) ; that to describe Palestinian
hatred of occupiers of Palestinian land as an expression of
“anti-Semitic sentiment,” because those occupiers are
Jewish, is inexplicable; and that anti-Semitism is not an
irrational, uniform, and ageless parasite that infects
non-Jews but is instead a context-specific form of ethnic
discrimination that has arisen throughout history just as
other forms of ethnic discrimination have; then the typical
Leon Uris Exodus history becomes quite untenable in
light of the historical evidence. As Grodinsky states,
“migration to Palestine was highly encouraged, sometimes
even achieved by coercion. The Zionists were able to force
an agenda because they had a coherent plan, and they were
organized” (12).

To justify Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” of
the Palestinian population from the West Bank and Gaza,
Israel’s apologists have had to sustain an untenable
ideological juggling act, keeping several balls in the air
with a great deal of continual effort. Below, I identify
those balls in the Holocaust Industry’s juggling act through
Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah:

  • The Holocaust uniqueness thesis, which states that Nazi
    genocide and the death of six million Jews cannot be
    compared to other mass slaughters because Jews are unique,
    allows Israel to function as a “crazy state” (a term of art
    within the international relations literature that suggests
    how a country can blackmail the international community with
    promises of cataclysmic violence if crossed or denied
    military or diplomatic support) ;
  • Anti-Semitism is irrational and eternal, consequently
    there can never be a justifiable expression of animus toward
    Zionist Jews, no matter how revolting and morally
    reprehensible Israeli actions (which are the actions of a
    state claiming it is “the national home of the Jewish
  • Zionist Jews can not be condemned because everything Jews
    do, according to philosemitic doctrine, is beyond reproach;
  • To reproach Zionist Jews in their support of Israel is to
    traffic in unsavory anti-Semitic stereotypes;
  • According to Holocaust Industry dogma, Israel, as the
    homeland of the Jewish people, is always justified in what
    it does—no matter how horrific the consequences may be for
    another people;
  • Israel is a democracy even though its right of return only
    applies to Jews and is governed by racist landholding laws;
  • Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and until recently,
    Gaza, were justified by security measures against terrorism
    and apparent biblical warrant—despite being in contravention
    of international law, particularly U.N. Resolution 242,
    which requires Israel to withdraw to its June 1967 borders
    with minor territorial judgments;
  • Despite the uniform judgments of the leading human rights
    organizations in the world that Israel employs torture
    against Palestinian detainees, uses illegal administrative
    detention, and the illegally demolishes Palestinian homes in
    occupied territory, Israel’s apologists seek to undermine
    international law because it does not conform to Israel’s or
    the United States’ wishes for the Middle East region;
  • Israel can be described as a model democracy because it
    maintains a respect for the rule of law which no other
    country in the world facing similar threats has.
    Did the end of the Jewish Question only create the Question
    of Palestine?

In its dogged exposure of corrupt cultural institutions and
the elites who serve them, along with its in-depth analysis
of Alan Dershowitz’s blatant distortions in The Case for
Israel, Beyond Chutzpah convincingly demonstrates—that when
it comes to discussing, covering, and unashamedly
misrepresenting the specific facts of the Israel-Palestine
conflict—U.S. cultural elites are in a league of their own.
As Finkelstein explains, Beyond Chutzpah‘s
“substantive aim is to use The Case for Israel as a
peg to explore crucial aspects of the Israel-Palestine
conflict” (94).

If truth and justice are the most
potent weapons in the arsenal of the oppressed, the
manifold reports of these human rights organizations are
the most underutilized resource for a just resolution of
the Israel-Palestine conflict. It appears that they are
rarely read and almost never cited. And it is mainly
because these uniquely authoritative publications lie
around collecting dust that apologists can propagate so
much mythology about Israel human rights record. Were
their findings widely disseminated, Israel’s occupation
would clearly be morally indefensible (94).

In this sense, Beyond Chutzpah
goes where few have dared to go before: to the real source
of the problem—pro-Zionist Jewish-American abuse of power in
supporting Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.
Finkelstein intrepidly asks Do American Zionist Jews, qua
Jews, use their ethnic privilege to advance Israel’s
morally-bankrupt agenda toward increased militarization in
its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and annexation of
the West Bank? If the voting behavior of the U.S. Congress
is any indication, the answer is obviously “yes”. However,
Israel serves strategic interests for the United States in
blocking the growth of Arab nationalism and the greatly
feared Pan-Arab movement; it can’t obviously be described as
just an object of pro-Zionist Jewish American devotion.
Israel, in some sense, occupies a central place in the U.S.
imagination in its aspirations to be a beacon of light in
the wilderness. To push the point even further, Israel and
the United States are one.

When the historical record reveals that
the PLO and the Arab states have overwhelmingly been in
favor of peace in the meaningful sense, giving up nearly
sixty percent of historic Palestine while repeatedly
recognizing Israel’s legitimacy—and that Israel and the
United States fear a resolution of the conflict according to
the international consensus—one then gains some insight into
the devastatingly true old bromide, “The strong write
history.” One thinks of Chomsky’s comment after 9/11: “It is
a serious analytical error to believe that terrorism is a
weapon of the weak. It is overwhelmingly a weapon of the
strong. The strong control the doctrinal systems and their
terror doesn’t count as terror” (MIT talk, October 2001). As
an example, consider the failure of the Camp David talks
between Clinton, Arafat, and Barak in 2000. The media blamed
Arafat for turning down a deal of a lifetime), when in fact
he was presented with a deal no Palestinian leader could
possibly have accepted. (described as “a Palestinian state
consisting of 85% of the West Bank” The West Bank would have
been divided up into three or four cantons subject to nearly
complete Israeli control, with hundred of Israeli
checkpoint—along with Jewish-only bypass roads crisscrossing
through and containing the Palestinian population within a
Bantustan, a throwback to the days of the South African
ruling minority, who sought to enforce apartheid through
remote control by recruiting a member of the indigenous
population to police his brethren. In this sense, as
Finkelstein pointed out a previous book (Image and
Reality in the Israel-Palestine Conflict
), Arafat was
being recruited to become another Butalezi (xxvii).

Under the Camp David II agreement, the
Palestinians would have exercised no control over West Bank
or Gaza checkpoints or airspace, and would not have had
access to the most precious resource in the area—water
aquifers. If anything, the Camp David offer simply would
have made Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza more
efficient, essentially placing the Palestinians within an
Israeli matrix of control. Palestinian national symbols such
as a flag, postage stamps, and national holidays would have
meant little without genuine national autonomy. As Israeli
ambassador to the United States, Dore Gold, once quipped “If
the Palestinians want to call what we give them a state,
fine; they can call it “chopped chicken” for all we care—as
long as we control it.” The U.S. media’s presentation of
what the Palestinians were actually offered at Camp David
represents an astonishing example of how crucial information
about the conflict is crafted, distorted, and packaged for
public consumption. Given the level of manipulation
involved, it is fair to say that the U.S. media and
intellectual culture have foisted a troubling set of
misunderstandings upon the general public, which will
undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for the region in
the months to come.

Nonetheless, one must wonder whether not
Finkelstein—in this book of nearly three hundred and twenty
pages—merely proves a truism: power politics determines the
rules and the discourses through which to apprehend reality,
even when those rules and discourses defy elementary logic,
downright commonsense, and the never-read findings of
Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and Human Rights Watch.
While there has been international condemnation of the
Israeli government’s illegal occupation and oppression of
the Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza for nearly
thirty-eight years, this occupation and oppression has
continued because Israel is militarily and diplomatically
supported by its superpower patron, the United States. U.S.
and Israeli elites have found it more than worthwhile to
ignore the moral and legal prohibitions condeming the
“ethnic cleansing” (there is no more accurate phrase) of the
Palestinians, while cashing in on the benefits of a
desperate and crippling Realpolitick.

Finkelstein’s thorough descriptions of
the all-out absurdity of the so-called “new
anti-Semitism”—described in such books as Foxman’s Never
, Chesler’s The New Anti-Semitism,
Schoenfeld’s The Return of Anti-Semitism, and the
vast majority of the contributions to Ron Rosenbaum’s
Those Who Forget
—proves the seeming inanity of
confronting the powerful in their desperation to avoid
accountability and looking into the faces of their victims.
Despite the international consensus on the illegality of
Israel’s occupation, and the widespread anti-Arab sentiment
that exists worldwide, the likes of Foxman, Chesler,
Schoenfeld, and most of the contributors to the Rosenbaum
collection, attempt the more-than-slightly-difficult task of
turning reality on its head: Jews are victims not
perpetrators; Israel is vulnerable; the Arab world’s
resistance and anger toward Israel can only be blamed on an
inexplicable anti-Semitism; anyone who disagrees with us is
an anti-Semite; we’ll devour our one-time close allies, such
as Leon Wieseltier (The New Republic editor) for
not adequately towing the party line—proving, as Finkelstein
notes, how the revolution can indeed devour its children
when the party and that party line are thrown into jeopardy
(Beyond Chutzpah 40). It is probably fair to say
that the likes of Foxman, Chesler, and Schoenfeld, and
Dershowitz because they are so busy toadying for Israel
while warning of the new anti-Semitism, would not have the
intellectual honesty to deal with real
anti-Semitism—primarily their own. The label “anti-Semite,”
if it is to remain coherent and remain true to its
historical roots, should also apply to those who claim that
Israel speaks on behalf of all Jews, particularly diaspora
Jewry. Zionism clearly does not speak for world Jewry, and
it never has. As Finkelstein notes,

[t]his is a direct throwback to the
darkest days of Stalinism, when those criticizing the
Soviet regime were, by virtue of this fact alone,
branded “objective” abettors of fascism, and dealt with
accordingly.. One day it’s the uniqueness and
universality of theological absolutism; the next day
it’s the uniqueness and universality of the Holocaust.
The constant is the totalitarian cast of mind, and
attendant stigmatizing of dissent as a disease that must
be wiped out by the state (Beyond Chutzpah 49;
emphasis mine).

Sadly, Finkelstein’s historical analogy
is deadly in its accuracy, providing a refreshing glimpse
into the standards governing U.S. intellectual life. In his
most recent book, The Case for Peace, Dershowitz
claims that he seeks to expose those extremists who are more
Israeli than the Israelis and more Palestinian than the
Palestinians. That Alan Dershowitz has posed as an objective
party, employing the discourse of reason, factuality, and
legitimacy to foist a extremely problematic and troubling
text such as The Case for Israel upon the public
requires extended reflection among those claiming to inhabit
a moral universe. As Finkelstein points out in the
Beyond Chutzpah
‘s conclusion, Alan Dershowitz doesn’t
make the case for Israel; he in fact lays the ground for its
destruction with his advocacy for torture against
Palestinians, condemnation of the Israeli peace movement,
the International Solidarity Movement, and those fighting to
broaden civil liberties in Israel.


1. Dershowitz writes: “American Jews need
more chutzpah. Notwithstanding the stereotype we are not
pushy or assertive enough for our own good and for the good
of our more vulnerable brothers and sisters in other parts
of the world” (Chutzpah 1).

2. See Ze’ev Shiff’s Israel’s Lebanon
(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984) and A
History of the Israeli Army: 1874 to the Present
. (New
York: Macmillan, 1985); Benny Morris’s The Birth of the
Palestinian Refugee Problem
(Cambridge: Cambridge U P,
1987) and The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem
(Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 2003).

3. One of the most intriguing of
Dershowitz’s gaffes, the Felix Frankfurter Professor’s
reference to George Orwell’s “turnspeak” in two separate
instances in The Case for Israel, has yet to be
properly explained. Orwell coined the phrase “Newspeak”;
“turnspeak”—”the cynical inverting of facts”—was coined by
Peters in From Time Immemorial. In a letter to New
Press editor, Colin Robinson, Dershowitz admitted that he
attributed the phrase “turnspeak” to Huxley. How did Huxley
get introduced into this melee?

4. My postmodernist friends will have to
excuse me for using this phrase, “the historical record,” in
this context. As it turns out, it is an a useful phrase, one
repeatedly employed by historians and serious political

5. Consider Noam Chomsky’s powerful reflection in Towards a New Cold War:
To put it in the simplest terms, a talented young journalist or a student aiming for a scholarly career can choose to
play the game by the rules, with the prospect of advancement to a position of prestige and privilege and sometimes even a
degree of power; or to pursue an independent path, with the likelihood of a minor post as a police reporter or in a
community college, exclusion from major journals, vilification and abuse, or driving a taxi cab. Given such
choices, the end result is not very surprising. Few options are open to isolated individuals in a basically depoliticized society lacking popular organizations that
question the legitimacy of existing structures of domination and control, state or private (14-15).

6. See Yosef Grodsinky’s In the Shadow of the Holocaust:
The Struggle between Jews and Zionists
. Monroe: Common
Courage Press, 2004.

Matthew Abraham is Assistant Professor of
English at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where
he teaches courses in Rhetoric and Writing. He was named the
2005 Rachel Corrie Courage in Teaching Award Winner by the
progressive special interest groups of the Conference on
College Composition and Communication.

Letter exchange

Letter to Matthew Abraham on Beyond Chutzpah Review
by Alan Dershowitz |

Responding to Complaints about Beyond Chutzpah Review
by Matthew Abraham |