The Felix Frankfurter Chair at Harvard Law School Lying? Pray tell me it ain't so

November 9, 2006

In News

Editor’s note: Below is Gordon’s respone to Dershowitz’ latest in The Jerusalem Post

Anti-Semitism? You Just Don’t Like What I Say!


Alan Dershowitz, Harvard’s Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, has
decided to attack me personally, thinking that if he undermines my
reputation he can save his own. Paradoxically, he manages to prove
one thing in his recent diatribe in the Jerusalem Post: that he is
a consistent man.

As in his book The Case for Israel, here too, he relentlessly
passes fiction for fact.

Despite Dershowitz’s claims, I never compared Israelis to Nazis,
and I certainly am not a neo-Nazi or anti-Israeli. Like Dershowitz,
I am an American citizen, yet unlike him I have chosen to live in
Israel and invest a large portion of my time struggling for social
justice. I served in the Israeli paratroopers and was critically
wounded defending the northern border.

Following the great Jewish tradition, I try, however modestly, to
be critical of Israel whenever its policies violate principles of
justice or human rights.

Ironically, about two years ago Dershowitz invited me to contribute
a chapter to a book he was editing called What Israel Means to Me.
At that time he was not questioning my commitment to Israel. What,
then, has led him to change his mind?

Dershowitz’s assault began following my review of Norman
Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah. This book, which was published by
University of California Press, provides clear evidence that in The
Case for Israel Dershowitz “lifted” information and ideas from Joan
Peters’s From Time Immemorial. My review maintained that Harvard
University’s own definition of plagiarism – “passing off a source’s
information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them”
– would, indeed, convict Dershowitz.

It was this that triggered Dershowitz’s animus.

DERSHOWITZ avers that he never tried to stop UC Press from
publishing Beyond Chutzpah and seems to think that if he repeats
this often enough it will eventually become true. This is a
well-known demagogic strategy.

Unfortunately for him, UC Press has correspondence on file in which
he and the prestigious law firm he hired demand that the Press
sever all contact with Finkelstein. A typical letter from
Dershowitz’s attorney, Rory Millson of Cravath, Swaine & Moore,
describes “the press’s decision to publish this book” as “wholly
illegitimate” and concludes that: “The only way to extricate
yourself is immediately to terminate all professional contact with
this full-time malicious defamer.”

When the Press’s director Lynne Withey replied that she was
committed to academic freedom and would therefore go ahead with the
book, Dershowitz wrote to the university’s board of trustees and
even to California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking them
to intervene on his behalf. They declined.

DERSHOWITZ’S inability to refute the evidence led to his vicious
personal attack against me. However, Dershowitz also makes a
political claim when he contends that my successful suit against
Prof. Steven Plaut was, in effect, an attempt to undermine freedom
of speech. Again he distorts the truth to suit his own purpose.

I filed a libel suit against Plaut when he began publishing a
series of slanderous articles in which he calls me a “fanatic
anti-Semite,” “a Judenrat wannabe,” “a promoter of Hitler,” and “a
groupie of the world’s leading Holocaust denier.” He went on to
compare me to the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving.

In various places he claimed that I have called on Arabs to use
violence against Israel; he published an article on the racist
Kahane Web site, asking his readers to harass me – some obediently
complied; he also disseminated the falsehood that my academic
ability is poor, and even initiated an international campaign to
have me fired.

Make no mistake, my suit against Plaut is about slander and not
about our opposing political views.

YES, I AM a severe critic of the Israeli government’s policies, but
just as I want my opinions to be heard, I believe in freedom of
expression and am not interested in censoring other people’s
opinions, including those of Dershowitz or Plaut. If anyone
disagrees with my views, he or she has the right to try and refute
my position. Notice, that throughout his article Dershowitz does
not engage my political arguments. Instead, he picks up the cudgels
of defamation and vilification.

In fact, both Plaut and Dershowitz are the ones who aim to silence
their political rivals. In order to accomplish their goals they
exploit the Holocaust, thus undermining the significance of this
uniquely catastrophic historical event.

Their attack against me illustrates this point. Despite the fact
that most of Plaut’s criticism is related to my positions vis- -vis
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he characterizes me as an
anti-Semite, Judenrat wannabe, and promoter of Hitler. The use of
Holocaust vocabulary is intentional and emotive, designed to
destroy my credibility in the political arena. The sad irony is that
in order to advance his political goals Plaut ends up trivializing
the Holocaust.

Despite the ruthless efforts to ruin my good name, the Israeli
court has had its say. It found Plaut guilty of libel. Now, in the
aftermath of this case, allowing his personal vendetta to blur his
legal judgment, Dershowitz shamelessly attacks the judge’s verdict.
This lack of judgment is apparent when the Harvard professor calls
me names and concludes with a cheap dare that I sue him, instead of
rising to the academic challenge of proving that he did not “lift”
information from others.

Unlike Dershowitz, however, when choosing between truth or dare I
always side with truth.

Neve Gordon teaches human rights at Ben-Gurion University in Israel
and is the editor of From the Margins of Globalization: Critical
Perspectives on Human Rights. He Can be reached at