The Finkelstein-Dershowitz Battle over Israel: review of BEYOND CHUTZPAH

September 8, 2005

In News

By Randy Shaw

When Harvard Law Professor and self-described civil libertarian Alan Dershowitz asked Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to stop the University of California Press from publishing Beyond Chutzpah, he unleashed a pre-publication firestorm. It becomes clear after only a few chapters why Dershowitz sought to suppress this book. Finkelstein so thoroughly demolishes Dershowitz’s credibility that, if this were a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight in the third round and declared Finkelstein the winner by technical knockout. But on the larger question of whether Finkelstein fulfilled his goal of “lifting the veil surrounding the Israeli-Palestine conflict,” the answer is more complicated.

Alan Dershowitz’s bestselling book, The Case for Israel, offered a vigorous defense to critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. The book won wide praise from leading academics, journalists and book reviewers from across America.

It was precisely this uncritical response to what Norman Finklestein saw as a deeply flawed work that led him to write a book debunking it. Finkelstein previously raised hackles among mainstream Jewish leaders with his book, The Holocaust Industry, and thanks to Dershowitz’s attempt to halt its publication, Beyond Chutzpah is likely to arouse even greater controversy.

From the initial publication of The Case for Israel, red flags should have been raised over Dershowitz’s capacity to adequately research the book.. Dershowitz publishes nearly a book a year in addition to his law school duties, and also maintains an active public speaking schedule. He apparently fit the book into his schedule by ignoring facts that conflicted with his arguments and by routinely misstating the historical record. Finkelstein reveals that The Case for Israel was as much ideologically-driven as a book by right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, only that in Dershowitz’s case, his Harvard pedigree gave his dishonest ramblings academic and mainstream credibility.

Although Finkelstein acknowledges early in his book that The Case for Israel is so rife with inaccuracies that it is not necessary to write a book refuting them, he spends most of the book doing precisely that. The author is so angry at the credibility assigned to Dershowitz, that he feels obligated to provide great detail refuting Dershowitz on every issue –from Israel’s use of lethal force, its denial of Palestinian rights, the demolitions of Palestinian homes, its opposition to Palestinian nonviolence and on and on.

But unlike the famous historian Arnold Toynbee, whose inventions of historical fact nevertheless became the basis for much of his era’s knowledge of world history, Alan Dershowitz never had credibility as an independent arbiter of the facts. Dershowitz is a passionate supporter and defender of Israel and, as he does in his criminal defense work, zealously represented his client regardless of their actual innocence.

There is so much written on the Israel-Palestine conflict, in books, magazines, newspapers, and on the Internet, that it is hard to believe that any reader turned to Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel for intellectual guidance. Like Ann Coulter’s bestselling books, Dershowitz’s work was bought and read by those already agreeing with his views. The sympathetic book reviews received by Dershowitz did not influence public opinion or America’s staunchly pro-Israel Middle East policy.

Many readers will enjoy Finkelstein’s destruction of the intellectual basis for The Case for Israel, as Dershowitz is revealed as an arrogant blowhard who needs to be taken down a notch. But while Finkelstein devotes chapter after chapter undermining the assertions of an author he quickly proves lacks credibility, he spends too little time focusing on his stated goal of “lifting the veil” surrounding Israel and Palestine.

Although anger at Dershowitz’s falsehoods fuels Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein has two other targets: America’s mainstream Jewish establishment and the nature of the state of Israel.

As reflected in his chapter titled “Crying Wolf,” Finkelstein argues that mainstream American Jewish organizations falsely raise the specter of Anti-Semitism in order to insulate Israel from criticism. Finkelstein notes how ADL leader Abraham Foxman and other neo-conservatives inappropriately raise the anti-Semitic banner, and Beyond Chutzpah even charges that “American Jewish elites, alongside Israel, are the main fomenters of anti-Semitism in the world today.”

Really? That sounds like conservatives arguing that widespread poverty and misery in Africa and high crime rates among African-Americans here are the main fomenters of racism. As a child of Holocaust survivors, Finkelstein knows well how the Nazi Party blamed Jews for anti-Semitism, and this argument is beneath a man of his intellectual talents.

False charges of racial, gender, or religious bias does not mean that such attitudes have disappeared. While Finkelstein sees anti-Semitism being used as a cover for insulating Israel from criticism, he does not discuss how anti-Jewish attitudes have fueled hostility toward Israel and continue to perpetuate cultural stereotypes in this country.

Moreover, the reason American foreign policy tilts so heavily toward Israel has nothing to do with false cries about anti-Semitism. Rather, it is a function of a campaign finance system that allows pro-Israel backers to support pro-Israel candidates in Senate and House races across the nation.

Ultimately, Finkelstein’s vehement attacks on Israel undermine his stated goal of “lifting the veil” about the truth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is unfortunate, because Finklestein’s scholarship is rigorous, his writing engaging, and he makes many criticisms about Israel that seldom appear in print (his critique of the Israeli Supreme Court is particularly illuminating).

But in order to “lift the veil,” Finkelstein needed to write a book that reached beyond the already converted. When he blames Jews and Israel for anti-Semitism, and claims without documentation that the “Zionist movement ethnically cleansed Palestine in 1948” (conventional history has Israel being attacked by its Arab neighbors after winning independence that year, and then winning the war for its survival), he loses credibility with those whose opinions are not fixed and who could potentially be won to his side.

Finkelstein has won the battle against Alan Dershowitz, and his appendix establishes what the Harvard Law School Administration refused to admit: that The Case for Israel is built on plagiarism. But the vehemence and anger that went into his battering of a celebrity writer overwhelms Finkelstein’s larger purpose.

Beyond Chutzpah is likely to leave its readers opinions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unchanged, if not further polarized.

Send feedback to

To: rshaw[at]
CC: normang[at]
Subject: Mr Shaw’s review of Beyond Chutzpah
Date: Sun, 11 Sep 2005 00:23:39 +0200 (CEST)

Dear Mr Shaw,

I read your review of Prof. Finkelstein’s book Beyond
Chutzpah on his website (
I have a few comments to make.

Firstly I think that you are correct that Finkelstein
demolishes Dershowitz. I also think you are right
when you argue “Moreover, the reason American foreign
policy tilts so heavily toward Israel has nothing to
do with false cries about anti-Semitism.” I disagree
with the reason you give for US support to Israel
though. In my opinion the US has supported Israel
for its strategic interests – mainly ensuring the
stability of the oil flow – since Israel proved
itself militarily capable. The campaign “against
anti-Semitism” has a huge effect in obtaining the
consent or active support of the population of the US
(and also the European powers such as France where I
live) for Israel and the US alignment with it. In
fact the US has justified most of its recent wars by
making out their opponent to be just like Hitler.
Milosovic was the Hitler of the Balkans, Hussein the
Hitler of the Middle East etc. The US’s fight
against Hitler is presented in popular culture today as a
fight against ultimate evil embodied in the attempt to
exterminate European (or even world) Jewry, hence to
fight “another Hitler” is a just war deserving

And here is where I think you are absolutely wrong:
1) You wrote “But in order to ‘lift the veil,’
Finkelstein needed to write a book that reached
beyond the already converted. … claims without
documentation that the “Zionist movement ethnically
cleansed Palestine in 1948″”.

Firstly, Finkelstein repeatedly makes reference to
Benny Morris and other Israeli “New Historian”‘s now
standard works documenting that this is actually what
happened. This is a well-known school of Israeli
historians who went back to the source documentation
and exposed as myths what you present as
“conventional history.”

Secondly, I think Finkelstein has done a far better
job in this book than in The Holocaust Industry of
“reaching beyond the already converted.” The
Holocaust Industry was a brilliant book but I think that Raul
Hilberg was correct when he said that a newcomer to
the field is lost when reading it because it assumes
a lot of familiarity with the subject matter. In Beyond
Chutzpah, Finkelstein has written a book that is
easily accessible to a newcomer by elaborating and
explaining his points more and by hammering them over
and over – the sheer mass of proof of what Israel
really is and does is astounding. Showing that
Israel – and not the Palestinians – acts in a brutal and
racist way bringing to mind the history and ideology
of the Nazis and then *proving* it can be quite
effective in winning over people in the US who have
been swept up in the official propaganda and really
believe Jews to be in danger today. (How much
influence the US population can have on US policy is
debatable though – 90% of Spaniards were against
going to war in Iraq but the government did it

2) You wrote “Beyond Chutzpah even charges that
‘American Jewish elites, alongside Israel, are the
main fomenters of anti-Semitism in the world today.’
Really? That sounds like conservatives arguing that
widespread poverty and misery in Africa and high
crime rates among African-Americans here are the main
fomenters of racism.”

You make an analogy between Jews and Blacks as if
both are the targets of racism. Yet Finkelstein thinks
that since the Second World War, the anti-Semitism
that animated the far right in the 30’s and 40’s has
receded to small circles largely isolated from public
life. Whether he thinks racism against Blacks in the
US has also abated I don’t know, but I for one don’t
think that Jews in the US face the sort of racist
discrimination that Blacks continue to. In fact Jews
in the US are the single most wealthy and powerful
ethnic group today. You demonstrate how much you
yourself are caught up in the ideology of “fighting
anti-Semitism” by even making this comparison.

When a state that says it represents world Jewry
14 children by dropping a one-ton bomb on a
residential area and then the Prime Minister says it
was a brilliantly successful operation – that does
actually generate anti-Semitism. And even with such
anti-Semitism, it is not Jews who are in danger, but

The other part of Finkelstein’s thesis that you quote
is that the main growth of genuine anti-Semitism
is resentment at Jews receiving special privileges,
the Jewish organizations ripping off money to the
of billions and other abuses carried out by people
such as Israel Singer, Bronfman et al by using and
abusing the very real and horrible history of the
Holocaust. Here’s one typical yet ridiculous example
of this from last week: Israel drew with Switzerland
in the World Cup qualifier. Haaretz carried an
article that reported how one of the Swiss players
said that Israel should go through to the next round
because Jews were killed in the Holocaust. We are at
the ridiculous point where sports players in Europe
say that their country should be eliminated from one
of the most important international sporting events
because people like my grandparents (who survived
Auschwitz and Dachau) were targeted because they were
Jewish – by a different state, different people and
over 50 years ago. That is not healthy and *does*
bread resentment. As a French friend told me last
week “we French have the reputation of being
anti-Semites and it does not matter if it is true or
not. We therefore have nothing to lose by assuming
our allotted role and really becoming such.”

Michael Bienstein

Mr. Shaw,

The key example you use to illustrate that Norman Finkelstein failed to “lift the veil” about the truth
of the Israel-Palestine conflict is that he “claims
without documentation that the ‘Zionist movement
ethnically cleansed Palestine in 1948′”. But this is
incorrect. On pg. 5, Finkelstein examines the views of
Israeli historian Benny Morris on the ethnic
cleansing issue – quite appropriately as Morris is a
source that Dershowitz heavily (mis)quotes in his
book. The section’s corresponding footnote (no. 9 on
pg. 5) makes direct reference to a newspaper interview
(in addition to other relevant sources) in which
Morris not only admits that ethnic cleansing occured
but also justifies it. Similarly, footnote 29 on pg. 53
contains the following: “for Israeli scholars
concluding that Israel engaged in ‘ethnic cleasing’ in
1948, see the various publication of Baruch
Kimmerling, Illan Pappe, and Benny Morris…”

Additionally, pages 259 and 263-265 also deal with the
ethnic cleansing issue in the context of Dershowitz’s
(mis)characterization of Morris’ work and contain several
relevant references.

Alroy Fonseca