July 15, 2005
BOSTON — Alan Dershowitz is no stranger to feuds, but the outspoken Harvard Law School professor is in the middle of a particularly nasty spat with an author who accuses him of plagiarism.
Hoodlum. Nut job. Sleaze. Those are just a few of the names Dershowitz and DePaul University political science professor Norman Finkelstein called each other this week in separate interviews with The Associated Press.
At the center of the argument is a book by Finkelstein claiming that Dershowitz _ the lawyer famous for representing O.J. Simpson and other high-profile clients _ inappropriately lifted material from another author when writing the book “The Case for Israel.”
The University of California Press plans to publish Finkelstein’s book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” in late August despite an aggressive campaign by Dershowitz to get them to drop it.
In letters to California officials including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dershowitz accused Finkelstein of shoddy scholarship and threatened to sue for libel. The governor declined to intervene because of the “clear, academic freedom issue it presents,” his legal affairs secretary told Dershowitz in a Feb. 8 letter.
Dershowitz said he warned the publishing house that he would “own the company” if the book accused him of plagiarism or included Finkelstein’s allegation that he didn’t write the book in the first place.
“That’s like accusing a mother that she didn’t give birth to her child,” Dershowitz said of the latter claim.
Dershowitz also rejected Finkelstein’s allegation that he plagiarized parts of Joan Peters’ 1984 book “From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine.”
“No other university press would publish garbage like this,” said Dershowitz, describing the University of California Press as “very hard-left” and “very anti-Zionist.”
Lynne Withey, the publishing house’s director, rejected Dershowitz’s claim that her company has a political bias, and said six scholars from outside the university reviewed Finkelstein’s book.
“His books are very, very thoroughly researched. He has an excellent reputation,” she said. “He clearly has a point of view that is antithetical to Dershowitz’s, but scholars line up on both sides of the issue.”
Finkelstein said he agreed to delete all references to “plagiarism,” changing to wording to say that Dershowitz “lifted” or “appropriated” material from Peters, but says the changes were only made to head off costly litigation.
“I have not retracted one jot of one word of what I’ve said the past year,” Finkelstein said. “The book he plagiarized is, by all academics, recognized to be a fraud. It’s a completely discredited book.”
Finkelstein’s book claims that “fully 22 of the 52 quotations and endnotes in chapters 1 and 2 of ‘The Case for Israel’ match almost exactly _ including, in long quotes, the placement of ellipses _ those in ‘From Time Immemorial.'”
Last year, at the request of Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan, former Harvard President Derek Bok investigated Finkelstein’s plagiarism allegations. Bok did not find any merit to the claim, said law school spokesman Michael Armini.
Although Finkelstein is not backing away from his plagiarism charge, Dershowitz said he has no plans to sue “that nut job.”
Dershowitz, known as a strong defender of the First Amendment, said there is nothing incongruous about his efforts to convince the University of California Press not to publish Finkelstein’s book. He said he always wanted the book to be printed, preferably by a less reputable publisher, so he could “devastate (Finkelstein) in the court of public opinion.”
“The First Amendment only protects honest mistakes,” he said. “It doesn’t protect deliberate falsehoods.”
Dershowitz has another book about Israel, “The Case for Peace,” scheduled to come out in August, that includes his response to Finkelstein’s allegations.
Finkelstein said the plagiarism claims were only a small part of “Beyond Chutzpah,” which also looks at ways that Dershowitz and other scholars have “egregiously misrepresented” Israel’s human rights record.
“Alan Dershowitz wants to turn this into a personal vendetta,” he said. “I have no history with Alan Dershowitz. There are few individuals on earth who interest me less.”