The Hazards of Making The Case for
By ALAN DERSHOWITZ
Publication of The Case for Israel has made me the
target of vicious personal attacks. A systematic effort to discredit the book,
and me, has been undertaken by a well-organized group of Israel bashers led by
Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and Alexander Cockburn. As soon as the book
reached the bestseller lists and began to get good reviews around the country,
this triumvirate went to work. They had a model for their attack going back 20
The mode of attack is consistent. Chomsky selects the
target and directs Finkelstein to probe the writings in minute detail and
conclude that the writer didn’t actually write the work, that it is
plagiarized, that it is a hoax and a fraud. Cockburn publicizes these
“findings,” and then a cadre of fellow travelers bombard the Internet with so
many attacks on the target that these attacks jump to the top of Google.
Because no one has thus far exposed the pattern, each attack may seem plausible
on first impression. But when the pattern is examined and exposed, the entire
enterprise becomes clear for what it is: a clear attempt to chill pro-Israel
advocacy on university campuses by a form of literary McCarthyism.
Many people know who Noam Chomsky is. The jacket of one of his books describes
him, without irony, as “arguably the most important intellectual alive.”
But some are also aware of the darker side of his record—including of
supporting, praising, and working with neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers. Chomsky’s most
notorious bedfellow is Robert Faurisson, who called the Holocaust a “hoax,”
denied the existence of Hitler’s gas chambers, claimed that the diary of Anne
Frank was a “forgery,” and described the Jewish claims for Holocaust
reparations as a “fraud.” Chomsky leapt to Faurisson’s support, praising him as
a scholar who had done “extensive historical research” and to describe his lies
about the Holocaust as historical “findings.”
Chomsky did not see any “hint of anti-Semitic implications” in Faurisson’s claim
that the so-called Holocaust was a fraud perpetrated by the Jewish people
against Germany. Chomsky, the linguist, assured his readers that “nobody
believes there is an anti-Semitic connotation to the denial of the Holocaust…
whether one believes it took place or not.”
As Paul L. Berman summarized Chomsky’s record on these issues: “Chomsky’s view
of anti-Semitism is positively wild. His definition is so narrow, neither the Protocols
of the Elders of Zion nor the no-Holocaust delusion fit into it…. I am afraid
that his present remarks on anti-Semitism and Zionist lies disqualify him from
ever being taken seriously on matters pertaining to Jews.”
Ever since his close association with neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers compromised
his credibility on “matters pertaining to Jews,” Chomsky has tended to leave it
to surrogates to continue his campaign of vilification against the Jewish
community. His primary surrogate is Norman Finkelstein.
Chomsky has characterized Finkelstein as one of his “very close friends”
and “a very fine scholar.” (Chomsky has also characterized the work of Ward
Churchill—the Colorado professor who called the victims of the attack on the
World Trade Center “little Eichmanns”—as “excellent, penetrating and of high
scholarly quality,” and his achievements as “of inestimable value.”) Chomsky
has urged audiences “to come listen to” Finkelstein because he can speak about
Israel “with more authority and insight… than anyone I can think of.” This,
about a man who boasts of “publicly honoring” and showing “solidarity with
Hezbollah,” the anti-American terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s
destruction by violence.
Finkelstein is a transient academic who describes himself as “in exile” at
DePaul University because he has been—by his own account—“thrown out of every
school in New York.” He has been
fired by Brooklyn College, N.Y.U., and several other schools for
“incompetence,” “mental instability,” and “abuse” of students with politics
different from his own, according to a high-ranking official at one of the
schools. Finkelstein has admitted, “Never has one of my articles been published
in a scientific magazine.”
And deservedly so, as Peter Novick, whose book The Holocaust in American
Life Finkelstein has characterized as “the initial stimulus for [his]
wrote: “As concerns particular assertions made by Finkelstein concerning
reparations and restitution, and on other matters as well, the appropriate
response is not (exhilarating) ‘debate’ but (tedious) examination of his
footnotes. Such an examination reveals that many of those assertions are pure
invention. […] No facts alleged by Finkelstein should be assumed to be really
facts, no quotation in his book should be assumed to be accurate, without
taking the time to carefully compare his claims with the sources he cites.”
Finkelstein has said that he “can’t imagine why Israel’s apologists would be
offended by a comparison with the Gestapo”
and asserted that Israel’s human rights record is “interchangeable with Iraq’s”
when it was ruled by Saddam Hussein.
He has said that most alleged Holocaust survivors—including Elie Wiesel—have
fabricated their past, are “bogus,” and that those seeking reparations are
“cheats” and “greedy.” Because of my support of Israel, he has compared me to
“Adolf Eichman [sic],”
and accused me of expressing “Nazi moral judgments.”
When challenged to defend his frequent comparison between Jews and Nazis, he
has responded, “Nazis never like to hear they’re being Nazis.”
He is a popular speaker among German neo-Nazis; one, Ingrid Rimland, whose
husband, the notorious Ernst Zuendel, wrote The Hitler We Loved And Why,
even referred to him admiringly as the “Jewish David Irving” (“Jüdischer David
Irving”)—a reference to the British Holocaust denier and Hitler admirer. The
comparison is apt because Finkelstein has reportedly praised the
Holocaust-denying Irving as “a good historian!”
and as having “made an indispensable” contribution to our knowledge of World
A German writer has observed that “seldom has a Jew been more celebrated by
brown propaganda that Finkelstein.”
Another writer aptly described him as a Jew who “supports anti-Semitism.”
Gabriel Schoenfeld has labeled his views as “crackpot ideas, some of them
mirrored almost verbatim in the propaganda put out by neo-Nazis around the
His books do not sell in America, but they are best-sellers among the growing
number of neo-Nazis in Germany.
The third member of this smear team is Alexander Cockburn. Cockburn has used
his column at The Nation, and his online radical hotspot Counterpunch,
to publicize many of their most outrageous claims. He himself is virulently
anti-Israel. In 1984 he was fired from the Village Voice for hiding a
$10,000 “grant” he received from an anti-Israel organization.
When asked whether he believed the “stories” that he reported were “sloshing
around the news” involving Israeli complicity in 9/11 and in the anthrax
attacks, his response was, “I don’t know there’s enough exterior evidence to
determine whether they are true or not.”
Columnist Jon Margolis, after exposing several false charges made by Cockburn,
asserted that “Cockburn has been abusing reality for decades” and that “as an
accuser, Joe McCarthy was more responsible.”
The story of this unholy alliance among Chomsky, Finkelstein, and Cockburn
begins nearly 20 years ago with the publication of a book entitled From Time
Immemorial, by a woman named Joan Peters. The book, an unlikely bestseller,
was largely a demographic study of the population of the area that eventually
became Israel. Peters’ conclusion was that the Arab political claim that the
Palestinians who left or were expelled from Israel during the war of
Independence (1947-1948) had lived in the area from time immemorial was
When Noam Chomsky learned of the Peters book, he became outraged because its
thesis undercut his ideological opposition to Israel. He raised questions about
whether Peters had actually written the book, claiming in print that it was “signed
by Joan Peters,” but
“probably it had been put together by some intelligence agency….”
In describing the book, Chomsky totally distorted its content, alleging that it
“purported to show that the Palestinians were all recent immigrants,”
that “there were really no Palestinians,”
and that “if Israel kicks them all out there’s no moral issue…”
Nowhere in Peters’ 622-page book does she make any of these claims. Chomsky
telephoned Finkelstein, then a graduate student already notorious for the
virulence of his anti-Zionism, and directed him to expose Peters’ book as “a
fraud.” According to Finkelstein’s own account, Chomsky told him “that if I go
through the book more carefully, [I’d] probably discover that the whole thing
is a fraud.” Any
legitimate academic would have rejected Chomsky’s unscholarly directive out of
hand, but not Finkelstein. Here is how he responded: “Well, you know, I’m a
person of the left, and when you get a call from Professor Chomsky, his wish is
your command.” And, of
course, Finkelstein granted Chomsky this wish: he “discovered” that Peters had
concocted a “spectacular hoax,” a “fraud from start to finish.”
Exactly what Chomsky had directed him to find! Finkelstein also accused Peters
Having arranged for the hatchet job, Chomsky, who had not himself done any of
the research, went even further than Finkelstein in publicizing Finkelstein’s
alleged conclusions. He said that the entire Peters book “was completely
faked” and that “the whole thing was a hoax”—claims
that Finkelstein had not come close to proving.
The third member of this nasty attack team, Alexander Cockburn, made similar
claims. Cockburn wrote articles publicizing Finkelstein’s unfair attack against
Peters. He characterized her conclusions as “fraudulent,” “mad,”
The Chomsky-Finkelstein-Cockburn mode of ad hominem attack proved particularly
successful against Peters because the words “hoax,” “fraud,” “fake,” and
“plagiarism” are so dramatic and unforgettable, as is the charge that Peters
did not actually write the book, but merely signed a KGB-style forgery
concocted by “some intelligence agency.” It did not seem to matter that none of
these charges made by Chomsky, Finkelstein and Cockburn were even close to the
truth. All Finkelstein had managed to show was that in a relatively small
number of instances, Peters may have misinterpreted some data, ignored
counter-data, and exaggerated some findings—common problems in demographic
research that often appear in anti-Israel books as well.
To date, Finkelstein has targeted at least the following writers who support
Israel and seek justice for Holocaust survivors: Elie Wiesel, Stuart Eizenstat,
Martin Gilbert, Daniel Goldhagen, Burt Neuborne,
Yehuda Bauer, Gerald Feldman, Richard Overy, Abba
Eban – calling these distinguished Jews “hucksters,” “hoaxters,”
“thieves,” “extortionists,” and worse. The pattern of attack is always similar.
Thus, it was only natural that the anti-Israel triumvirate would target me in
a similar manner after the publication of The Case for Israel.
The well-planned and carefully coordinated response to The Case for Israel
employed exactly the same words they had employed so successfully against
Peters (and others).
They first claimed—as they had with Peters—that I did not “write this book,”
that I did not even “read it,” and that I “had no idea what was in the book.”
Recently Finkelstein claimed that I don’t write any of my books: “[Dershowitz] has come to the point where he’s had
so many people write so many of his books.… [I]t’s sort of like a Hallmark line
for Nazis… [T]hey churn them out so fast that he has now reached a point where
he doesn’t even read them.”
The implication was that some Israeli intelligence agency or propaganda unit
wrote it and had me sign it—as they claimed was the situation with Peters’
book. The problem for them is that I don’t type or use a computer, so that
every word of the text was handwritten by me in my own handwriting—and I still
have the manuscript. Even after I publicly offered to make the manuscript
available for anyone to examine, Finkelstein repeated the false charge on a
C-SPAN television broadcast.
Well, if I did actually write it in my own hand, I must have copied it or
plagiarized it. That was the next charge. And guess who I plagiarized it from?
Joan Peters, according to Finkelstein, Chomsky, and Cockburn. The problem with
their charge is that Peters’ book was entirely demographic and historical,
whereas more than 90 percent of my book deals with contemporary events that
took place after the publication of Peters’ book. The other, even more
serious problem for them is that they could not come up with a single
sentence, phrase or idea in my book that came from another source and was used
without quotation marks, attribution, and citation. Indeed, I explicitly cited
Peters’ book numerous times while disclaiming reliance on its conclusions
because I disagreed with some of them. That, of course, means there was no
plagiarism. But Finkelstein knew from his previous experience that the charge
of plagiarism, if leveled, would be more likely to garner media attention than
simple criticism of my conclusions.
In order to level this spurious charge, Finkelstein made up a false quotation,
which he called the “smoking gun:”
“[I]n the proofs, it…says: Copy from Joan Peters.
It does…. There was no question about it.” He thus alleges that I instructed a
research assistant to “copy”
from another author without citations. But he simply makes up the word “copy.”
The note says precisely the opposite: “cite sources on pp. 160, 485, 486,
footnotes 141-145.” The instruction is to be certain that the material is
properly cited. This is not proof of plagiarism; it is proof of
That is why James O. Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth, University of
Iowa, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, concluded after reviewing
the Finkelstein charge:
I do not understand [Finkelstein’s] charge of plagiarism against Alan
Dershowitz. There is no claim that Dershowitz used the words of others without
attribution. When he uses the words of others, he quotes them properly and
generally cites them to the original sources (Mark Twain, Palestine Royal
Commission, etc.) [Finkelstein’s] complaint is that instead he should have
cited them to the secondary source,
in which Dershowitz may have come upon them. But as the Chicago Manual of Style
Importance of attribution. With all reuse of others’ materials, it is important
to identify the original as the source. This not only bolsters the claims of
fair use, it also helps avoid any accusation of plagiarism.
This is precisely what Dershowitz did. Moreover, many of the sources quoted
both by Dershowitz and Peters are commonly quoted in discussions of this period
of Palestinian history. Nor can it be said that Dershowitz used Peters’ ideas
without attribution. He cites Peters seven times in the early chapter of his
book, while making clear that he does not necessarily accept her conclusions.
This is simply not plagiarism, under any reasonable definition of that word.
Professor Charles Fried, the former Solicitor General of the
U.S. and the Beneficial Professor of Law at Harvard, agrees, calling the
Finkelstein accusation “stupid, unfair and ridiculous… from a biased accuser.”
The distinguished chief-librarian at Harvard Law School also concluded that I
had done nothing improper. An inquiry by Harvard cleared me of any wrongdoing.
Finkelstein, of course, knows this, but he also knows that a false charge once
made tends to stick, even if it has been authoritatively disproved. The media
regards plagiarism as such an explosive charge that even absolute innocence is
no defense. After the charge against me was authoritatively dismissed as wholly
without merit, it continued to be recycled and even expanded. Finkelstein’s
tiny accusation—that I cited Peters merely eight times instead of a dozen times
in two small chapters totaling seven pages of my 264-page book—totally false as
it is—has ballooned into a charge that I plagiarized “all” or “large parts”
of my book from Peters, despite the fact that the majority of my book deals
with events that occurred after the publication of Peter’s book. For
example, here is what Chomsky has said: “large parts of the book were simply
plagiarized from a well-known hoax….” It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The only
new element in this tired tactic is the creative use of the Internet.
Despite his demonstrable lies, Finkelstein is a popular speaker at anti-Israel
events on university campuses around the world. He is not quite as popular as
Chomsky and Cockburn, but he is paid handsomely by student groups anxious to
promote his anti-Zionist rants. The members of the McCarthyite triumvirate are
invited to campuses far more frequently than centrist, moderate pro-Israel
speakers. There is something very wrong with this picture, but now that the
pattern of literary McCarthyism has been exposed, perhaps the picture will
Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants (Tucson: Odonian Press, 1993).
 Werner Cohn,
“Chomsky and Holocaust Denial,” from eds. Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The
Anti-Chomsky Reader (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2004), p. 124.
 Scot Lehigh,
“Men of Letters,” Boston Phoenix, June 16-22, 1989, p. 30
 Paul L.
Berman, reply to “Chomsky: Freedom of Expression? Absolutely,” Village Voice,
July 1-7, 1981, p. 13, 15.
 Eds. Peter
R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, Understanding Power: The Indispensable
Chomsky, (New York: New Press, 2002), p. 245.
 “‘I won’t
lie down and take the insults,’” Irish Times, July 1, 2003, p. 13.
Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry, p. 4
Novick, "Offene Fenster und Tueren. Ueber Norman Finkelsteins
Kreuzzug," in: Petra Steinberger (ed.): Die Finkelstein-Debatte, (Piper Verlag: Muenchen 2001), p. 159
(translated from German)
 John Dirlik,
“Canadian Jewish Organizations Charged With Stifling Campus Debate,” Washington
Report on Middle East Affairs, April/May 1992, p. 43.
Finkelstein, “A Reply to Henry Kissinger and Fouad Ajami,” Link,
December 1992, p. 8.
Fremes, “Interview with Professor Norman G. Finkelstein,” Palestine
Chronicle, November 24, 2003.
 May 15,
2004, public forum at the Vancouver Public Library.
Rosenblum and Len Rudner, “In a nasty neighbourhood, Israel needs to be tough,”
Record, June 16, 2003.
Applebaum, “The battle for the Holocaust Legacy,” Sunday Telegraph, July
16, 2000 (accessible at
Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry, p. 71.
 Eds. Martin
Dietzsch and Alfred Schobert, „Ein „jüdischer David Irving“? Norman
Finkelstein im Diskurs der Rechten—Erinnerungsabwehr und Antizionismus“
(Duisburg, Germany: Unrast Verlag), p. 6 (translated from German).
Schoenfeld’s response to critics, “Holocaust Reparations,” Commentary,
January 2001, p. 20.
Voice Suspends Alexander Cockburn Over $10,000 Grant,” Wall Street Journal,
January 18,1984, p. 12.
Foer, “Relativity Theory; Alexander Cockburn’s Dubious Theories,” New
Republic, April 22, 2002, p. 12.
Margolis, “A treatise on columnist Alexander Cockburn,” High Country News,
May 11, 1998.
Mitchell and Schoeffel, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky,
p. 244 (emphasis original).
 Ibid., p.
244 (emphasis added).
 May 15,
2004, public forum at the Vancouver Public Library, “Is Criticism of Israel
Anti-Semitic?” (accessible at http://www.workingtv.com/finkelstein.html).
Schoeffel, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, p. 245.
Cockburn, “My Life as an ‘Anti-Semite,’” from eds. Alexander Cockburn and
Jeffrey St. Clair, The Politics of Anti-Semitism (Oakland, Calif.: AK
Press, 2003), p. 25.
Norman Finkelstein 'Ambushes' Alan Dershowitz
(Part II): theExperiment, Dec. 6, 2003, accessible at
Book TV, April 11, 2004.
 May 15,
2004, public forum at the Vancouver Public Library.
Finkelstein, "Israel-Palestine Conflict: Roots of conflict, prospects for
peace,” Calgary, April 3, 2004
 Lauren A.
E. Schuker, “Dershowitz Defends Book,” Harvard Crimson, October 2, 2003,