Dershowitz Charged With Plagiarism
- DERSHOWITZ REBUTS CRITICS' PLAGIARISM CHARGES
Eric Marx, Forward, 10/3/03
Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz is firing back at
critics accusing him of plagiarism in his recently released
book, "The Case for Israel."
"I'm coming out swinging," Dershowitz said in an interview with the
Forward, in which he responded to the charge made last week by Norman
Finkelstein, a DePaul University professor who himself is no stranger
Finkelstein, an outspoken critic of Zionism whose own book, "The
Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish
Suffering," made waves when it came out in 2000, charged that
Dershowitz had plagiarized more than 20 passages from the book "From
Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over
Palestine." A 1984 work by Joan Peters, "From Time Immemorial" argues
that there was no substantial Arab presence in Palestine before the
19th-century Jewish return to the country, claims that Dershowitz's
book does not make.
Finkelstein first made the charge on September 24 on a nationally
syndicated radio show, "Democracy Now!" on which he and Dershowitz
were invited to discuss their positions on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. The charge was repeated by Alexander Cockburn, a columnist
for the left-wing magazine The Nation, and The Harvard Crimson
published an article on the controversy in its September 29 issue.
The passages of Peters's book cited by Finkelstein as evidence for
his charges center on obscure diplomatic correspondence and commonly
reported first-hand accounts by Mark Twain and Sir Robert Peel.
Dershowitz cites the Peters book seven times, but quotes certain
sources verbatim as they appeared in her book without attribution.
Dershowitz acknowledges that he used Peters as a secondary source,
but he said he looked to primary sources whenever possible because of
his divergent views on the significance of Peters's Arab demographic
Finkelstein told the Forward that references to the primary source
might absolve Dershowitz of a plagiarism charge, but not when the
borrowing was so extensive.
Dershowitz vigorously disputed the charge. "It's not called
plagiarism. It's called scholarship," he said. "Plagiarism is taking
someone else's words and claiming they're your own. There are no
borrowed words from anybody. There are no borrowed ideas from anybody
because I fundamentally disagree with the conclusions of Peters's
Coming to Dershowitz's defense is a former president of Dartmouth
College and the University of Iowa, James Freedman, who issued a
statement saying he found the citations in question to be in
compliance with The Chicago Manual of Style. "This is simply not
plagiarism under any definition of that word," Freedman wrote.
Finkelstein retorted, "I'd like to know how you can lift two chapters
and then claim that your conclusions are different and yet you used
all her evidence?"
Such borrowing is fairly common, according to professional ethics
experts. Scholars frequently borrow from each other; reference to the
secondary source typically is not required if one is borrowing only a
quotation from a primary source and not any ideas, said John Bader,
assistant dean for academic advising at Johns Hopkins University.
Bader serves as the co-chairman of the university's ethics policy
"It may be sloppy scholarship, but it's not unethical," said Bader of
the dangers of over-relying on a single source. "Over-reliance on one
source to draw conclusions of any kind or to find other resources is
lazy. It's not immoral. It's bad scholarship."
The plagiarism charge gained momentum, however, after The Nation's
Cockburn excerpted Finkelstein's line-by-line comparison of the
Dershowitz and Peters texts and urged Harvard University President
Lawrence Summers to take action.
Dershowitz derided Cockburn's article.
"Cockburn has been calling me names for years," Dershowitz said. "He
doesn't like that I'm a Zionist, and he doesn't like the fact that my
books on the best-seller list."
Dershowitz said his critics are afraid to debate him on the substance
of his book.
"Their purpose is to send a message to young academics who are going
to write pro-Israel books, saying 'don't do it because we're going to
attack your integrity,'" he said.
Yet Dershowitz may have tempted his critics by promising to give
$10,000 to the Palestinian Authority if a fact in his book could be
proved inaccurate. "It was a trap. It was an ambush," he said of the
radio show appearance in which Finkelstein first confronted him.
Dershowitz, however, insisted that he "wouldn't do anything
"I haven't been caught," he said. "I did the right thing and I'm
proud to have enemies such as Norman Finkelstein and Alex Cockburn.
It shows I'm doing something right."
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