ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PLAGIARIST
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN, Counterpunch, 9/26/03
Let's start with a passage from Alan Dershowitz's latest book, The
Case for Israel, now slithering into the upper tier of Amazon's sales
charts. On page 213 we meet Dershowitz, occupant of the Felix
Frankfurter chair at Harvard Law School, happily walloping a French
prof called Faurisson, charged by the FF prof from Harvard U as being
a fraud and a holocaust denier: "There was no extensive historical
research. Instead there was the fraudulent manufacturing of false
antihistory. It was the kind of deception for which professors are
rightly fired--not because their views are controversial, but because
they are violating the most basic canons of historical scholarship.."
You want an example of Dershowitz's canons of scholarship, base
rather than basic?
On pages 233-4, he writes, "In September 1970, King Hussein of Jordan
killed and injured more Palestinians in one month than Israel has
during three years of responding to the suicide bombing intifada."
The corresponding endnote reads: "Estimates vary as to the number of
Palestinians killed during "Black September," with some estimates as
high as 4,000." His two cited sources for this claim? a Sony movie,
One Day in September, and a chronology for a high school course
outline on the Middle East conflict.
If Justice Frankfurter had fuelled decisions with this kind of
scholarship he'd have been citing Marvel Comics as useful
repositories of case law and precedent. If, in writings off the
bench, he'd used the sort of research procedures displayed elsewhere
in Dershowitz's Case for Israel he'd probably have been forced off
the Supreme Court for ethical considerations of a sort that I imagine
Harvard's president, Lawrence Summers, will soon be pondering in the
case of Prof. Dershowitz.
Let me now usher into the narrative an important member of our cast
in this drama: "From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the ArabJewish
Conflict Over Palestine", a 60l- page book by Joan Peters, published
in l984. Peter's polemical work strove to buttress the old Zionist
thesis that the land of Israel had been "a land without people,
awaiting a people without land". There was no substantial Palestinian
presence, Peters claimed, before the Jewish return. Initially given
an ecstatic reception by publications such the New York Times the
book was soon discredited as a charnel house of disingenuous polemic.
The coup de grace was administered by Professor Yehoshua Porath in
the New York Review of Books for January 16 and March 27, 1986.
Though neither Peter's nor her book appear in the index to The Case
for Israel, they do get a mention in note 3l of chapter 2, where
Dershowitz cites the work of a 19th century French geographer called
Cuinct, and adds, "See Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial (Chicago,
JKAP Publications, 1984). Peters's conclusions and data have been
challenged. See Said and Hitchens, p. 33. I do not in any way rely on
them in this book. "Them" clearly refers to Peters' conclusions and
This brazen declaration is preceded in chapters one and two by
wholesale, unacknowledged looting of Peters' research. I have before
me a devastating comparative archive of these plagiarisms, compiled
by Norman Finkelstein, author of "The Holocaust Industry: The
Exploitation of Jewish Suffering" and "Image and Reality of the
Israel-Palestine Conflict". Here are but four instances, out of no
less than 20 thus far discovered in the first two chapters alone
Over to you President Summers, or will the man so happy to dress down
Prof Cornel West be more timid when it comes to confronting the
occupant of the Felix Frankfurter chair?
ISRAELI HISTORY THE DERSHOWITZ WAY
Adam Rubin, Jewish Journal, 10/20/03
"The Case For Israel," by Alan Dershowitz (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95).
Alan Dershowitz's new book describes an Israel no Israeli would
recognize, an impossibly virtuous country whose intentions are always
pure, whose conduct is forever above reproach, and whose rare
misdeeds can be explained away as accidental. Conversely, the
Palestinian Arabs (and for that matter, all Arabs) are depicted as
malevolent terrorists bent on Israel's destruction; every one of
their deeds is attributed to the basest of motives, every decision a
result of unremitting hostility, trickery, foolishness, or a
combination of all three. No reader of Israeli historical scholarship
or journalism would recognize the simple tale of good and evil, of
angels and devils, described in the pages of Dershowitz's book.
Though equipped with the tools of historical scholarship (footnotes,
primary and secondary textual documentation, etc.) and presenting
itself as an exploration of the historical roots of the conflict
between Arabs and Jews in pre-State Palestine and Israel, his book is
not a serious work of scholarship on the enormously complex struggle
of two national movements over the same small piece of land. Instead,
it is the latest in a long tradition of hasbarah, propaganda, that is
not unlike the material produced by the Israeli Office of Hasbarah in
years past, or pamphlets issues today by various pro-Israel advocacy
groups in the United States.
In seeking to "make the case for Israel," Dershowitz, a professor of
law at Harvard and prominent defense attorney, has abandoned any
pretense of balance, nuance or objectivity, all of which are guiding
values for professional historians. That he is more interested in a
one-sided polemic than a sober historical exploration is evident in
the title of the book (would anyone interested in the political
history of the United States rely on a book titled "The Case for
America?"). It is also evident in its structure each chapter title
is framed as a question (Did Israel Start the Six-Day War? Were the
Jews Unwilling to Share Palestine?) whose answer is predetermined
from the outset, and then divided into sections on "the
accusation," "the accusers," "the reality" and "the proof."
Dershowitz is not to be criticized for writing a polemic, for that is
what he set out to do, and he presents his case with passion. But the
question is: Is such an approach helpful at this critical time?
Most important, it is evident in the book's many factual errors,
misinterpretations of evidence and selective quotations. To take but
one example: Dershowitz resurrects the old, discredited canard that
the Arabs themselves are primarily responsible for the departure of
approximately 750,000 Palestinians during and immediately after the
1947-1948 war, and therefore bear most of the blame for the creation
of the refugee problem. To bolster his case, he quotes the prominent
Israeli historian and author Benny Morris: "In some areas, Arab
commanders ordered the villagers to evacuate, to clear the ground for
military purposes or to prevent military surrender."
Dershowitz also uses evidence from Morris to argue that the Arab
leaders of Haifa encouraged their community to leave. What emerges
from Dershowitz's selective use of Morris' book is an account of the
refugee problem that places responsibility for the problem squarely
on the shoulders of the Palestinians themselves.
However, Dershowitz neglects to mention Morris' conclusion, based on
detailed research and stated quite clearly in several of his books
(including those cited by Dershowitz), that the majority of
Palestinian refugees were in some cases expelled by Jewish forces and
in others fled out of fear of expulsion or massacre by those forces.
On the very same pages Dershowitz cites to make his argument for
Palestinian culpability, Morris writes the following:
"During the second stage, while there was clearly no policy of
expulsion, the Haganah's Plan D clearly resulted in mass flight.
Commanders were authorized to clear the populace out of villages and
certain urban districts, and to raze the villages if they felt a
military need. Many commanders identified with the aim of ending up
with a Jewish State with as small an Arab minority as possible. Some
generals, such as [Yigal] Allon, clearly acted as if driven by such a
goal.... Ben-Gurion clearly wanted as few Arabs as possible to remain
in the Jewish State. But there was still no systematic expulsion
policy.... Yet Israeli troops ... were far more inclined to expel
Palestinians than they had been during the first half of the war. In
Operation Yoav, Allon took care to leave almost no Arab communities
along his lines of advance."
Clearly, Morris' argument is considerably more complicated and
morally ambiguous than the simplistic version Dershowitz presents.
The latter has violated a cardinal rule of historical scholarship: an
author is responsible for weighing all evidence at his or her
disposal before making a conclusion, even if some of that evidence
contradicts one's own argument or bias.
I suspect that Dershowitz will not be troubled by objections raised
by scholars. His account of Israeli saints and Palestinian villains
is not aimed at historians or academic specialists. It is also not
intended for Israelis, for whom firsthand experience of their country
provides a degree of skepticism and nuanced understanding utterly
lacking in the book. Rather, it is aimed at American Jews who are
deeply attached to Israel and seek intellectual ammunition and moral
reassurance at a time of crisis. Given the brutal terrorist attacks
on buses, in restaurants and cafes, an economy on the brink of
collapse, fierce and unrelenting criticism of the country and an
unmistakable increase in anti-Semitism throughout much of the world,
it is perfectly understandable to seek solace and solidarity in
Dershowitz's impassioned plea on behalf of the Jewish State. And yet,
despite the many problems confronting Israel, the author's embrace of
simplistic, black-and-white explanations should be resisted. It may
be noble to raise a stirring defense of Israel, but not under the
guise of serious scholarship. Like a long marriage in which each
partner comes to know and love the other for who they really are,
warts and all, concern for Israel should be based on an honest,
balanced assessment of the country's strengths and weaknesses,
achievements as well as shortcomings. To their great credit, Israeli
scholars, journalists and intellectuals have been providing such
assessments to their fellow citizens for at least two decades. It is
unfortunate that professor Dershowitz has sought refuge in the
soothing pieties of a previous era.
Alan Dershowitz will speak on Oct. 22 at the Nessah Educational
Cultural Center, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. $15-50. 5:30
p.m. (reception), 7 p.m. (discussion). For tickets, call (310) 246-
Adam Rubin is assistant professor of Jewish history at Hebrew Union
College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.
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