—   The sharp point of dissent   —

Section: Middle East
14 August 2005

Fuming for Israel: the Case of Alan Dershowitz

1. Introduction / Fraudulent scholarship, round one

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The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading.

       - Bertrand Russell[1]

I'M NOT CERTAIN that the citizens of Israel would have been entirely pleased to learn that their case had been taken up by the man who masterminded the successful defense of Klaus Von Bülow and O. J. Simpson. Whatever prestige their cause might have gained from its endorsement by a Harvard law professor was unfortunately lost the moment this particular academic put pen to paper.

Alan Dershowitz's book The Case for Israel has been around since late 2003. It consists of thirty-two chapters, each dealing with a familiar issue concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in an accusation-and-rebuttal format. The book has been described by the London Times as 'passionately argued', and with this I absolutely agree. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of listening to Alan Dershowitz debate will know that no irate motorist would stand a chance against him. As I will demonstrate in this essay, however, the Professor's logic, marshalling of facts, and scholarly rigour are ... how should I put this? ... wanting. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Dershowitz's work is that the book itself features nearly all the things which it condemns: intellectual dishonesty, one-sidedness, victim-blaming, shrillness of tone, and so on.

In fact, the stentorian tone of the book and its bludgeoning style of argument easily gives away its vacuity to the perceptive reader. The nudity of Dershowitz's indefensible arguments is concealed by repeated gauntlet-throwing and braggadocio.[2] Suffused with a choking hatred for the conquered Palestinians and anyone who sympathizes with their plight, The Case for Israel plumbs depths of moral degradation which are quite alarming to find in putatively educated circles. Frankly I've been putting off reading this book for some time, but I'm glad I waited for the paperback edition to come out, for it contains some revealing revisions to the hardback edition. Some background is required to illuminate this.

* * *

Things first started to go wrong for Professor Dershowitz on 24 September 2003 when he appeared on the American radio show Democracy Now to discuss his new book. His debating partner was Dr. Norman Finkelstein, the son of Nazi Holocaust survivors and author of The Holocaust Industry. Finkelstein was the scholar who, many years ago (along with the Gilmour brothers in London and a few others), had drawn attention to the fraudulent scholarship of Joan Peters' 1984 book From Time Immemorial. The thesis of this now-discredited tome is that pre-mandate Palestine was essentially empty of an Arab population before the arrival of the Zionists. As Finkelstein was able to demonstrate during the discussion, Dershowitz had plagiarized over twenty quotes from the Peters book by reproducing them in The Case for Israel whilst attributing them to the original sources quoted by Peters, not Peters herself. The revelation was highly damaging for obvious reasons: Dershowitz was using a discredited book for research purposes but then dodging the intellectual obloquy attached to such material by pretending that he had 'found' the original quotes himself. Consider the house-sized coincidence we are required to swallow in order to believe this - that having read the same source material as Peters, Dershowitz also happened to select from them at least twenty of the same quotes Peters used. Coincidence? Dershowitz is a lawyer - what would he make of a witness who presented this story on the stand? Short work, I should think. Yet this is the very story Dershowitz stuck to during a heated exchange on the matter with Alexander Cockburn in The Nation:

Cockburn's claim is that some of the quotes should not have been cited to their original sources but rather to a secondary source, where he believes I stumbled upon them. Even if he were correct that I found all these quotations in Peters' book, the preferred method of citation is to the original source ... [my italics][3]
Having thus disabused Cockburn of the idea that the quotes Dershowitz used were found in a 'secondary source', the Professor continues:

I came across the quoted material in several secondary sources. They appear frequently in discussions of nineteenth-century Palestine. The Mark Twain quote, highlighted by Cockburn, appears in many books about the subject. I came across it in 1970 ... [4]
The Mark Twain quote has garnered a lot of attention because it is among the most damning evidence in the plagiarism charge. Dershowitz quotes from Twain's The Innocents Abroad, was also quoted by Peters. But Dershowitz's quote is identical to the one used by Peters' right down to what Peters chose to leave out: the seven ellipses in Peters' quote are all reproduced in Dershowitz's quote. Coincidence? Dershowitz happened to find the quote in Twain himself and happened to make the same seven omissions as Peters? It gets worse. To quote Cockburn: 'Another problem identified by Finkelstein: when it comes to Twain, Dershowitz cites from one edition and Peters from another, but the page numbers he cites from are Peters' edition, not his. So Peters is where he got the quote from.'[5]

How did Dershowitz explain all this? With a garbled non-sequitur: 'since I did find some of the quotes in Peters's book, as she found them in others, it should come as no surprise that the ellipses are similar or the same.'[6] Or even identical in all seven places, apparently.

There are other amusing items. In her book Peters comes up with the neologism 'turnspeak' - a pun on George Orwell's 'newspeak'. And in the first edition of The Case for Israel you'll find Dershowitz making reference to people 'deliberately using George Orwell's "turnspeak"'[7] and who are 'willing to engage in Orwellian "turnspeak"'.[8] I'm afraid not even the battered 'coincidence' argument can save Dershowitz from this one.

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1 Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1945, p. 463
2 To select just one example, the notion that 'Palestinian leaders are blameworthy for their repeated rejection of the two-state solution' is presented as an 'undisputed fact'. The mendacity of this claim will be unmasked in sections 3 and 9. (Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel, John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey, p. 194. Note: henceforth, all references to this book refer to the paperback edition unless stated otherwise.)
3 Alan M. Dershowitz, Alexander Cockburn, '"Plagiarized!", "Total Nonsense ..."', The Nation, 27 October, 2003
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Dershowitz, The Case for Israel (hardback edition), p. 57
8 Ibid, p. 153