—   The sharp point of dissent   —

Section: Middle East
14 August 2005

Fuming for Israel: the Case of Alan Dershowitz

2. Fraudulent scholarship, second edition

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Having thus been caught out, Dershowitz could have used the release of the paperback edition of The Case for Israel to restore some of his credibility, acknowledge what has now proven to be indefensible scholarship, and make some conciliatory remarks. Instead, Dershowitz chose to turn his ire on those very critics who have exposed his failed scholarship. Having heard him asking Norman Finkelstein during his Democracy Now debate to 'refrain from ad hominem attacks', we now turn to the paperback edition of The Case for Israel to find Dershowitz calling Finkelstein a 'a rabidly anti-Israel zealot and failed academic', an 'academic hit-man'[1] and so on. Furthermore, in Dershowitz's mental universe, a critique of his scholarship is construed as a personal attack on him. He darkly describes 'a well-orchestrated campaign to discredit [his book]' and in the next breath calls it a 'campaign against me [my italics]' consisting of 'false charges against me [Dershowitz's italics]'. Expanding the quote allows us to cross over into a looking-glass world in which

the campaign has utterly failed, and has discredited those who waged it. Those who were behind the campaign against me knew it would fail because they understood that I had the resources with which to expose their falsehoods. [2]
There is not a word following this extraordinary claim that aims to substantiate it. For the record, it is worth noting that Joan Peters defined 'turnspeak' as 'the cynical inverting or distortion of facts which, for example, makes the victim appear as culprit.' [3] Plainly guilty of fraudulent scholarship yet trying to appear as the victim in all this, Dershowitz inverts even this inversion.

But there's more. The 'failed academic' with his 'failed campaign' has in fact succeeded in inducing Dershowitz to make some telling revisions in the second edition of his book. Three examples:

1. As stated before, the hardback edition of The Case for Israel makes reference to people
'deliberately using George Orwell's "turnspeak" (p. 57) and being 'willing to engage in Orwellian "turnspeak"' (p. 153).
The paperback edition of the book now makes reference to people

'deliberately using George Orwell's "newspeak" (p. 57) and being 'willing to engage in Orwellian "newspeak"' (p. 153).
In short, so 'failed' an academic is Finkelstein that Dershowitz had to act on his suggested corrections, which, like his borrowings from Joan Peters, go unacknowledged.

2. Footnote 31 to Chapter 3 (p. 246) in the hardback edition states the following:
The research of a French geographer, Vital Cuinct [sic] are relied on for this conclusion. See Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial. (Chicago, JKAP Publications, 1984.) Peters' conclusions and data have been challenged. See Said and Hitchens, p. 33. I do not in any way rely on them in this book. [my italics]
Cockburn was the first to point out the significance of the italicized remark above - specifically, that Dershowitz used Peters for research material, disguised his use of her book by not citing her as the source of his quotes, and then disavowed Peters as someone whose 'conclusions and data' he had relied upon. In the paperback edition Dershowitz changes his story. The footnote (p. 247) now reads:

The research of a French geographer, Vital Cuinét[4] are relied on for this conclusion. See Peters. Peters's conclusions and data have been challenged. See Said and Hitchens, p. 33. I do not in any way rely on her demographic conclusions or demographic data, but I have quoted several historical quotations that I first came upon in her book. [my italics]
Finally, an admission. (Of sorts.) You will observe the delicate tightrope-walk being executed here. Dershowitz's newfound candour obliges him to admit that he originally read the plagiarized quotes in Peters' volume - something he neglected to tell us in the original edition. But since he does not specify which ones, we are sadly deprived of an audit of just how many quotes he first found in Peters as opposed to those he found 'independently' yet are also quoted in Peters. We're left to draw our own conclusions, as I'm sure many readers will.

3. And finally there is the Twain quote, which Dershowitz originally claimed he discovered independently in:

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (New York, Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 349, 366, 375, 441-442. [my italics]
and which he now claims he discovered independently in:

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (New York, Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 485, 508, 520, 607-608. [my italics] (p. 246)
Bear in mind that it was Finkelstein who first brought to Dershowitz's attention the fact that he quoted the page numbers from the wrong edition of the book (the one Peters used) - a mistake which Dershowitz corrects here, without attribution, as seems to be his habit.
A 'failed campaign'? It's hard to credit. Tucked away in discreet corners of the paperback edition is Dershowitz's very own tacit admission that the criticisms leveled against his scholarship were entirely correct. It is a pretty pass to arrive at to be forced to quietly make corrections while loudly denouncing those correcting you.

So the book has failed the test of scholarship. But whilst doing so, did it advance any arguments worth considering? Let's begin with the first three chapters, which broadly argue the same point. Chapter one is promisingly entitled 'Is Israel a Colonial, Imperialist State?'



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Notes:

1 Dershowitz, p. 245, n1
2 Dershowitz, p. xii
3 Quoted in Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Verso, London and New York, 1995, p, 21
4 Finkelstein advised Dershowitz of this misspelling during the Democracy Now debate.