Dershowitz vs. Finkelstein: When a scholarly clash turns vitriolic

If the longstanding fight between two professors, Alan Dershowitz and Norman Finkelstein, was under the jurisdiction of family court, a judge could issue restraining orders and forbid inflammatory statements. But, alas, this nasty and zealously pursued feud is taking place in scholarly precincts, so each protagonist is continuing his campaign, unhampered, to destroy the other’s professional reputation and career.

In the latest round, first reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dershowitz, a law professor at Harvard and a prominent defender of Israel, is trying to derail Finkelstein’s bid for tenure at DePaul University in Chicago. He has sent a blast of e-mail messages to faculty and administrators there accusing Finkelstein of shoddy scholarship, lying and anti-Semitism.

Finkelstein, who last week was involved in the third and final step of the tenure process, said that so far two committees – one from the political science department and one from the college as a whole – voted in favor of tenure. But the college dean rejected an advisory committee’s vote and recommended against an appointment.

“I am personally confident that had the process been without outside interferences, I would have gotten tenure,” Finkelstein said.

(Tenure decisions will be announced in June, said Denise Mattson, a spokeswoman for DePaul.)

Regardless of the outcome Dershowitz has managed to irritate many people besides Finkelstein. “Everyone has been offended by the degree of outside pressure,” said Michael Budde, the chairman of DePaul’s political science department, “which shows no respect for the integrity of our process and institution.” On Tuesday, the Middle East Studies Association, which represents scholars, sent a letter to DePaul’s president expressing concern that this tenure decision had been “unduly politicized.”

Behind the ferocious personal animus there is a clash of ideas. In 2000 Finkelstein, a vehement critic of Israel and the son of Holocaust survivors, published “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering,” in which he argued that Jews in Israel and America have conspired to use the Holocaust to oppress the Palestinians and extort money from Germany. The book caused a sensation, leading to large sales and vociferous criticism.

After Dershowitz published “The Case for Israel,” Finkelstein began working on “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” which essentially was devoted to tearing down that book. At one point he accused Dershowitz of plagiarism and of not having written the book. Dershowitz, a dogged lawyer, tried to get the University of California Press to cancel his adversary’s book, even at one point appealing to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He failed, but he did manage to include a counterattack on Finkelstein in his next book.

Vicious name-calling has accompanied these events, much of which is chronicled on both men’s Web pages. On, Finkelstein has called Dershowitz a “raving maniac,” “hoodlum” and “evil”; the title of a recent Finkelstein article was “Should Alan Dershowitz Target Himself for Assassination?” On Dershowitz’s Web site (, he has had students compile lists of “The Most Despicable Things Finkelstein Has Said,” “The 10 Stupidest Things Finkelstein Has Said,” and so on.

Dershowitz had been in touch with DePaul’s president, the Reverend Dennis Holtschneider, and the previous chairman of DePaul’s political science department, Patrick Callahan, as far back as 2005.

When Finkelstein came up for tenure, Callahan sent an e-mail message to Dershowitz asking for documentation of his charges. Dershowitz took it upon himself to send the materials to most of DePaul’s faculty and others.

“The thrust of my letter was, don’t deny him tenure because of his outrageous outbursts,” Dershowitz said in a telephone interview Tuesday, “but because there’s no scholarship there,” and his books are “one-sided agitprop.” He insisted that his efforts are “neither ideological or personal.”

Then why only this case? “I’m a personal witness” in this one, he replied.

Finkelstein, who has been at DePaul since 2001, said that until this past fall “things seemed to be going pretty smoothly; you do get annual reviews, and they indicated that I was on course to gain tenure.”

Then, he said “Professor Dershowitz began a campaign to deny my tenure.”

At one point the 12-member Arts and Sciences’ Faculty Governance Council, annoyed by Dershowitz’s pressure, unanimously voted to send letters to the presidents of DePaul and Harvard complaining of Dershowitz’s interference.

“It’s a very odd thing to have happen in a professional environment,” said Gil Gott, the director of the International Studies program who is now president of the council.

“It’s ridiculous for enemies of people to be trying to intervene. If it weren’t serious, it would be laughable. We wanted it to stop.”

As for Dershowitz’s charges, Budde said, “We did a thorough review, we commissioned outside experts in the field who were charged with evaluating the quality and the substance of Mr. Finkelstein’s research.”

Dershowitz said he found it paradoxical that Finkelstein was complaining about outside interference when Finkelstein tried to discredit the historian Daniel Goldhagen by publishing a book that excoriated his scholarship on Germany and the Holocaust, and tried to disbar Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, saying he lied and blackmailed Swiss banks when he was representing Holocaust survivors.

Finkelstein said that the dean of DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Charles Suchar, explained his opposition by arguing that “DePaul was a Jesuit school,” and adhered to the values of St. Vincent.

“He claims that my scholarship does not fulfill the Vincentian value of personalism,” or respect for dignity of the individual.

“That’s just inventing a new standard,” Finkelstein complained.

“The whole purpose of annual reviews is to keep you abreast of whether or not you are fulfilling the requirements of tenure. If you look at my annual reviews, no one ever warned me that I wasn’t meeting the Vincentian standard of personalism.

“I would not have stayed at a university if it told me upfront that a condition for me getting tenure,” he said, was that “my views have to be filtered through Catholic values. I would consider it a betrayal of my parents’ legacy.”

Neither Suchar nor Holtschneider would comment, Mattson said, because “it’s an ongoing process.”

In an e-mail message she wrote: “All faculty members are held to the same standards in the tenure process. This process will not be influenced by outsiders.”

Gott would not comment on this specific case, but said, in general, faculty “should be apprised of how you’re going to be evaluated.”

“If there’s a problem,” he said, “you’d be given fair notice.”

Ref: Herald Tribune

The Scholar And The Shill

…The point here is that Dershowitz has no place in this issue. His accusation that Finkelstein is a Holocaust denier is demonstrably false simply by reading Finkelstein’s books. Dershowitz claims that Finkelstein’s work is “one-sided agitprop.” Does he honestly believe that a board of scholars who are experts in Finkelstein’s field, need Dershowitz to provide them with such clues? If Finkelstein’s work was as worthless as Dershowitz claims, Finkelstein’s own colleagues are in a much better position than Dershowitz to figure that out.

Nor is it at all likely that they have missed the ongoing verbal shootout between Finkelstein and Dershowitz. Dershowitz, in fact, insults the integrity of the academic boards at DePaul by positing that they need his input, a man who only has a personal and ideological stake in this question and no standing as a scholar of the issue.

In June, we will find out if Finkelstein gets tenure. If he does not, every academic, regardless of what they think of Finkelstein’s views, should be up in arms.

Ref: The third way

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