The Case Against Alan Dershowitz

In June 2007, DePaul University denied tenure to Norman Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science. The decision ignited a firestorm of protest from DePaul students and faculty, as well as from faculty across the country and abroad. Finkelstein’s department had voted 9-3 in favor of tenure, and a college-level committee unanimously joined that recommendation, 5-0. But the University Board on Promotion and Tenure (UBPT) voted 4-3 against tenure, and DePaul’s president claimed to “find no compelling reasons to overturn the UBPT’s decision.”The tenure denial was a great victory for Harvard Law School’s Professor Alan Dershowitz, who had been campaigning vigorously against Finkelstein at least since the fall of 2006. The feud between Dershowitz and Finkelstein began when Finkelstein claimed that Dershowitz’s book The Case for Israel (2003) was partially plagiarized and wholly false. Finkelstein eventually published his critique as part of a book of his own, entitledBeyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (2005). Dershowitz responded to Finkelstein’s charges in his book The Case for Peace (2005).In September 2006, as Finkelstein’s tenure review got underway, Dershowitz sent a 7-page, single-spaced letter, plus 14 single-spaced pages of supporting materials, to the former chairman of Finkelstein’s department, arguing that Finkelstein’s “purported scholarship” consists of nothing but “ugly and false assertions” and “preposterous and discredited ad hominem attack[s].” Dershowitz sent a similar but even larger packet of materials-totaling over 60 pages-to a large but unknown number of members of DePaul’s faculty and administration, including every professor at the law school.Those basic facts about the dispute are now fairly well known. What is not so well known is that there is compelling evidence that Dershowitz himself committed academic misconduct both before and in the course of his intervention in Finkelstein’s tenure case. I present that evidence below, along with some reflections on its ramifications for both DePaul and Harvard. In the end, this is not merely a story about two professors who dislike each other. It is a scandal implicating the leading institution of higher learning in the United States.HARVARD’S ROLEAll of these considerations serve to heighten the institutional concerns for Harvard. First, both plagiarism and deliberate misrepresentation of a professor’s work, particularly in the context of a pending tenure case, are matters of academic integrity, and Harvard presumably takes such matters very seriously.Second, because of Dershowitz’s repeated but apparently false claim that Harvard “completely cleared” him of Finkelstein’s charges, Harvard has been made an unwitting accomplice in Dershowitz’s wrongdoing. If my analysis is sound, then Dershowitz deliberately deceived DePaul not only about the plagiarism itself but also about the investigation that Harvard allegedly conducted. He used his purported acquittal by Harvard to bolster his own false claim of innocence, which in turn supported his claims that Finkelstein’s charges were “politically motivated” and “complete fabrications.”Now that Dershowitz’s misrepresentations have been exposed, Harvard cannot permit them to go uncorrected. If someone were revealed as falsely claiming to be a Harvard professor, perhaps making speeches or writing letters of recommendation in Harvard’s name, Harvard would never stand for it – the university would issue an official statement setting the record straight. Dershowitz’s deceptions are no less serious. He has sought to sabotage Finkelstein’s tenure case on the basis of an official exoneration by Harvard that, on one of Finkelstein’s central allegations, apparently never took place.I do not mean to be suggesting whether, or in what way, Harvard should discipline Dershowitz for the misconduct I have described. How Harvard addresses misbehavior by its faculty members is Harvard’s business, not mine. But this is not just between Harvard and Dershowitz, or between Dershowitz and Finkelstein. Rather, Harvard has a moral obligation to Finkelstein to acknowledge, at a bare minimum, that it has never completely cleared Dershowitz of Finkelstein’s plagiarism charges, because it has never rejected Finkelstein’s argument concerning the identical errors in The Case for Israel and From Time Immemorial.As of this writing, Dershowitz appears to have succeeded in protecting his own career by destroying Finkelstein’s. It is now probably too late to remedy all of the harm that Dershowitz’s conduct has caused, both to the review of Finkelstein’s tenure application and to public perceptions of Finkelstein and his work. But some sort of acknowledgement or apology by Harvard concerning Dershowitz’s wrongdoing might go some distance toward clearing the air and making amends.

 


Ref: Counter punchFrank J. Menetrez received his PhD in philosophy and JD from UCLA. This essay is drawn from his epilogue to the paperback edition of Norman G. Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, forthcoming from the University of California Press. He can be reached atfrankmenetrez@yahoo.com. 

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