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Finkelstein Indicts Dershowitz/Dershowitz Returns Fire

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Message Michael Leon
America is ground zero of a brutal fight, between two of the good guys.

It is a political, Jewish blood feud, whose central figures are two American intellectuals Norman Finkelstein, professor of political science at Chicago's DePaul University, and Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard University.

At first glance, it seems odd these forces are so opposed. Both scholars are socially conscious progressives known for their Hillelian fights for others' welfare.

But the points of contention here are Israel, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust, areas that since the 1967 Six Day War have not lent themselves to agreeable discourse; and any shared commitments fail to shine through what Dershowitz describes as "a case study in hate and intimidation" in his new book The Case for Peace (John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2005).

With the publication of Norman Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (University of California Press, 2005), which Dershowitz in an extraordinary campaign tried to prevent from even being published the clash is more brutal than ever.

The broad thrust for Finkelstein is his critical view of Israel's human rights record and what he sees as an intellectual culture flacking for Israel of which Dershowitz is prominent and wantonly branding even Jewish critics of Israel like Finkelstein as anti-Semites.

Even Beyond Chutzpah's title is intended as a personal knock on Dershowitz' 1991 best-selling Chutzpah (Little, Brown).

Finkelstein excoriates Dershowitz in particular and blasts Dershowitz' The Case for Israel (John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2003) as a deceitful "fraud" in which one cannot find in Dershowitz' impassioned defense of Israel's human rights record one fact that "doesn't distort a reputable source or reference a preposterous one."

Exacting and indignant, Finkelstein presents human rights groups' data to attempt to demonstrate that Israel is guilty of all manner of torture, collective punishments, assassinations and other crimes that constitute a horrendous human rights record in the Occupied Territories and the misuse of anti-Semitism to delegitimize criticism of it," as reads his book's publication statement.

He accuses Dershowitz, specifically, of academic misconduct (a charge of which Dershowitz has been cleared by Harvard), lying about Israel's human rights record and collaborating in the creation of an "ideological weapon" used against those who challenge Israeli conduct.

Dershowitz will have none of it, and has criticized Finkelstein point by point in equally condemnatory language in The Case for Peace in which he eloquently lays out a vision for two states with secure and recognized borders.

Alan Dershowitz is a prolific Harvard scholar whose work includes a well-timed exposure of the racist ties of some Bill Clinton chief accusers during the impeachment, and his satisfying dismantlement of the Bush v. Gore decision in Supreme Injustice, How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000 (Oxford 2001).

The career of Finkelstein is quite different. Finkelstein received his doctorate in 1988 from Princeton University for his thesis on Zionism.

The son of two Holocaust survivors (his father and mother endured the Maidanek and Auschwitz concentration camps); Finkelstein pursued his interest in Zionism throughout his academic career.

As a Princeton graduate student in 1984, Finkelstein read the Joan Peters literary sensation, From Time Immemorial: the Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine (Harper & Roe, 1984) that purported to show Palestinians are recent immigrants to the land constituting Israel. Finkelstein researched every footnote and sent his findings to Middle East experts, single-handedly dissecting Peters' now-discredited thesis and making his name in British intellectual circles.

Despite publishing five books in 10 years, including his breakthrough treatment on Holocaust compensation, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (Verso 1995) praised by Raul Hilberg, the world's leading Holocaust authority, Finkelstein finds himself in disfavor of much of the American academy that has a tendency to view criticisms of Israel with askance.

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Michael Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at
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