The vindictive and petty campaign by the widely discredited Harvard Law Professor Allan Dershowitz to prevent political science professor Norman Finkelstein receiving tenure at DePaul University is rallying supporters around Finkelstein.
In an interview with the Harvard Crimson, Dershowitz admitted that he had sent a letter to DePaul faculty members lobbying against Finkelstein’s tenure. Then last week the Wall Street Journal published an article by Dershowitz titled “Finkelstein’s Bigotry.” In it, Dershowitz accuses Finkelstein of being an “anti-Semite” and says that he “does not do ‘scholarship’ in any meaningful sense.”
Raul Hilberg, one of the best-known and most distinguished of Holocaust historians and Avi Shlaim, Professor of international relations at Oxford University, both have praise for Finkelstein’s work.
AVI SHLAIM: Yes. I think very highly of Professor Finkelstein. I regard him as a very able, very erudite and original scholar who has made an important contribution to the study of Zionism, to the study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, in particular, to the study of American attitudes towards Israel and towards the Middle East.
Professor Finkelstein specializes in exposing spurious scholarship on the Arab-Israeli conflict. And he has a very impressive track record in this respect. He was a very promising graduate student in history at Princeton, when a book by Joan Peters appeared, called From Time Immemorial, and he wrote the most savage exposition in critique of this book. It was a systematic demolition of this book. The book argued, incidentally, that Palestine was a land without a people for people without a land. And Professor Finkelstein exposed it as a hoax, and he showed how dishonest the scholarship or spurious scholarship was in the entire book. And he paid the price for his courage, and he has been a marked man, in a sense, in America ever since. His most recent book is Beyond Chutzpah, follows in the same vein of criticizing and exposing biases and distortions and falsifications in what Americans write about Israel and about the Middle East. So I consider him to be a very impressive and a very learned and careful scholar.
I would like to make one last point, which is that his style is very polemical, and I don’t particularly enjoy the strident polemical style that he employs. On the other hand, what really matters in the final analysis is the content, and the content of his books, in my judgment, is of very high quality.
RAUL HILBERG: It takes an enormous amount of academic courage to speak the truth when no one else is out there to support him. And so, I think that given this acuity of vision and analytical power, demonstrating that the Swiss banks did not owe the money, that even though survivors were beneficiaries of the funds that were distributed, they came, when all is said and done, from places that were not obligated to pay that money. That takes a great amount of courage in and of itself. So I would say that his place in the whole history of writing history is assured, and that those who in the end are proven right triumph, and he will be among those who will have triumphed, albeit, it so seems, at great cost.
And from the another well known academic:
NOAM CHOMSKY: The whole thing is outrageous. I mean, he’s an outstanding scholar. He has produced book after book. He’s got recommendations from some of the leading scholars in the many areas in which he has worked. The faculty — the departmental committee unanimously recommended him for tenure. It’s amazing that he hasn’t had full professorship a long time ago.
And, as you were saying, there was a huge campaign led by a Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, to try in a desperate effort to defame him and vilify him, so as to prevent him from getting tenure. The details of it are utterly shocking, and, as you said, it got to the point where the DePaul administration called on Harvard to put an end to this.
To stop this maniac, yeah. What’s behind it? It’s very simple and straightforward. Norman Finkelstein wrote a book, which is in fact the best compendium that now exists of human rights violations in Israel and the blocking of diplomacy by Israel and the United States, which I mentioned — very careful scholarly book, as all of his work is, impeccable — also about the uses of anti-Semitism to try to silence a critical discussion.
And the framework of his book was a critique of a book of apologetics for atrocities and violence by Alan Dershowitz. That was the framework. So he went through Dershowitz’s shark claims, showed in great detail that they are completely false and outrageous, that he’s lying about the facts, that he’s an apologist for violence, that he’s a passionate opponent of civil liberties — which he is — and he documented it in detail.
Dershowitz is intelligent enough to know that he can’t respond, so he does what any tenth-rate lawyer does when you have a rotten case: you try to change the subject, maybe by vilifying opposing counsel. That changes the subject. Now we talk about whether, you know, opposing counsel did or did not commit this iniquity. And the tactic is a very good one, because you win, even if you lose. Suppose your charges against are all refuted. You’ve still won. You’ve changed the subject. The subject is no longer the real topic: the crucial facts about Israel, Dershowitz’s vulgar apologetics for them, which sort of are reminiscent of the worst days of Stalinism. We’ve forgotten all of that. We’re now talking about whether Finkelstein did this, that and the other thing. And even if the charges are false, the topic’s been changed. That’s the basis of it.
Dershowitz has been desperate to prevent this book from being — first of all, he tried to stop it from being published, in an outlandish effort, which I’ve never seen anything like it, hiring a major law firm to threaten libel suits, writing to the governor of California — it was published by the University of California Press. When he couldn’t stop the publication, he launched a jihad against Norman Finkelstein, simply to try to vilify and defame him, in the hope that maybe what he’s writing will disappear. That’s the background.
This pretty much puts to bed the spurious allegations being made by Dershowitz.