Sunday, October 07, 2007

A small post re: Finkelstein

Just a little post about Norman Finkelstein, who is briefly alluded to at Respectful Insolence. I responded in the comments, and of course the conversation became hijacked, as it does when someone like Finkelstein is discussed. So I won't comment further over there beyond pointing people here.

So: If you surfed over here from there, I'm responding to this comment from SLC:
I agree with Dr. Orac that the issue of Finkelstein is greatly off topic. I would have been willing to cease and desist except that Mr. Hermagores' [sic] characterization of of the investigation of Prof. Dershowitz by Harvard is totally inaccurate and unreliable. As I understand it, ther [sic] was an official investigation of the charge led by the dean of the college with which Prof. Dershowitz is affiliated. The charge of plagiarism is a very serious one which could have resulted in the firing of Prof. Dershowitz had it held up. As requested by Dr. Orac, I will have nothing more to say on the matter. (Emphasis added)
I'll just point out:
  1. According to the Boston Globe, "[Law School Dean] Kagan asked former Harvard president Derek Bok to examine Finkelstein's plagiarism allegation. Bok determined no plagiarism had occurred, law school spokesman Michael Armini said yesterday." So Dershowitz's current boss asks his former boss to investigate him. How "official" is this investigation?
  2. Nothing about that investigation, including its scope or methods, has been made public. Only its conclusions have been released by a Harvard Law School spokesperson.
  3. Unlike official investgations of (for example) Laurence Tribe, this "investigation" was undertaken by a single individual rather than a committee, and everything about it has been kept private.
There's nothing transparent about any of this. There is, rather, the conspicuous dust that comes from circling wagons.

(N.B.: one blogger suggests that what has been called "citation plagiarism" is not really plagiarism at all. I'm not convinced, but it's worth mentioning.)


SLC said...

1. I am afraid that I don't consider the Boston Globe, perhaps the most anti-Israel newspaper in the United States, rivaling the Guardian and BBC in Great Britain, as a credible source of information about anything concerning the Middle East.

2. My understanding of the situation relative to Prof. Dershowitz is that his defense was that he used the Joan Peters book as a source of references to primary sources which he then cited appropriately. Thus the common errors in the Peters and Dershowitz books were a result of errors in the primary sources. Now I have published some 35 papers in the technical literature and have done the same thing as Prof. Dershowitz did, namely use a secondary source as a source of references to primary sources. As far as I know, failure to cite the secondary source in this regard is in no way unethical or can in any way be construed as plagiarism. Apparently, the investigation that was conducted found that Prof. Dershowitzs' defense was entirely supported by the evidence.

3. Aside from the facts in the case, the reason that former Prof. Finkelstein and the authorities at counterpunch, rense, and stromfront persist in the libelous attacks on Prof. Dershowitz is nothing but a nefarious attempt to discredit him because of his strong and high profile support for the State of Israel. Finkelstein and these web sites take the position that the State of Israel is illegitimate and should be nullified.

4. Although Mr. paralepsis was not responsible for the references to Prof. Dershowitzs' association with the OJ Simpson case, I am going to respond to those individuals here because the claims are wildly exaggerated. The charge is that the "shyster lawyer Dershowitz" got OJ Simpson off through legal legerdemain. For openers, Prof. Dershowitz was not OJ Simpsons attorney; he appeared in court on only one or two occasions and questioned no witnesses. In addition the notion that Mr. Simpsons' attorneys got him off through improper tactics is complete balderdash. As somebody who watched the entire trial, unlike virtually all of the naysayers, Mr. Simpson was acquitted because of the complete and total incompetence of the prosecutors. One could write an entire book detailing the mistakes that they made (and several have, including attorneys Vincent Bugliosi and Gerry Spence).

5. Just as a matter of setting the record straight, Prof. Dershowitz is anything but an extremist Zionist as the Finkelsteins of the world like to portray. For one, he favors a two state solution to the situation in Palestine. For another, he has personally defended Palestinians accused of offenses before the Israeli Supreme Court and has been assiduous in demanding that their rights be protected.

Hermagoras said...

Dear SLC,

Thanks for responding. I'll comment on your points one by one.

1. All the Boston Globe did was quote a Harvard spokesman. If you can point to any more comprehensive detail about how the alleged study was performed, feel free to do so. Otherwise the point stands.

2. Citation styles differ. Dershowitz said he used the Chicago Manual of Style. Here is CMS 17.274: "To cite a source from a secondary source ("quoted in . . . .") is generally to be discouraged, since authors are expected to have examined the works they cite. If an original source is unavailable, however, both the original and the secondary source must be listed." This Dershowitz did not always do. (He did in the instance where he disclaimed all allegiance to Peters, but he did not in several other instances where he quoted from primary sources, including Twain.)

3. Linking Finkelstein with rense and stormfront is inapporpriate, as Finkelstein has never been associated with either group. You are wrong that "Finkelstein . . . take[s] the position that the State of Israel is illegitimate and should be nullified." I would like you to show me a passage where he makes such a claim. Everything I have seen suggests that Finkelstein favors a two-state solution along the 1967 borders.

4. I agree. Linking Dershowitz with Simpson is almost as bad as linking Finkelstein with stormfront.

5. Dershowitz has defended the settlements, praised various extreme actions of the Israeli military and government, etc. I didn't know he'd defended Palestinians. I'd like to know more about that. Can you give me some names?

Hermagoras said...

Correction: for "quoted from primary sources" above, read "quoted from primary sources via Peters."

SLC said...

Re paralepsis

1. Excuse me but both stormfront and rense quote extensibely from Finkelstein and are among his most fervent admirers. In addition, Finkelstein is a frequent columnist for counterpunch which is every bit as antisemitic as are rense and stormfront.

2. Excuse me, Prof. Dershowitz has criticized the settlements as counterproductive, although he has not said that they are illegal (by the way, many of then are not, under international law, illegal). I suppose if one wants to get technical, that does constitute a distinction, although one without any significance.

3. Oh come on, the reference to the statement by Mark Twain relative to the apparent depopulation of Palestine he observed during his visit there can be found by a Google search on any number of web sites. Mr. paralepsis is grasping at straws here.

Hermagoras said...


None of your latest comments address the substance of my points. To wit: (1) What the stormfront people think of Finkelstein is about as irrelevant as Dershowitz being cited approvingly by the JDL. (2) Yes, Dershowitz has "criticized the settlements as counterproductive" but has never, to my knowledge, supported the dismantling of a single one. It's all words. (3) The Twain reference. Dershowitz repeated mistakes in Peters' quotation and used the page numbers from the edition she cited, put the ellipses in the same places, and so forth. Twain is widely available, yes. But there's no evidence that he went to any of the published editions of Twain; rather, he seems to have cribbed from Peters' quotations.

You still haven't (a) provided evidence that any substantial inquiry took place or that anybody has released anything but Bok's claim that his friend Dershowitz did not plagiarize; (b) provided names of Palestinians you claim Dershowitz has defended before the Israseli Supreme Court; (c) provided support for your contention that Finkelstein wants something other than a two-state solution; or (d) said anything about Dershowitz's violations of the style guide he claims to have followed. Who's grasping at straws?


SLC said...

1. I think we can settle at least the issue of Prof. Dershwitzs' attitude toward settlements. Attached is a link to an interview with him on Point of Inquiry in which he definitely states that he does now and never has supported the settlement policy of the Israeli Government. I would put the same challenge to Mr. paralepsis, namely that he produce an interview or a written document from Prof. Dershowitz in which he endorses or has endorsed the Settlement policy of the Israeli Government

2. Relative to Mark Twains' comment, there are a number of versions of it on various internet web sites which differ from what was in his book on the subject. Mr. paralepsis would have to demonstrate that none of these variations is the same as the statement in Ms. Peters book.

3. I can't find an internet citing for my claim that he has appeared before the Israeli Supreme Court on behalf of Palestinians. I recall him making that claim in an interview several years ago. In the interview with POI, he does mention participating in separation of church and state issues before the Israeli Supreme Court and it may be that one of these issues involved Palestinians.

4. Apparently, Mr. paralepsis considers former Prof. Finkelsteins' association with left wing antisemitic web sites to be perfectly all right. One can only conclude that Mr. paralepsis thinks that left wing antisemitic web sites are OK and right wing antisemitic web sites are not. Standard operating procedure for left wingers. I guess Mr. paralepsis is a Sue Blackwell wannabe. By the way, would Mr. paralepsis like to provide some evidence showing that the JDL has in any way, shape, form, or regard had some sort of praise for Prof. Dershowitz.

Hermagoras said...


1. I did not write that Dershowitz "endorses or has endorsed the Settlement policy of the Israeli Government," so asking for evidence that he has is kind of beside the point. I said he supported the settlements, which is true. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post (is that an OK source for you?), he says the following:

My opposition to the settlements deep in the West Bank and in Gaza is not based on the law. Indeed I have argued that Jews should have the right to live anywhere in the West Bank and in Gaza, as they should anywhere in the world. I believe, however, that in the interest of peace and the two state solution, the Jews who live in these settlements should be relocated either within the Green Line or within the area that is likely to become the final borders of Israel. The world should recognize, however, that this is in the nature of a compromise and that the Jewish settlers are being asked to surrender their legal rights in the interests of peace. (Emphasis added.)

Clearly, in this passage Dershowitz defends the settlements as legitimate, and he says that giving up (some) settlements as a pragmatic measure is surrendering legal rights. If those rights are surrendered by giving up the settlements, the settlements themselves must, for Dershowitz, be legal. QED.

He also has written that the occupation is the fault of the Palestinians:

Occupation does not cause terrorism, but terrorism does cause occupation and reoccupation. Israel would have left Gaza and much of the West Bank long ago if not for the fear of terrorism from that area. It never would have gone into southern Lebanon in 1982 were that area not being used as a base for terrorism. Now Israel has once again entered southern Lebanon to stop rocket attacks and try to retrieve its kidnapped soldiers.

This is typical of Dershowitz's mode of historical explanation: it's always the fault of the Palestinians. They practically begged to be occupied!

2. So you're prepared to say that Dershowitz wasn't plagiarizing Peters but rather lazily grabbing something off the web and passing it off as a print edition of Twain? Wow. I'm not sure what you gain by that, but hey, if that's what you want.

3. If Dershowitz has claimed to represent Palestinians before the Israeli Supreme Court, there should be some record of it. There is no mention of such a defense on the detailed biography at Dershowitz's web site, where one would think he would display it.

4. I didn't say anything about his association with left wing web sites. If those sites are anti-Semitic, that's something for him to deal with, not me. I'm not trying to defend everything the man has said or done, only to point out some rather obvious falsehoods.

As for Dershowitz and the JDL: recently the JDL blog praised an "excellent" article that "famed Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz" wrote about Jimmy Carter and described Dershowitz as "the esteemed Harvard educator and brilliant attorney Dershowitz." On another JDL page, the "noted attorney" Dershowitz is praised for refusing ever to represent the neo-Nazi Matthew Hale. Those were pretty easy to find with a google search.

If other zany violent sites say nice things about Dershowitz, does that make Dershowitz violent? No. If his first ever case was a defense of a JDL terrorist, does that make him a supporter of the JDL? No. That's my point. Quit playing guilt by association.

Hermagoras said...


Let me point out that I have responded to you with evidence and citations and you have consistently moved the goalposts. Namely:

1. You can find no evidence that Dershowitz has defended Palestinians but say the claim is true nevertheless.

2. You defend the Mark Twain mistquotations (which replicate misquotations by Peters) by suggesting that he misquoted something he grabbed off the net, and then challenge me to prove that he didn't get them anywhere else among all the places he might have gotten them. That's ridiculous.

The point, however, is this: did he get the passages as they were identified in the original notes to the book (first printing, hardback, before they were silently "corrected")? If not, then Finkelstein, who has shown conclusively that AD relies on Peters elsewhere (without full acknowledgment of that reliance) has the advantage of Occam's Razor.

3. You have never responded to my citation of the Chicago Manual of Style. Are you just ignoring that, or should I take that as an admission that Dershowitz (who says he followed the CMS) should have cited the source he used?