The Real Issue Is Israel's Human Rights Record

A statement by Norman G. Finkelstein upon publication of Beyond Chutzpah, August 25, 2005


Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University is currently best known for his advocacy of the "most excruciating" torture against terrorist suspects such as a "needle being shoved under the fingernails." The alleged purpose of this torture is to extract a truthful confession but its real consequence, as human rights organizations have pointed out, is to produce whatever statements are necessary to end the suffering. For 15 months Dershowitz has applied a variant of this truth-seeking technique -- less physically painful but no less excruciating -- to prospective publishers of Beyond Chutzpah, which offers a critical examination of Israel's human rights record and Dershowitz's defense of it. Enlisting one of the most powerful law firms in the country after his personal initiatives proved unsuccessful, Dershowitz has repeatedly threatened to bankrupt highly respected publishers with litigation if they didn't cancel publication of my book. He could then proclaim that the cancellation confirmed the "truth" that Beyond Chutzpah didn't meet scholarly standards.

Dershowitz justified these blackmail tactics on the ground that Beyond Chutzpah libels him. Yet, when I first began to expose his gross scholarly misconduct, Dershowitz publicly declared at UCLA (on 21 October 2003) that he wouldn't respond with a libel action because he believed "so strongly in the First Amendment and full freedom of speech." Ironically, just as he was threatening my publishers with expensive and time-consuming lawsuits, Dershowitz denounced Holocaust denier David Irving, who had sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel, with these words: "Before Irving lost his case [against Lipstadt], several publishers had refused to issue books critical of Irving, out of fear of his bringing expensive and time-consuming lawsuits. That was a chilling of free speech" (Afterword to Lipstadt's History on Trial; his emphasis).

My publisher, University of California Press, was understandably at great pains to fend off a potential lawsuit by Dershowitz; for an academic publisher the associated costs would have been ruinous, to the point of making certain victory meaningless. On occasion our relationship became strained and at one point it appeared as if we had reached an impasse. However, through the skillful mediation of Nation magazine senior editor Roane Carey (who was the freelance editor of Beyond Chutzpah) and others, a satisfactory compromise was reached that protected the interests of both publisher and author, and, most importantly, preserved the integrity of the book. I would like personally to extend my heartfelt thanks to all who supported me and the press during this difficult period.

Unable to suppress publication of my book, Dershowitz has instead declared victory on the ground that certain allegations about his scholarly misconduct have been removed from the final text. Resorting to blackmail and censorship is not normally reason for boasting. It's also difficult to understand how the publication of a book copiously documenting that The Case for Israel is among the most spectacular academic frauds ever published on the Israel-Palestine conflict should be cause for his gloating.

More to the point, is it accurate to state that allegations of mine have been removed? An appendix to Beyond Chutzpah irrefutably demonstrates that Dershowitz not only massively lifted information and ideas from another author, Joan Peters, without attribution, but that he did so from a book, Peters's From Time Immemorial, universally dismissed as a fraud. It is left to readers to decide whether Dershowitz committed plagiarism as defined by Harvard University -- "passing off a source's information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them." The appendix also explicitly recounts my previous conclusion that Dershowitz didn't have "a clue of his book's content" and that he was "manifestly ignorant of the content of his own book" (Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 95, 254). Again, it is left to readers to draw the only possible inference. In light of the comprehensive falsification of sources in The Case for Israel that I have documented, Dershowitz might have been better advised to disclaim authorship. As I stated to him on Democracy Now!, "For your sake, I truly hope you did not write this book."

Finally, I would like to comment on Dershowitz's repeated claim that I stated that my late mother was a Nazi collaborator (kapo). In an article for ("Why is the University of California Press Publishing Bigotry?," 5 July 2005), Dershowitz alleged that "[Finkelstein] suspects his mother of having been a kapo ('really, how else would she have survived?' he asks rhetorically)," while in a statement posted on his Harvard University Law School webpage, Dershowitz wrote that "He suspects his own mother of being a kapo and cooperating with the Nazis during the Holocaust" ( A more elaborate version of this claim appears in his new book The Case for Peace:

Finkelstein even doubted his own mother's denial that she was a kapo, asking whether her frequent statements that "the best didn't survive" constituted "an indirect admission of guilt?" The most he was willing to do was "assume" that his mother answered him "truthfully." But he questioned even that assumption: "Still, if she didn't cross fundamental moral boundaries, I glimpsed from her manner of pushing and shoving in order to get to the head of a queue, which mortified me. . . . Really, how else would she have survived?"

My late mother was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, Maidanek concentration camp and two slave-labor camps. Every member of her family was exterminated. After the war she was a key witness in an INS Nazi deportation hearing and at the trial of Maidanek concentration camp guards in Germany (where I was also present). She has been written up in many histories of these postwar hearings. Here is the excerpt from my memoir that Dershowitz consulted to reach his conclusion:
Except for allusions to relentless pangs of hunger, my mother never spoke about her personal torments during the war, which was just as well, since I couldn't have borne them. Like Primo Levi, she often said that, being "too delicate and refined, the best didn't survive." Was this an indirect admission of guilt? Much later in life I finally summoned the nerve to ask whether she had done anything of which she was ashamed. Calmly replying no, she recalled having refused the privileged position of "block head" in the camp. She especially resented the "dirty" question "How did you survive?" with the insinuation that, to emerge alive from the camps, survivors must have morally compromised themselves. Given how ferociously she cursed the Jewish councils, ghetto police and kapos, I assume my mother answered me truthfully. Although acknowledging that Jews initially joined the councils from mixed motives, she said that "only scum," reaping the rewards of doing the devil's work, still cooperated after it became clear that they were merely cogs in the Nazi killing machine. When queried why she hadn't settled in Israel after the war, my mother used to reply, only half in jest, that "I had enough of Jewish leaders!" The Jewish ghetto police always had the option, she said, of "throwing off their uniforms and joining the rest of us" -- a point that Yitzak Zuckerman, a leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, made in his memoir. (It was always gratifying to find my mother's seemingly erratic or harsh judgments seconded in the reliable testimonial literature.) Still shaking her head in disbelief, she would often recall how, after Jews in the ghetto used the most primitive implements or even bare hands to dig bunkers deep in the earth and conceal themselves, the Jewish police would reveal these hideouts to the Germans, sending their flesh-and-blood to the crematoria in order to save their own skins. One of the first acts of the ghetto resistance was to kill an officer in the Jewish police. On a sign posted next to his corpse -- my mother would recall with vengeful glee -- read the epitaph: "Those who live like a dog die like a dog." Still, if she didn't cross fundamental moral boundaries, I glimpsed from her manner of pushing and shoving in order to get to the head of a queue, which mortified me, how my mother must have fought Hobbes's war of all against all many a time in the camps. Really, how else would she have survived? (, "Haunted House")

Comparing the actual text with his presentation of it gives a hint of how Dershowitz typically reports sources in his publications. I will forgo comment on the moral character of an individual who defames a survivor of the Nazi holocaust after her death.


Beyond Chutzpah is now on its way to bookstores. It is my sincere hope that the repulsive sideshow created by Dershowitz will quickly be forgotten and that the book's real purpose will now come into focus: Israel's horrendous human rights record in the Occupied Territories and the misuse of anti-Semitism to delegitimize criticism of it.

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