The Finkelstein/Dershowitz Fight
The squabble between DePaul Professor Norman Finkelstein and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz has taken an ugly turn. The fight escalated when Finkelstein wrote a book attacking Dershowitz, accusing him of plagiarism (for poor scholarship in concealing his reliance on secondary sources, which no one really regards as plagiarism), and even making a hyperbolic suggestion that Dershowitz had not written, nor even read, his own book. Dershowitz promptly threatened legal action against Finkelstein’s publisher, the New Press, and when they decided to delay publication, Finkelstein took the book to the University of California Press. Dershowitz, this alleged paragon of free expression, promptly sought to have Finkelstein’s book banned. Dershowitz (or his lawyer) wrote the Press, its directors, and even to Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, seeking to kill Finkelstein’s book. Although the University of California Press hired several lawyers to go through the book line by line and forced Finkelstein to change some particularly nasty passages about Dershowitz, the book was finally published.
Now, Dershowitz is campaigning to have Finkelstein denied tenure by DePaul University. Last fall, he wrote a letter to DePaul University, asking them to fire Finkelstein. Among Dershowitz’s latest complaints is that Finkelstein solicited a friend to draw a cartoon that accompanied one of Finkelstein’s columns denouncing Dershowitz, and this cartoon depicts Dershowitz gleefully masturbating as he watches Israeli soldiers kill civilians in Lebanon.
Dershowitz apparently believes that soliciting an offensive cartoon (if that’s what Finkelstein did) should be grounds for firing a professor, which is an extraordinary step. Most tenure decisions are made by consulting experts in the field. It is almost unheard of for outside partisans to lobby an institution for the dismissal of a professor. If this kind of witchhunt had been directed against a conservative professor by a leading liberal, we would hear no end to the complaints about the left-wing thought police trying to silence dissent. Yet no one on the right seems willing to stand up to Dershowitz and say that it’s wrong to try to ban a book, and it’s wrong to try to have a professor fired for making harsh criticisms of you.
Finkelstein reports, "In early December Depaul University's College of Arts and Sciences' Faculty Governance Council wrote the university provost expressing its 'distress about Professor Dershowitz's interference with the College's tenure proceedings,' which 'risks tainting the process.'"