Dershowitz on Parade
Alan Dershowitz wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal yesterday denouncing Norman Finkelstein.
In the piece, Dershowitz quotes Peter Novick at length to denounce Finkelstein. But Novick has written a letter criticizing Dershowitz's crusade against academic freedom. Jon Wiener discusses this in the Nation.
Finkelstein is a polarizing figure; he has lots of people who love him (such as Noam Chomsky and this thoughtful article in Counterpunch), and lots of people who hate him. I’m not a Finkelstein fan, but I think his writings are no more inaccurate than any other typical writer (including Dershowitz) on a controversial subject; he has a propensity for hyperbole and insult, but that’s about it (and I think we need more of that instead of boringwriting). He’s produced several books (including from a university press), and would normally have no trouble getting tenure. He’s a popular teacher (interestingly, I’m told that the DePaul College Republicans, who are certainly not shrinking violets considering their fights against censorship by the DePaul administration, have decided not to take any stand on Finkelstein’s tenure case).
There are several problems with Dershowitz’s essay. One is his claim that Finkelstein “encouraged radical goons to email threatening messages; ‘Look forward to a visit from me,’ reads one. ‘Nazis like [you] need to be confronted directly.’" I have zero tolerance for threats, but that email simply isn’t one. A promise to “be confronted directly” is not a death threat. By contrast, Finkelstein’s letters page includes many threatening letters, but no one imagines that Dershowitz should be held responsible for these idiots. If Dershowitz has any evidence that Finkelstein is encouraging threatening messages, he should produce it.
Here’s what I wrote to the Wall Street Journal:
Alan Dershowitz’s May 4 attack on Norman Finkelstein includes numerous deceptions and omissions. Dershowitz falsely claims that he only became involved in Finkelstein’s tenure process at the request of a DePaul professor; in reality, a year before this invitation, Dershowitz was promising to challenge Finkelstein’s tenure case. And it is absurd for Dershowitz to claim that Finkelstein adopted his leftist views solely as a lifelong plot to claim political bias in case of his firing. Dershowitz also omits his efforts to have Finkelstein’s book banned by contacting the University of California Regents and even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is true that Finkelstein makes some dubious claims and ad hominem attacks. However, if this were sufficient grounds for denying tenure, then Dershowitz’s op-ed would justify his own tenure denial. The American system of academic freedom should be broad enough to include the vicious attacks between Dershowitz and Finkelstein.
John K. Wilson
The writer is founder of collegefreedom.org and author of “Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies” (Paradigm Publishers, August 2007)
UPDATE: In the comment to this article I've posted Peter Novick's letter about Finkelstein.