ANOTHER MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT
October 2, 2003
It might be best not to invite DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School to the same dinner party anytime soon. Finkelstein, the author of several controversial books on the Middle East and the Holocaust, has baldly accused the law professor of plagiarizing in portions of Dershowitz’s recently published "The Case for Israel."
The always diverting and generally unreliable Nation magazine writer Alexander Cockburn has joined the fray in a just-published diatribe, "Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist: Will Lawrence Summers Take Action?" You can read their indictment of Dershowitz on Finkelstein’s website, www.normanfinkelstein.com.
Before letting the fur fly, let’s sort out what Dershowitz did and did not do. Dershowitz did not plagiarize anything, in any meaningful sense. What Dershowitz did do, and what I consider to be both sloppy and wrong, is exploit another author’s footnotes, passing her research off as his own. On several occasions in his new book, Dershowitz cites research from Joan Peters’s 1984 book, "From Time Immemorial," and footnotes it, e.g. "James Finn to Viscount Palmerston, November 7, 1851," as if he had consulted the original document.
I have been in this same situation, and I think if one is working with secondary sources, one should say so. I think the proper cite would be, "James Finn to Viscount Palmerston, as quoted in Peters, p. 231." Writers don’t like to do that, because it conveys the (correct) impression that they are perhaps over-relying on someone’s work.
Dershowitz disagrees, strongly. Returning my call from a specialist’s waiting room ("It’s hard to know which is worse – getting a colonoscopy or being attacked by Alexander Cockburn"), he says that his book, clearly a work of advocacy, does rely on secondary sources: "The primary sources are not within my field of expertise." Yes, he read the Peters book. "Where I found a good quote, I would circle it, and then we would check it against the original. Where we found the original source, we would cite it. To call it plagiarism is preposterous."
Finkelstein has other problems with Dershowitz’s book. He is surprised that Dershowitz cites Peters’s book at all, as it is itself the subject of numerous attacks; Finkelstein calls the book a "fraud." ("There is some overstatement in it," Dershowitz allows.)
He further mocks Dershowitz for citing a movie, "One Day in September," as a source in a footnote. "I wrote a popular book," Dershowitz replies. "I’m happy that I don’t have to cite inaccessible sources."
Peace is unlikely to break out between the pro-Israel Dershowitz and Finkelstein, who wrote a book suggesting that Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust for self-serving ends. "He has made vicious attacks on Israel. I have nothing but contempt for him," Dershowitz says of Finkelstein. "He’s an academic hit man."
"A lot of people don’t like my politics," Finkelstein responds. "But that’s not the issue. The issue is why Mr. Dershowitz is using his Harvard credentials to peddle a hoax." Finkelstein has been trying to publish his charges against Dershowitz in a Harvard Crimson ad, so far unsuccessfully.
Where do these Interlochen guys get off, anyway? Last week I described how the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Traverse City, Mich., had filed suit against the Interlocken International Camp in Hillsborough, N.H., for alleged trademark infringement. I mentioned that the Michiganites likewise went after Land’s End for marketing a shirt made of a fabric called "Interlochen."
Now I learn that the arts gang also sicced its trademark attorney on the Interlaken School for the Arts, based in a tiny Massachusetts village named . . .
Interlaken. Hint: It’s between two lakes. "We had good reason to believe that the founder of that school named it after Interlochen in Michigan," spokesman Paul Heaton tells me. "We were able to achieve a successful resolution without going to court."
"That’s cuckoo," ripostes Interlaken executive director Karin Watkins. "We weren’t named after them. We’re a small community arts school. We knew we didn’t have the resources to fight them, so we changed our name." To "IS183." Ugh.
Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is email@example.com.