Dershowitz vs. Cockburn (including exchange of letters)

Alexander Cockburn

Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist

Let’s start with a passage from Alan Dershowitz’s latest book, The

Case for Israel, now slithering into the upper tier of Amazon’s sales

charts. On page 213 we meet Dershowitz, occupant of the Felix

Frankfurter Chair at Harvard Law School, happily walloping a French

prof called Faurisson, charged by the FF prof from Harvard U as being

a fraud and a Holocaust denier: "There was no extensive historical

research. Instead, there was the fraudulent manufacturing of false

antihistory. It was the kind of deception for which professors are

rightly fired-not because their views are controversial but because

they are violating the most basic canons of historical scholarship."

Let me now usher into the narrative an important member of the cast:

From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over

Palestine, a 601-page book by Joan Peters, published in 1984.

Peters’s polemical work strove to buttress the old Zionist thesis

that the land of Israel had been "a land without people, awaiting a

people without land." Peters’s book was soon discredited as a charnel

house of disingenuous polemic. The coup de grâce was administered by

Professor Yehoshua Porath in The New York Review of Books for January

16 and March 27, 1986.

Though neither Peters nor her book appears in the index to The Case

for Israel, they both get a mention in note 31 of chapter 2, where

Dershowitz cites the work of a nineteenth-century French geographer

called Cuinct [sic], and adds, "See Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial

(Chicago: JKAP Publications, 1984). Peters’s conclusions and data

have been challenged. See Said and Hitchens, p. 33. I do not in any

way rely on them in this book." "Them" clearly refers to Peters’s

conclusions and data.

This brazen declaration is preceded in chapters 1 and 2 by repeated,

unacknowledged looting of Peters’s research. I have before me a

devastating comparative archive of these plagiarisms, compiled by

Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on

the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering and Image and Reality of the

Israel-Palestine Conflict. Here are but four from twenty thus far

discovered in the first two chapters alone.

"In the sixteenth century," the learned Dershowitz remarks on the

seventeenth page of his book, "according to British reports, ‘as many

as 15,000 Jews’ lived in Safad, which was a ‘center of rabbinical

learning.’" Source cited by Dershowitz: Palestine Royal Commission

Report, pp. 11-12. Turn now to page 178 of Peters’s book, published

nineteen years earlier: "Safed at that time, according to the British

investigation by Lord Peel’s committee, ‘contained as many as 15,000

Jews in the 16th century,’ and was ‘a centre of Rabbinical

learning.’" Source cited by Peters: Palestine Royal Commission

Report, pp. 11-12. Originality displayed by Dershowitz: downgrading

"Rabbinical" to a lower-case r.

Same page of Dershowitz: "[A]ccording to the British consul in

Jerusalem, the Muslims of Jerusalem ‘scarcely exceed[ed] one quarter

of the whole population.’" Source cited: James Finn to Earl of

Clarendon, January 1, 1858. Peters (p. 197): "In 1858 Consul Finn

reported the ‘Mohammedans of Jerusalem’ were ‘scarcely exceeding

one-quarter of the whole population.’" Source cited: James Finn to

Earl of Clarendon, January 1, 1858.

Dershowitz (p. 20): "Nor could the Jew seek redress, as the report

observed: ‘Like the miserable dog without an owner he is kicked by

one because he crosses his path, and cuffed by another because he

cries out-to seek redress he is afraid, lest it bring worse upon him;

he thinks it better to endure than to live in the expectation of his

complaint being revenged upon him.’" Source cited: Wm. T. Young to

Viscount Palmerston, May 25, 1839. Peters (p. 187): "[T]he life for

Jews described in 1839 by British Consul Young: ‘[S] Like the

miserable dog without an owner he is kicked by one because he crosses

his path, and cuffed by another because he cries out-to seek redress

he is afraid, lest it bring worse upon him; he thinks it better to

endure than to live in the expectation of his complaint being

revenged upon him.’" Source cited: Wm. T. Young to Viscount

Palmerston, May 25, 1839.

Dershowitz (p. 27): "J.L. Burkhardt [sic] reported that as early as

in the second decade of the nineteenth century, ‘Few individualsSdie

in the same village in which they were born. Families are continually

moving from one place to anotherSin a few yearsSthey fly to some

other place, where they have heard that their brethren are better

treated.’" Source cited: John Lewis Burckhardt, Travels in Syria and

the Holy Land (New York: AMS Press, 1983), p. 299. Peters (p. 163):

"John Lewis Burckhardt graphically described the migratory patterns

he found in the early 1800s: ‘[S]Few individualsSdie in the same

village in which they were born. Families are continually moving from

one place to another[S]in a few years[S]they fly to some other place,

where they have heard that their brethren are better treated.’"

Source cited: John Lewis Burckhardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy

Land (London: 1882), p. 299.

For those who, on the monkeys-writing-Shakespeare analogy, may

speculate that Dershowitz somehow replicated Peters’s researches

unknowingly, I should add that in two very long passages, one from a

letter from Wm. T. Young to Col. Patrick Campbell (May 25, 1839), and

the other from Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, Dershowitz

reproduces the quotes with ellipses in exactly the same places as


Amid this orgy of plagiarism, Dershowitz understandably gets confused

about sources. Claiming to be inspired by George Orwell, Peters in

her book coined the term "turnspeak" to signal an inversion of

reality. Dershowitz is apparently so nervous of citing Peters in any

way that he credits the term "turnspeak" to Orwell, accusing critics

of Israel of "deliberately using George Orwell’s ‘turnspeak.’"

Over to Harvard president Lawrence Summers-or will the man so happy

to dress down Prof. Cornel West be more timid when it comes to

confronting the occupant of the Felix Frankfurter Chair? All you have

to do is remind him of Dershowitz’s words about Prof. Faurisson.

The Nation, October 27, 2003

Letters Exchange

‘Plagiarized!’ ‘Total NonsenseS’

Cambridge, Mass.

Alexander Cockburn’s politically motivated claim that I "plagiarized"

from Joan Peters is total nonsense ["Beat the Devil," Oct. 13]. Let’s

begin with what is undisputed: Every word written by others appears

with quotation marks, is cited to their original or secondary sources

and is quoted accurately. This means that they are not plagiarized.

James Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth and the American

Academy of Arts and Sciences, has concluded, after reviewing the

relevant material, that what I did was "simply not plagiarism, under

any reasonable definition of that word."

Cockburn’s claim is that some of the quotes should not have been

cited to their original sources but rather to a secondary source,

where he believes I stumbled upon them. Even if he were correct that

I found all these quotations in Peters’s book, the preferred method

of citation is to the original source, as the Chicago Manual of Style

emphasizes: "With all reuse of others’ materials, it is important to

identify the original as the source. ThisShelps avoid any accusation

of plagiarismSTo cite a source from a secondary source (‘quoted inS’)

is generally to be discouragedS."

It is especially cynical that Cockburn would have me cite the quotes

to Peters, since Norman Finkelstein-his source-has alleged that

Peters herself originally found these and other quotes in earlier

books. Should I have cited those books? That is why citing the

original source is preferred.

I came across the quoted material in several secondary sources. They

appear frequently in discussions of nineteenth-century Palestine. The

Mark Twain quote, highlighted by Cockburn, appears in many books

about the subject. I came across it in 1970 while preparing a debate

about Israel for The Advocates. Cockburn also points out that I quote

some of the same material from the Peel Report that Peters quotes,

but he fails to mention that I also use many quotes from the report

that do not appear in Peters’s book. I read the entire report and

decided which parts to quote. I rely heavily on the Peel Report,

devoting an entire chapter (Six) to its findings. They are quoted

directly, with proper attribution.

Cockburn refers to Finkelstein’s "devastating chart," which compares

several quotes from my books with quotes from Peters’s book. By

juxtaposing these quotes, he makes it appear that I am borrowing

words from her. But these are all quotes-properly cited in my

book-from third parties. Of course they are similar, or the same. One

does not change a quote. And since I did find some of the quotes in

Peters’s book, as she found them in others, it should come as no

surprise that the ellipses are sometimes similar or the same.

It is important to recall that my book is a brief for Israel. It does

not purport to be a work of original demographic research, as

Peters’s does. A few pages are devoted to summarizing the demographic

history, and these pages rely heavily on quotes from others to make

my points. I found most of my quotes in secondary sources. When I was

able to locate the primary source, I quoted it. When I was unable, I

cited the secondary source. Contrary to Cockburn’s implication that I

cited Peters once, I cited her eight times in the first eighty-nine

pages (Ch. 2, fn 31, 35; Ch. 5, fn 8; Ch. 12, fn 34, 37, 38, 44, 47).

Of my more than 500 references, fewer than a dozen were found in

Peters and cited to original sources. Although we use a few of the

same sources-and we each use many sources not used by the other-I

come to different conclusions from Peters about important issues. As

I made clear in my book, "I do not in any way rely on" Peters’s

conclusions or demographic data for my arguments. Peters’s basic

conclusion is that only a small number of Palestinians lived in what

later became Israel. She provides specific figures, which have been

disputed. My very different conclusion is that:

There have been two competing mythologies about Palestine circa 1880.

The extremist Jewish mythology, long since abandoned, was that

Palestine was "a land without people, for a people without a land."

The extremist Palestinian mythology, which has become more embedded

with time, is that in 1880 there was a Palestinian people; some even

say a Palestinian nation that was displaced by the Zionist invasion.

The reality, as usual, lies somewhere in between. Palestine was

certainly not a land empty of all people. It is impossible to

reconstruct the demographics of the area with any degree of

precision, since census data for that time period are not reliable,

and most attempts at reconstruction-by both Palestinian and Israeli

sources-seem to have a political agenda.

I offer very different and rougher estimates, which Cockburn and

Finkelstein do not challenge, as they do Peters’s. How then can I be

accused of plagiarizing ideas or conclusions with which I disagree,

from a book that I cite eight times, using the preferred form of


Why then would Cockburn attack me so viciously? The answer is in his

sentence bemoaning the fact that a pro-Israel book is "slithering

into the upper tier of Amazon’s sales charts." He disapproves of my

message and of the fact that it is reaching a wide audience. Instead

of debating me on the merits, he has tried to destroy my credibility

with a false accusation. (This is not the first time he and

Finkelstein have gotten together and employed this tactic against

people with whom they disagree.)

Let people read The Case for Israel and judge it for themselves

against Cockburn’s charges. I have sent his attack and my response to

President Summers. I have nothing to fear from false charges.

Alan M. Dershowitz



Every time he tries to leap to firmer ground, defending the rotten

standards of scholarship in his rotten book, Dershowitz sinks in

deeper. Start with his defiant declaration from the dock that he did

not commit plagiarism because "every word written by others appears

with quotation marks, is cited to their original or secondary sources

and is quoted accurately." This skates (rather clumsily, I have to

say) round the question of what source Dershowitz actually did use

for his citation and whether or not he acknowledged it. Often he used

Peters and pretended he didn’t, which would get him into very hot

water at Harvard if he were a student and not the Felix Frankfurter


Here are Harvard’s own rules, set forth in Writing With Sources: A

Guide for Harvard Students: "Plagiarism is passing off a source’s

information, ideas, or words as your own by omitting to cite them."

And also: "When quoting or citing a passage you found quoted or cited

by another scholar, and you haven’t actually read the original

source, cite the passage as ‘quoted in’ or ‘cited in’ that scholar

both to credit that person for finding the quoted passage or cited

text, and to protect yourself in case he or she has misquoted or


I discussed only Dershowitz’s first two chapters, as dissected by

Norman Finkelstein, his nemesis in this affair, who points out that

twenty-two of the fifty-two footnotes to these chapters are lifted

from Peters without attribution. Finkelstein recently laid waste

Dershowitz’s attempts at self-exculpation in the Harvard Crimson. As

Finkelstein points out, one problem for the beleaguered prof comes in

the form of ellipses. Dershowitz echoes Peters’s ellipses. Another

problem identified by Finkelstein: For Twain, Dershowitz cites from

one edition and Peters from another, but the page numbers he cites

are from Peters’s edition, not his. So Peters’s text is where he got

the quote.

Yet another problem goes to the concluding sentence from the Harvard

guidelines quoted above. Dershowitz echoes Peters’s mistakes. From

Twain she cites as one continuous text what are in fact two separate

paragraphs separated by eighty-seven pages. Dershowitz follows suit.

He’s handcuffed to Peters in a more serious breach of scholarship

when he plagiarizes her erroneous citation of British consular

official Wm. T. Young’s supposedly first-person description to Lord

Canning of an instance of anti-Semitism in Jerusalem. The description

was not Young’s but a memorandum by one A. Benisch, which Young was


Another bloodied glove, as it were, comes with Dershowitz’s

attribution of the unlovely neologism "turnspeak" to George Orwell.

This was a coinage by Peters, who cited Orwell as having inspired it.

Glazed with literary pillage, and ever eager to suppress the fact

that he was relying heavily on one of the most notorious

laughingstocks of Middle Eastern scholarship, Dershowitz seized on

Orwell as the source, once again cutting Peters out.

Quoting The Chicago Manual of Style, Dershowitz artfully implies that

he followed the rules by citing "the original" as opposed to the

secondary source, Peters. He misrepresents Chicago here, where "the

original" means merely the origin of the borrowed material, which is,

in this instance, Peters.

Now look at the second bit of the quote from Chicago, chastely

separated from the preceding sentence by a demure three-point

ellipsis. As my associate Kate Levin has discovered, this passage

("To cite a source from a secondary sourceS") occurs on page 727,

which is no less than 590 pages later than the material before the

ellipsis, in a section titled "Citations Taken from Secondary

Sources." Here’s the full quote, with what Dershowitz left out set in

bold: "’Quoted in.’ To cite a source from a secondary source ("quoted

inS") 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."

So Chicago is clearly insisting that unless Dershowitz went to the

originals, he was obliged to cite Peters. Finkelstein has

conclusively demonstrated that he didn’t go to the originals.

Plagiarism, QED, plus added time for willful distortion of the

language of Chicago’s guidelines, cobbling together two separate


Some time ago three judges on a Florida appeals court overturned a

$145 million landmark judgment against tobacco companies. In their

decision the judges appropriated without acknowledgment extensive

swaths of the brief put forward by the tobacco companies’ well-paid

lawyers. The judges were sued for judicial plagiarism, and, as so

often, Dershowitz had a pithy quote: "If a student ever did what this

judge did, he’d be tossed out on his rear end from Harvard Law

School. We teach our students as a matter of ethics that when you

borrow, you attribute."

Amherst professor Sayres Rudy, who says his credentials are "from the

ground up," i.e., based on honor codes he enforced (Davidson) or

examined (UVA, The Citadel), has studied the Dershowitz/Peters case:

"I can say unequivocally that under Davidson College’s and other

schools’ honor codes Dershowitz’s quotations constitute plagiarism,

with clear attempt to deceive as to (A) his research and (B) his

findings. Thus his plagiarism is serious and unambiguous, and if it

were a student in question, the debate would regard levels of

punishment. Maximal punishments would be considered without any

doubt, including at UVA expulsion, at Davidson two-term suspension,

and at military schools such as West Point or The Citadel a


But then, Dershowitz isn’t a student. He’s the Felix Frankfurter

Professor at Harvard Law School, meaning presumably that he’s beyond

reform. Two-tier justice for all!

Alexander Cockburn