Letter to Matthew Abraham on Beyond Chutzpah Review

Alan Dershowitz


To the Editor:

It is difficult to write a rebuttal against a writer whose own  article so readily discredits itself. Matthew Abraham, an English  professor, uses such outlandish and intemperate language, makes such wild historical fabrications, and parrots so many verifiably false accusations, that I cannot help but suspect that he has written his review of Norman Finkelstein’s Beyond Chutzpah as an example for his students on how not to write well. His article reads like a cheap agitprop parody. Before I begin, then, I will let Abraham, the Rachel Corrie Courage in Teaching Award winner, speak for himself.

Abraham concurs with Finkelstein that “American Jewish Zionists” are involved in “a lucrative extortion racket” designed to enrich and shield ourselves “from much-deserved scrutiny in [our] toadying for special dispensations as oppressed ‘chosen people.’” Abraham says that the Anti-Defamation League is a “U.S. Front operations for the Israeli government” engaged in “a form of ruthless grave robbery for the glorification of that massive land-based U.S. aircraft carrier, Israel.” Abraham places full blame on “America and Israel” for “block[ing] resolution” of the Middle East conflict. He calls Israel a “crazy state,” concludes that it is not a democracy, and places the full blame on “America and Israel” for “block[ing] resolution” of the Middle East conflict.” The “historical record,” writes Abraham, “confirms that the PLO and the Arab states have overwhelmingly been in favor of peace.” He repeats Arafat’s Bantustan accusation – that Palestine was offered cantons of land, rather than the contiguous state on over 95% of the occupied territories that the Camp David maps show – and twice insists that Israel has ethnically cleansed Palestinians from Israel, as if simply repeating the accusation were enough to make it true. My favorite Abraham claim is his wild assertion that “American Jewish Zionists” (there’s that phrase again) “blocked” Holocaust survivors from coming to America! I’ve heard of many “Jewish conspiracies,” but this is the first time I’ve heard of a Jewish conspiracy to keep Jews out of America.

Then there is Abraham’s breathless praise of Finkelstein “a well-respected, Princeton trained political scientist with several internationally recognized books to his credit.” Hardly. While Finkelstein’s books have found a welcoming audience in the neo-Nazi demographic, mainstream media sources have uniformly dismissed Finkelstein as a Jew-hating crank, and he has been fired from several universities for shoddy scholarship and abusive treatment of students. In 2000, Finkelstein published a scandalous screed, called The Holocaust Industry, in which he railed against American Jewish leaders who were seeking justice for Holocaust survivors. In his book and in public lectures, Finkelstein accused Jewish leaders of being part of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy, whose members included Elie Wiesel, Leon Uris, Steven Spielberg, Stuart Eizenstat, Abba Eban, Abraham Foxman, Edgar Bronfman, and Burt Neuborne. The problem was that Finkelstein simply made up his alleged facts, his quotations, and his citations. Moreover, since he cannot read German, and since many of the most important sources relating to the Holocaust are in German, he faked his research. This is what University of Chicago Professor Peter Novick, whose work The Holocaust in American Life Finkelstein characterized as “the initial stimulus for [his] book,” said
about Finkelstein:

As concerns particular assertions made by Finkelstein . . . the appropriate response is not (exhilarating) "debate" but (tedious) examination of his footnotes. Such an examination reveals that many of those assertions are pure invention. . . . No facts alleged by Finkelstein should be assumed to be really facts, no quotation in his book should be assumed to be accurate, without taking the time to carefully compare his claims with the sources he cites.

Novick called The Holocaust Industry “trash” and a “twenty-first century updating of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’” Omer Bartov, who reviewed The Holocaust Industry for The New York Times, called it an “irrational and insidious” “conspiracy theory,” “verg[ing] on paranoia,” full of “dubious rhetoric and faulty logic,” “indifference to historical facts,” and “sensational ‘revelations’ and outrageous accusations.” In sum, Bartov called the book “a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Marc Fisher, a columnist for the Washington Post, observed that “Norman Finkelstein [is] a writer celebrated by neo-Nazi groups for his Holocaust revisionism and comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany.”

In his many pages of vague invective against “American Zionist Jews,” Abraham manages to level two substantive charges against me, both of which are easily disproved. First, Abraham's claims that I “wag[ed] an astounding campaign to kill off Finkelstein’s retort [Beyond Chutzpah].” But as I wrote to the University of California Press: I have no interest in censoring any publication. But I do insist that a book, ‘a large part of which is devoted to Alan Dershowitz’ has been checked for accuracy and that all appropriate measures have been taken to assure that its biased and defamatory author does not include within it maliciously false information. Among Finkelstein’s defamations are his allegations that I “almost certainly didn't write” The Case for Israel, “and perhaps [he] didn't even read it prior to publication.” Finkelstein even suggests that all of my books are written for me by the Israeli Mossad: “[I]t’s sort of like a Hallmark line for Nazis….[T]hey churn them out so fast that he has now reached a point where he doesn’t even read them.”

Finkelstein has attempted to frame Beyond Chutzpah’s publication as a triumph for academic freedom. This dispute, though, has never been about academic freedom. Nobody ever tried to prevent Finkelstein from publishing his bigoted falsehoods. The dispute has always been about academic standards. In order to deflect attention away from their lack of academic standards and hard-left anti-Israel bias, Finkelstein and his publisher have lied about the issue of academic freedom. Nobody has ever tried to censor Finkelstein’s drivel. He can always publish it with presses that acknowledge their anti-Israel bias. The issue is, and has always been, one of academic standards: how could the University of California Press publish a work so lacking in standards, so filled with misquotations, falsifications, and faked data by a failed academic with a well deserved reputation for the “pure invention” of his sources? No objective university press would have published this sequel to a book the New York Times called a “variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

Second, Abraham writes, “Rarely has anyone committed to upholding a party line exceeded Dershowitz’ loyalty to one revered state, and that state is Israel.” Relatedly, he claims that “pro-Zionist Jews” lie about anti-Semitism because we are afraid of being “no longer perceived as the world’s greatest victims.” These charges come straight from Finkelstein, who alleges that Jews will cry “anti-Semite” at anyone who criticizes Israel. Finkelstein subtitles his book “On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” explaining his thesis as follows: "Like the Holocaust, 'anti-Semitism' is an ideological weapon to deflect justified criticism of Israel and, concomitantly, powerful Jewish interests. In its current usage, 'anti-Semitism,' alongside the “war against terrorism,” serves as a cloak for a massive assault on international law and human rights.

This allegation, though, is belied by a simple scan of the themes and theses of my own books. Only eight years ago, I wrote an entire book discussing challenges facing American Jews now that institutional anti-Semitism is all but nonexistent and personal anti-Semitism has been relegated to the marginalized extremes of the political spectrum. As I put it in The Vanishing American Jew, “The thesis of this book is that the long epoch of Jewish persecution is finally coming to an end. . . .” And in both The Case for Israel and The Case for Peace, I was clear that criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism are not the same thing. Considering my extensive and well-documented history of criticizing particular Israeli policies and politicians, Finkelstein’s obsessive focus on me and my book ensures that Beyond Chutzpah amounts to nothing more than an attempt to blow over a straw man of Finkelstein’s – and Abraham’s – own construction.

Abraham praises as “intrepid” Finkelstein’s underlying question, “Do American Zionist Jews, qua Jews, use their ethnic privilege to advance Israel’s morally-bankrupt agenda toward increasing militarization in its ethnic cleansing and annexation of the West Bank?” He answers with a resounding yes. It’s a shame that a professor of rhetoric, who repeatedly accuses others of “toeing the party line,” would rely on so many tired and false clichés in the service of his extremist anti-Jewish (or as Abraham would have it, his anti-“American Zionist Jew”) agenda.