Powered by WebAds

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Dersh v. The Denier

One of the apocryphal stories that floated around the law school when I was a student twenty-five years ago was a story of a young Alan Dershowitz working as a summer associate with one of the big New York Jewish firms (in those days, New York firms were 'Jewish' or 'white shoes' and regardless of how observant or non-observant you were, the 'white shoes' firms would almost never make you a job offer). The story went that towards the end of his first week on the job, Dershowitz was called into the office of one of the firm's name partners and the conversation went something like this:
Partner: Young man, I understand you told everyone here that you plan to leave early on Friday.

Dershowitz: Yes, that's right.

Partner: How early?

Dershowitz: About two hours before sundown.

Partner: And why is that?

Dershowitz: I am a Sabbath observer, and I need to make it home before sundown.

Partner: We'll live with that for the summer, but please don't expect to work here permanently after graduation.
I don't know whether the story is true (I suspect it is), and I don't know whether Dershowitz is still observant today, but despite our political differences (he's way to my left), I have always had warm feelings for Dershowitz because of that story. Oh yes, and his brother, whose daughter was a class behind me in school, made aliya in the early 70's....

The New York Times reported on Thursday on the Dersh's latest battle with Holocaust denying professor Norman Finkelstein over the latter's bid for tenure at DePaul University in Chicago. Parts of this article tilted way too far in Finkelstein's favor for my taste, but parts of it seem fair.
Mr. Finkelstein, who is going before a university-wide review panel on Friday, the third and final step of the tenure process, said that so far two committees — one from the political science department and one from the college as a whole — voted in favor of tenure. But the college dean rejected his advisory committee’s vote and recommended against an appointment.

“I am personally confident that had the process been without outside interferences, I would have gotten tenure,” Mr. Finkelstein said. (Tenure decisions will be announced in June, said Denise Mattson, a spokeswoman for DePaul.)


Behind the ferocious personal animus there is a clash of ideas. In 2000 Mr. Finkelstein, a vehement critic of Israel and the son of Holocaust survivors, published “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering,” in which he argued that Jews in Israel and America have conspired to use the Holocaust to oppress the Palestinians and extort money from Germany. Not surprisingly the book caused a sensation, leading to large sales and vociferous criticism.

After Mr. Dershowitz published “The Case for Israel,” Mr. Finkelstein began working on “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History,” which essentially was devoted to tearing down that book. At one point he accused Mr. Dershowitz of plagiarism and of not having written “The Case.” Mr. Dershowitz, a dogged lawyer known for his high-profile defense of O. J. Simpson and others, tried to get the University of California Press to cancel his adversary’s book, even at one point appealing to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He failed, but he did manage to include a counterattack on Mr. Finkelstein in his next book.

Vicious name-calling has accompanied these events, much of which is chronicled on both men’s Web pages. Mr. Finkelstein has called Mr. Dershowitz a “raving maniac,” “hoodlum” and “evil.” On normanfinkelstein.com there is a recent Finkelstein article titled “Should Alan Dershowitz Target Himself for Assassination?” [I found one entitled Colleagues Gather to Honor the Life and Work of Xaveria Hollander, author of The Happy Hooker - Free Conference Honors Work, Scholarship of Special Guest Alan Dershowitz. CiJ] On Mr. Dershowitz’s Web site (alandershowitz.com), he has had students compile lists of “The Most Despicable Things Finkelstein Has Said,” “The 10 Stupidest Things Finkelstein Has Said,” and so on.


“The thrust of my letter was, don’t deny him tenure because of his outrageous outbursts,” Mr. Dershowitz said in a telephone interview Tuesday, “but because there’s no scholarship there,” and his books are “one-sided agitprop.” He insisted that his efforts are “neither ideological or personal.” Then why only this case? “I’m a personal witness” in this one, he replied.
In this case, I can only wish the Dersh all the success in the world.


Post a Comment

<< Home