In her 1951 best seller, “The Groves of Academe,” Mary McCarthy fictionalized a failed academic who, realizing he wouldn’t get tenure, became a communist so that he could claim that he was being denied tenure because he was a Red rather than a lousy scholar.
A version of that ploy is being used today. Norman Finkelstein brags that “never has one of [his] articles been published in a scientific magazine.” By his own account he has been fired by “every school in New York,” including Brooklyn College, Hunter and NYU. His chairman at one of these colleges said that Mr. Finkelstein was fired for “incompetence,” “mental instability” and “abuse” of students with politics different from his own. His prospects seemed bleak, so when radical Islamist Aminah McCloud -- a follower of Louis Farrakhan -- helped him land a job at DePaul, a school that Mr. Finkelstein describes as “a third-rate Catholic university,” he accepted “exile.”
His prospects did not improve when he wrote a screed against Holocaust survivors called “The Holocaust Industry.” The scholar whose work on the Holocaust was the “stimulus” for this volume, University of Chicago professor Peter Novick, warned that: “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....[S]uch an examination reveals that many of those assertions are pure invention.” Nor was he helped when New York Times reviewer Prof. Omer Bartov, an authority on genocide, characterized his book as “a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ ... brimming with indifference to historical facts, inner contradictions, strident politics ... [I]ndecent ... juvenile, self-righteous, arrogant and stupid.”
On the other hand, Mr. Finkelstein is supported by hard-leftists like Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn. They regard him as a scholar in a class with Ward Churchill (the Colorado professor who called the 9/11 victims “little Eichmanns”) -- a characterization with which I would not quarrel.
Facing tenure denial, Mr. Finkelstein opted for a tactic that fit the times. He expressed views so ad hominem, unscholarly and extreme that he could claim the decision was being made not on the basis of his scholarship, but rather on his politics.
Mr. Finkelstein does not do “scholarship” in any meaningful sense. Although his writings center on Israel (which he compares to Nazi Germany) and the Holocaust, he has never visited Israel and cannot read or speak German -- precluding the possibility of original scholarship.
Prof. Bartov characterized his work as an irrational Jewish “conspiracy theory.” The conspirators include Steven Spielberg, NBC and Leon Uris. The film “Schindler’s List,” Mr. Finkelstein argues, was designed to divert attention from our Mideast policy. “Give me a better reason! ... Who profits? Basically, there are two beneficiaries from the dogmas [of Schindler’s List]: American Jews and American administration.” NBC, he says, broadcast “Holocaust” to strengthen Israel’s position: “In 1978, NBC produced the series Holocaust. Do you believe, it was a coincidence, 1978? Just at this time, when peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt took place in Camp David?” He argues that Leon Uris, the author of “Exodus,” named his character “Ari” in order to promote Israel’s “Nazi” ideology: “[B]ecause Ari is the diminutive for Aryan. It is the whole admiration for this blond haired, blue eyed type.” (Ari is a traditional name dating back to the Bible.) He has blamed Sept. 11 on the U.S., claiming that we “deserve the problem on our hands because some things Bin Laden says are true.”) He says that most alleged Holocaust survivors -- including Elie Wiesel -- have fabricated their past.
Like other anti-Semites, Mr. Finkelstein generalizes about “the Jews”; for example: “Just as Israelis ... courageously put unruly Palestinians in their place, so American Jews courageously put unruly Blacks in their place.” He says “the main fomenters of anti-Semitism “are ‘American Jewish elites’ who need to be stopped.” Normally, no one would take such claims seriously, but he boasts that he “can get away with things which nobody else can” because his parents were Holocaust survivors.
And then, of course, there is me. In a recent article, “Should Alan Dershowitz Target Himself for Assassination?” Mr. Finkelstein commissioned a cartoon by a man who placed second in the Iranian Holocaust-denial cartoon contest. The Hustler-type cartoon portrayed me as masturbating in joy while viewing images of dead Lebanese on a TV set labeled “Israel peep show,” with a Star of David prominently featured.
Mr. Finkelstein has accused me of not having written “The Case For Israel” but when I sent his publisher my handwritten draft, they made him remove that claim. He has accused virtually every pro-Israel writer, including me, of “plagiarism.” I asked Harvard to conduct an investigation of this absurd charge. Harvard rejected it, yet he persists.
The final part of Mr. Finkelstein’s quest for tenure is to blame his tenure problems on “outsiders.” He claims that I intruded myself into the DePaul review process, neglecting to mention that I was specifically asked by the former chairman of DePaul’s political science department to “point [him] to the clearest and most egregious instances of dishonesty on Finkelstein’s part.” I responded by providing hard evidence of made-up quotes and facts -- a pattern that should alone disqualify him from tenure.
Nevertheless, Mr. Finkelstein’s radical colleagues voted for tenure, having cooked the books by seeking outside evaluations from two of his ideological soulmates. The dean, however, recommended against tenure. Mr. Finkelstein then used my letter to stimulate a “Solidarity with Finkelstein” campaign.
Like the character in the “Groves of Academe,” Mr. Finkelstein generated protests by students and outsiders. He has encouraged radical goons to email threatening messages; “Look forward to a visit from me,” reads one. “Nazis like [you] need to be confronted directly.” He has threatened to sue if he loses -- while complaining about outside interference. No university should be afraid of truth -- regardless of its source -- especially when truth consists of Mr. Finkelstein’s own words.
Whether or not he receives tenure, Mr. Finkelstein will persist in his unscholarly, ad hominems against supporters of Israel, Holocaust survivors and the U.S. But for the time being, the question remains: Will his bigotry receive the imprimatur of the largest Catholic university in the America?
Mr. Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard, is the author, most recently, of “Preemption: A Knife that Cuts Both Ways” (Norton, 2006).