In a heated back-and-forth between two high-profile scholars, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz has in recent months campaigned for the denial of Norman Finkelstein GS '88's bid for tenure at DePaul University in Chicago.
Dershowitz's objections have focused on numerous articles authored by Finkelstein, who is Jewish, which contend that Jews in Israel and America have conspired to use the Holocaust to oppress Palestinians and extract compensation money from Europe.
On April 13, Finkelstein, an assistant professor of political science, went before a review committee for the third and final step in his tenure bid. Finkelstein's department has backed his bid, but some administrators have refused to support him. DePaul will not disclose the results of the meeting until next month.
"My thoughts have been the same all along," Finkelstein said in an interview. "Had the case not been politicized and had external pressures not been brought to bear on the university, I am confident based on the record that I would have sailed through the tenure process."
Dershowitz contends that his opposition to Finkelstein's tenure is not motivated by any personal animosity toward Finkelstein — who accused Dershowitz of plagiarism on a 2003 radio program — but rather by a sense of responsibility to inform the academic community of the dangers that would come with extending tenure to Finkelstein.
"He has no basis for getting tenure, [since] he writes these outrageous things," Dershowitz said, referring to Finkelstein's arguments regarding Israel and the Holocaust. "It would be an absolute scandal ... should he even be considered for tenure."
Dershowitz added that he weighed in on Finkelstein's tenure bid only after the former chairman of the school's political science department reached out to him and invited him to assess Finkelstein's scholarship.
After researching Finkelstein's published scholarship, Dershowitz concluded that Finkelstein simply has not done work worthy of tenure. "His tenure should not be denied on the basis of ideology," he said, "but his tenure should be denied because his scholarship is nothing but ideology ... there is simply no scholarship."
DePaul spokeswoman Denise Mattson declined to comment on the issue, saying that the tenure process is confidential while discussions are ongoing.
Finkelstein's writings have been called hostile to the global Jewish community and to the families of Holocaust victims. But, despite the increasing scrutiny of his work, Finkelstein — who earned his Ph.D. in politics and wrote his dissertation on the theory of Zionism — said he won't back down.
"[The Holocaust has] been used primarily as a weapon to immunize Israel from criticisms," he said, "so that whenever Israel is accused of committing human rights violations we are told to remember the Nazi Holocaust as if it grants specific immunization." His parents are Holocaust survivors.
The quarrel between the two professors dates back to 2003, when both men appeared on the radio program "Democracy Now." Dershowitz had expected to debate MIT linguist and noted left-wing scholar Noam Chomsky, but Chomsky cancelled and Finkelstein filled in.
During the program, Finkelstein accused Dershowitz of plagarizing when writing his then-recently published book, "The Case for Israel."
Finkelstein said that after subjecting Dershowitz's book to a "line-byline examination," he found that "the results were very revealing and not very flattering," adding that he found evidence of "massive fabrication and falsification of sources" in Dershowitz's work. "In my opinion," Finkelstein said, "Professor Dershowitz did not write large parts of the book."
Finkelstein later included his criticisms of Dershowitz, including the accusations of plagiarism, in his 2005 book, "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History."
Dershowitz denied the charges of plagiarism. "I write every word of every book," he said in an interview.
But Finkelstein said he suspects the current spat is about personal grievances, not academic work.
"I do not think it's pure vindictiveness," Finkelstein said of Dershowitz's opposition to his tenure bid. "I think Professor Dershowitz suffered a real blow to his reputation on account of my book, and since then, he has been desperately trying to discredit me."
Despite its heated rhetoric, the DePaul controversy is not unique in academia. At many schools, administrators and senior faculty have difficulty in deciding whether to draw a line between scholarship and political views when evaluating candidates for tenure.
Princeton does take into consideration professors' politics in making its tenure decisions, Dean of the Faculty David Dobkin said. "We do allow a candidate's political views to influence our opinions," he said in an email.
Neither Finkelstein nor Dershowitz could say with certainty what they think the outcome of the current controversy will be.
Dershowitz said the lesson from this battle is simple: "If you're going to be turned down for tenure because of your lack of scholarship, become a radicalist," he said, "because then you might get tenure."