Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz this week supported allegations of plagiarism against Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi, after a popular blog raised questions about the origins of a four-year-old article that appeared under Khalidi's name.
The article in question, entitled "Jerusalem, A Concise History," appeared on the website of the American Committee for Jerusalem, an organization of which Khalidi was founding president, that aimed, according to its website, to "present an Arab-American consensus position on Jerusalem." The organization has since become the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington-based group that "aims to articulate the national security interests of the United States in establishing a Palestinian state."
The report provides a history of Jerusalem, arguing that the majority of native Palestinians today are descendents of the Canaanites, a tribe that inhabited Jerusalem in the second millennium BCE, making the Palestinians "the historic people of the land."
A Columbia historian doing Internet research discovered that from a total of 14 paragraphs in the article, significant portions of approximately seven paragraphs were nearly identical to material that appeared in a 1994 piece published by K. J. Asali in the Arab Studies Quarterly, entitled "Jerusalem in History." Although the historian has remained anonymous for fear of professional repercussions, the charges were picked up by the blog Solomonia in a June 8 post and by Rick Shenckman and Ralph Luker of History News Network.
When the article first appeared on the ACJ website in 2001, the byline attributed it to Khalidi, then the organization's president. Today, archived versions of the page have the byline "Compiled by ACJ from a variety of sources." The change was allegedly made after a reporter called the organization with the plagiarism charges. Khalidi and the ACJ have labeled the original attribution a mistake.
Dershowitz told the Jewish Advocate: "It sounds to me like an open and shut case. As I understand the facts as they appear on Solomonia, he allowed an article to appear with his own byline for almost four years, that was copied almost word for word from an article by a different person. It's classic plagiarism."
Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and Literature at Columbia, responded in an email to the Jewish Advocate: "I never wrote any such article, never claimed it as mine, and indeed it was never ‘published' in any real sense of the word. It was a compilation of material that was mistakenly ascribed to me on the defunct website of a defunct organization." He added: "This story is being disseminated by people ignorant of scholarly standards who have been peddling this story as a means of slandering me."
Rafi Dajani, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, explained: "The article was compiled from a variety of sources by people working in the ACJ office, one being Asali's book. Khalidi contributed to it and it was mistakenly labeled written by Khalidi." He added the information on the website has not been updated in three to four years, since the organization no longer exists, but the Khalidi byline was changed after the mistake was pointed out.
Dershowitz responded that the ACJ's explanation is "an after-the-fact excuse." He said: "A mistake can happen once. For a mistake to survive on a website for nearly four years is more than a mistake. And it would be plagiarism even if it was [labeled] ‘compiled' without crediting the one main source."
Dershowitz is no stranger to the issue, having been accused of improper citations in his book "A Case for Israel" by Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky and Alex Coburn. Dershowitz was cleared of the charges, which he says were motivated by anti-Israel sentiment. He said: "My challenge to Finkelstein, Chomsky, and Coburn is to apply the same level of scrutiny and demand the same sanctions that you've demanded of pro-Israel writers of Khalidi, or else publicly acknowledge that you're hypocrites and apply double standards."
Other academics have also expressed concern. Boston University History Professor Richard Landes said: "If I had a student paper with that text, and someone showed me text from which it was taken with no footnotes, I'd consider it plagiarism."
Some defenders have noted that standards for a website may be different than for academic writing. Others point out that last week, historian Bryan LeBeau, a University of Missouri-Kansas City dean accused of plagiarism in a commencement speech, also not a published academic work, was placed on administrative leave with a salary reduction. Dershowitz said: "If you're a professor and allow your name to be used on a website, then you're bound by the usual rules."
Landes argued that even if plagiarism would only become a serious issue if the article were up for scholarly publication, the more serious consideration is what he called the article's "shoddy, unscholarly quality." He said: "The idea that Palestinians are descended from Canaanites is ridiculous. There's no historical evidence to support it. Khalidi has done himself and his scholarship a disservice by putting out this silly propaganda."
Mitchell Bard, author of "Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict," explained: "The Palestinians themselves don't trace their connection to Palestine back more than 1,000 years. No one until recently said ‘we've been here forever.' The change is a propaganda effort to compete with the Jewish claim that we were there first. There's no historical scholarship to back it up."
Bard declined to comment on the plagiarism charges, saying: "If some things he's writing are lifted from words of others that's academically unacceptable. But I don't know if he did that."