Dershowitz Snowed You | Letters | Chicago Reader

Dershowitz Snowed You 

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To the editor of the Reader:

After we introduce some controls over the pissing-match variable around which so much revolved in Jeffrey Felshman's "Whose Holocaust Is It Anyway?" (August 26), what do we find? Overwhelmingly, smears of Norman Finkelstein running in parallel with the free rein that the Reader gave to Alan Dershowitz to get away with pretty much whatever he wants.

Notice that in no less than three different places in Felshman's article somebody uses the phrase neo-Nazi in association with Finkelstein. Twice Dershowitz does this, and the third by Felshman.

Dershowitz calls Finkelstein an "anti-Semite" and believes that DePaul University "should dump him." In Dershowitz's exact words: "He's a Jew and an anti-Semite--and a neo-Nazi supporter, and a Holocaust trivializer, and a liar, and a falsifier of quotations and documents."

Strong words. Indeed, fighting words. And yet all of this (with the exception of the very last three words--they spilled over onto page 26) the Reader managed to squeeze onto page one. Imagine that!

Let's continue--acknowledging that for reasons of space, I am bypassing a lot more.

"Israeli new historians such as Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim, and Ilan Pappe have taken similar positions without being vilified in Israel the way Finkelstein has been in the U.S.," Felshman writes, referring to Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry and to Finkelstein's contention (as Felshman puts it in the prior paragraph) that the rhetoric of the Holocaust (i.e., with a capital H) has at times been exploited "as an excuse to mistreat Palestinians and as a justification for repressive policies in Israel." But then Felshman quickly adds, "Finkelstein's work is cited admiringly on neo-Nazis' Web sites, and that--along with his tendency toward overstatement and intemperate language--probably explains some of the hostility he's faced."

Felshman's mention of neo-Nazi is a smear by association. Nor does it explain why Finkelstein's work generates so much hatred in the States. Instead, the passage serves the same role within Felshman's article as does the author's focus on Finkelstein's relationship to his parents--particularly to his mother--and on the "dirty" question that Felshman cannot resist raising, following Dershowitz's lead. "[Finkelstein] charges his own mother with being a Nazi collaborator," Dershowitz tells Felshman. This is low indeed. And quite sick. But the sickness here is Dershowitz's, not Finkelstein's. As well as Felshman's for having served it up.

On account of this alone, Felshman owes both Norman Finkelstein and the readers some form of emendation. Whether any will be forthcoming is the Reader's business. Still, I'll wager that the Reader won't place it on page one. Such privileged space is reserved for people who want to call Norman Finkelstein an anti-Semite. A neo-Nazi. A Holocaust trivializer. And worse.

Finally to page 28, the only page on which Felshman comes close to dealing with something important. The fact of the matter is that Alan Dershowitz spent the better part of the past 12 months employing repressive, thuggish tactics, including the threat of litigation (How many times do you suppose Dershowitz can remind the people he'd like to silence that if he sues them he'll "own" them?), to frighten two American publishing houses away from the manuscript that became (even with its lawyerly deletions and revisions) Beyond Chutzpah. And what did Jeffrey Felshman and the Reader make of it?

Rather than taking Alan Dershowitz to task for resorting to these tactics, it is Norman Finkelstein whom the Reader makes answer for himself--Finkelstein being the "equivalent of a neo-Nazi," as the Reader permits Dershowitz to call him one last time.

Quite the contrary. In numerous interviews and commentaries, as well as in the book Beyond Chutzpah, Finkelstein has emphasized that his abiding concern is "Israel's shameful human rights record in the Occupied Territories and the misuse of anti-Semitism to delegitimize criticism of it."

Clearly the list of the intellectual and emotional weapons used to intimidate critics of the Holy State needs to be extended--as Jeffrey Felshman's "Whose Holocaust Is It Anyway?" attests. If the Reader were worth what it costs to purchase a single copy at the newsstand, this publication would have done something dramatically different with the conflict between Alan Dershowitz and Norman Finkelstein than to follow Dershowitz's lead.

David Peterson

Evergreen Park

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