Friday, June 4, 2010

Watch Dershowitz Spin

Not all of my posts equally important. This will be on the low end of the scale in terms of importance. But when I'm watching debates and sort of researching claims it's nice to just document my findings and this blog is a good place for it.

Norman Finkelstein and Alan Dershowitz had a debate on Democracy Now years ago that's quite entertaining. It starts here. Not the best in terms of information content but quite good in terms of entertainment. I'd watched it before, but I just happened to start watching it a second time just because it's fun.

Alan Dershowitz apparently had issued a challenge that he'd donate $10,000 to the PLO if anyone could find a factual error in his book "The Case for Israel". Finkelstein started by saying on page 80 in Dershowitz' book he cites Benny Morris to the effect that between 2 and 3 thousand Arabs had fled their homes during a certain phase of the 1948 Israeli conflict with the Arab states. In fact Morris has between 2 and 3 hundred thousand.

Sounds like an error. But Dershowitz said it was just a typo. Here he offers what he thinks is proof that it must be a typo. The context is a claim by Noam Chomsky that there's little evidence that the reason Arab's fled is because they were directed to do so by Arab leaders. Morris says that this did occur and he then talks about the 2-3 hundred thousand that left at this stage. So Dershowitz has an incentive to maximize the number of people that have fled. The more people that flee as a consequence of the directives of their Arab commanders the stronger Dershowitz' argument. Why would he intentionally reduce the number from Morris when that weakens his argument?

This sounded plausible to me when I first heard this because I didn't know the facts as well. But as I heard it the second time I realized that's crazy. Morris can't possibly be saying that this many left due to the directives of the Arab commanders, can he? That's almost half of the total number of Arab refugees that were generated throughout the entirety of this initial conflict. So I checked google books at the relevant portion from Dershowitz. In the book Dershowitz isn't claiming that Morris believes between 2 and 3 thousand fled as a result of direction from the Arab commanders. He simply quotes Morris as saying some did flee at the directive of the Arab commanders and then goes on to say that between 2 and 3 thousand in total fled at this stage. Inflating that number doesn't strengthen Dershowitz' argument because that number is not describing the number that fled as a consequence of the directives of Arab commanders. It's simply describing the total number that fled at a certain stage.

Apparently in Finkelstein's book "Beyond Chutzpah" he shows that Morris actually says that the vast majority that fled did so because of fear of Jewish military action. So this is just spin from Dershowitz. He did make an error. It might be innocent. But it is not true that he has an incentive to inflate the number. Though I have to admit that his spin did sound persuasive when I first heard it.

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