Norman Finkelstein is controversial. Look at the review ratings for this book, on this site in the middle of November 2008 - ten reviews, with eight of them being five- or four-star, and two being one-star. You can't be indifferent about the guy. He is bullish, angry, abrasive and confrontational, very much like the man who is his chief antagonist in this book: Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz. These two were destined to end up in a head-to-head match and it finally happens within the pages of "Beyond Chutzpah", the very title of which is a sardonic nod at Dershowitz's own book "Chutzpah". Readers who have no Yiddish may be forgiven for thinking that "chutzpah" means simply "bravery". It also has connotations of "nerve", "cheekiness" and even "impudence". Finkelstein has clearly run out of patience with what he sees as Dershowitz's chutzpah.
Living as I do in Ireland, and being an atheist gentile with a merely scholarly interest in Judaism, I would point out to Mr. Finkelstein that his scepticism about Irish antisemitism is not entirely well-founded. "Jew" was still a term of abuse among kids when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s. Fairly recently, within the last few years, I witnessed a well-known Irish actor making crudely antisemitic remarks in a Dublin bar; I called him on them, and only narrowly avoided having him kick my head in (his friends ushered him out before he could cause any trouble).
Nevertheless, any book that carries endorsements from Israeli academics such as Baruch Kimmerling and Avi Shlaim surely ought to have something to it. The genius of Norman Finkelstein is that his method is completely transparent; like Chomsky's, it is nothing but scholarship, in that he compares one document to another and points out consistencies and, where they are obvious, inconsistencies. As he says himself, it is not very difficult to demonstrate that Alan Dershowitz has consistently misquoted sources, used other people's sources without citing them, twisted statements made by his enemies, etc. etc. Finkelstein demonstrates the fact, over and over again. The hard bit is getting anyone to take notice. The unexpected pleasure of this book is Finkelstein's exhaustive demonstration of the depths to which Alan Dershowitz will sink in order to win a fight. Finkelstein has elsewhere succeeded in utterly discrediting Joan Peters' infamous book "From Time Immemorial": here, he shows that Dershowitz not only quotes whole chunks of guff from that book without giving it credit, he often didn't even bother to do it himself, but got his research assistants to do it for him. I find it hard to believe that Dershowitz's reputation as an honest commentator can long survive an onslaught such as this. And yet all Finkelstein has done is point out the extent to which Dershowitz's remarks simply fail to correspond to documented reality.
Yes, Finkelstein can be rude and obnoxious. His website in particular is littered with heavy-handed sarcasm and clunking polemic, but then he has been repeatedly penalised for simply attempting to tell the truth, whereas Dershowitz has risen to the heights of US academia whilst being, all along, a shameless apologist for disgusting brutality and hypocrisy. Finkelstein, for all his bad temper and inability to be serene about his situation, is simply and inconveniently in the right. He may be an embarrassing person to have on one's side, but the likes of Dershowitz, on the evidence that this book supplies in such careful and meticulous detail, are morally repugnant.
The moral nadir of the book is Dershowitz's shameless attempt to claim that Finkelstein thought that his own mother - a concentration camp survivor - had been a camp "Kapo", based on a blatant misreading of a passage in Finkelstein's own memoir. After such knowledge, what forgiveness? It would take a better man than me to forgive Dershowitz for something like that.