Norman Finkelstein calls professor Alan Dershowitz’s new book on Israel a “hoax”

24 September 2003

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Norman Finkelstein

On MSNBC’s Scarborough Country on 8 September 2003, renowned appellate lawyer, Harvard Law professor, and author Alan Dershowitz said: “I will give $10,000 to the PLO…if you can find a historical fact in my book that you can prove to be false.” The book Dershowitz refers to is his latest work The Case For Israel. Author and professor Norman Finkelstein takes him on and charges that Dershowitz makes numerous factual errors in his book. Finkelstein teaches at DePaul University and is the author of four books including The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering.

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TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t we start with you laying out the thesis of your latest book, The Case for Israel.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I wanted to write a progressive liberal case for the two-state solution, which I think that most Israelis favor and have favored for a long time. I dedicate the book to Professor Aaron Barak, the president of the Israeli Supreme Court and for a reason. Because I argue in the book that no country in history faced with comparable threats both external and internal has ever triedas hard to comply with the rule of law. I compare Israel favorably to the United States. In this regard: its court intervened actively in support of Palestinian rights. Even during fighting in war time during the Jenin events engaging in certain actions which in its view violated the rule of law, The Israeli Supreme Court had banned the kind of rough interrogation techniques that are now being employed by the United States in Guantanamo Bay. Israel is the only country in modern history that has never deliberately and explicitly retaliated against those who attack its civilian targets. For example, during the Six Day war in 1973 war, the 1948 war, it’s own residential areas were bombed by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, 1600 shells lobbed into west Jerusalem. Israel never bombed Amman, Damascus or Cairo, they bombed areas of Beirut, and in the process have killed innocent civilians. That is deliberately targeting civilians and going after the way the United States did in Iraq, of which I am very critical, but nonetheless with the United States did going after military targets, knowing that they’re going to kill civilians in the process. And so myself, I oppose the settlements, always opposed the settlement, since 1967 I opposed the occupation. I think Israel made in my view a terrible view in my view what it should have done is made border adjustments pursuant to U.N. resolution 242 which I actually consulted with justice Goldburg, he was the ambassador to the U.N. was involved in the process of that 242 resolution, which presupposed some territorial adjustments. The problem is, Israel should never have occupied people. Land is different from people. And today I think unilaterally what it ought to do eventually is if it can’t find the peace partner to make some unilateral changes, small ones. End the settlements, in fact my peace proposal is that Israel ought to have a schedule for ending settlements. That is a schedule for saying on so and so date the settlement ends conditioned on best efforts by the Palestinians to end terrorism. That would create incentive to ending terrorist acts. By the way you never condition anything on the end of terrorism, that gives terrorists a veto. What you condition it is on making good faith efforts and if we can get Israel to end the settlements and occupation and the Palestinian leadership to stop using terrorism as a tactic, I think finally something could have happened in 1917, two-state solution, in 1937 when the commission recommended noncontiguous Jewish homeland and Israelis accepted it and the Arabs rejected it. In 1947 when the U.N. allocated that portion of Palestine that had majority of Jews in it to a Jewish state, and the portion of Palestine that had Palestinian majority in it to an Arab state, could have had a two state solution. Could have had a two state solution in 2001 and 2000 and Barak and president Clinton offered to be sure noncontiguous state on 90% of the west bank and capital and Jerusalem with the 35 billion dollar refugee package. When Arafat responded by violence, came back to the table maybe we’ll negotiate for more. The two-state solution is inevitable. It’s going to happen. Only question is how long it takes to happen. My hope is that we can have a reasonable serious debate about the future, about the rights and wrongs I think the rights and wrongs on both sides. But I’m nervous because I heard from my debating partner in the beginning what sounded like it was going to be simply an ad hominem attack on me as to whether I’m qualified to teach at Harvard. I would hope we could elevate the discussion, keep it on the merits. I won’t attack Mr. Finkelstein on his merits of his position, let people read his book and judge for themselves. And if he would refrain from personal attacks on me, let people judge the book on the merits. I think we can move the ball forward and have a reasonable serious debate. I think it would be interesting to know where we agree and disagree. What facts we share in common, what facts we have different views on and whether they’re empirical and could be subjected to reasonable resolution, where we have moral disagreements, I really think that in the end today you read the news about Israel is other good news. There is a prisoner exchanges between Hizbollah and Israel which Israel would get back one person, civilian who was captured by Hezbollah in exchange for Israel giving back 400 or so prisoners. There’s movement forward. Let’s not destroy that movement forward by getting involved in meaningless ad hominem discussion, let’s see if we can elevate the debate see if we can really move forward to the two state solution that I think virtually everybody in the world today wants.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Alan Dershowitz, author of The Case for Israel. Norman Finkelstein, your response.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I appreciate Alan Dershowitz’s seriousness at least in these remarks. I have no intention whatsoever of getting involved in an ad hominem debate with Mr. Dershowitz. I’m interesting in the facts. I was asked to come in and discuss his new book. I went home, purchased one copy, in fact I purchased two copies. I read the book very carefully. I did what someone serious does with a book. I read the text, I went through the footnotes. I went through it very carefully. There’s only one conclusion one can reach having read the book. This is a scholarly judgment, not an ad hominem attack. Mr. Dershowitz has concocted a fraud. In fact Mr. Dershowitz has concocted a fraud which, amazingly, in large parts, he plagiarized from another fraud. I found that pretty shocking, shocking coming from a Harvard professor. I find it shocking coming from any professor.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: We have to cut off I just want to warn everybody here that although I’m not a litigious person when you make allegations …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I’m proceeded to …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: When you make allegations of plagiarism that’s a … It has great legal implications. And I can’t obviously sit quietly by and …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I agree. Well that’s — Let’s look at the evidence.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: … of plagiarism …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Let’s look at the evidence. In the first two chapters of your book you extensively reproduce all of Joan Peters’ pages in her book. I read it carefully. In 1984 …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Show me one sentence.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I am going to show you I think I have …I made available the charts to you.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: You’ve shown me nothing. Let’s start with that. That’s a categorical lie. What you’re hearing now on radio is a claim that Mr. Finkelstein made available to me certain charts. That is a lie.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Mr. Dershowitz, I think you had about five minutes’ time I wasn’t looking at the clock. If we’re going to have a civil debate you’re going to have to remain …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: It’s not going to be about me, let me be very clear about that.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I have no interest in you, Mr. Dershowitz. None at all. I’m interested in the scholarship, I’m interested in the facts, I’m interested in your book. In 1984 one Joan Peters published a book called From Time Immemorial, the book was universally recognized by serious scholars to be a fraud. Without wanting to toot my own horn I’m widely recognized as the person who exposed the fraud. I know that book inside out. I read it at least four times, I went through all 1854 footnotes. I started to read your book, Mr. Dershowitz, I then came to chapter one footnotes 10, footnote 11, footnote 12, footnote 13, footnote 14, footnote 15, footnote 16, all of the quotes are from Joan Peters. They’re so from Joan Peters that you have a long quote here from Mark Twain on pages 23 to 24. I turned to Joan Peters page 159 to 60, identical quote from Twain with the ellipses in the …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Is the Twain quote wrong?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: … with the ellipses … let me finish sir. They’re in the same places. The identical quote from Twain with the ellipses in the same places.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: It’s been quoted, as you know.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Mr. Dershowitz, I …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: What’s your point?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Let me finish …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I would ask you a question. Is it a direct quote? Is it an accurate quote of Twain? Did Twain say …

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dershowitz the way we can have a civilized discussion here is that each person will get a chance to make their point and won’t be cut off.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: You have a nearly full page quote from one William Young, a British consul from May 1839.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Is it an accurate quote?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I’m going to finish, sir. On page 18 of your book. I turn to Joan Peters, page 184, the identical quote with the ellipses I’m holding it up for the camera perhaps they can see this is the length of the quote.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Is it an accurate quote?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: It’s in the identical place. Last point. I’m not going to go through chapter two where there are 29 plagiarisms from Joan Peters.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: To be very clear, it’s not plagiarism to quote Mark Twain correctly.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Except that you cite Mark Twain not Joan Peters. I’m a professor, sir. I know what plagiarism is.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: And plagiarism is … What is your definition of plagiarism?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: We’re not going to get involved in that now.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: You’re using a word you’re not going to tell us what you mean by it?

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: The documentation, you know what we’ll let everybody else decide for themselves because documentation one last example. I want to make it very clear, in Joan Peters’ book From Time Immemorial she coins a phrase. The phrase is “turn speak”.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: She borrows it from …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Sir, I’m sorry she coins the phrase, you see you don’t know what you’re talking about that’s pretty terrible. She coins the phrase, “turn speak,” she says she’s using it as a play off of George Orwell which is, all listeners know, used the phrase “news speak”. She coined her own phrase, “turn speak”. You go to Mr. Dershowitz’s book he got so confused in his massive borrowings from Joan Peters that on two occasions — I’ll cite them for those who have a copy of the book — on page 57 and on page 153 he uses the phrase, quote, George Orwell’s turn speak. Turn speak is not Orwell, Mr. Dershowitz, you’re the Felix Frankfurt chair at Harvard, you must know that Orwell would never use such a clunky phrase as turn speak.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I like it.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, maybe you like it. Evidently Joan Peters liked it. But George Orwell never heard of it to the best of my knowledge.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break for stations to identify themselves. 60 seconds. When we come back professor Dershowitz can respond. We’re talking to professor Alan Dershowitz author of a new book it’s called The Case for Israel and debate with Norman Finkelstein. You’re listening to Democracy Now! Stay with us.

[Music Break]

AMY GOODMAN: More music here from the late Frank Lowe as we continue our debate on Alan Dershowitz’s new book called The Case for Israel. Alan Dershowitz is professor of law at Harvard law school. In discussion with Norman Finkelstein who teaches at Depaul University in Chicago. His book Image and Reality: The Origins of the Israel Palestinian Conflict, Professor Dershowitz, your response to this very serious charge of plagiarism.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: It’s a frivolous charge, of course. What happened was this. Of course I read the Peters book, anybody writing a book on the Middle East, anybody, would. I also read The Myths and Facts, a book put out originally by AIPAC then published separately and independently probably 30 or 40 other books which use the same quotes, they’re very extensively used quotes by Mark Twain because Mark Twain traveled to Palestine, Mark Twain is a very prominent American writer. What he saw in Palestine is very relevant to the debate. He saw barren lands, didn’t see a Palestinian community. He saw empty roads and he writes extremely vividly and one scholar is entitled to read a book as I did, Peters’ book and to find quotes in the book and check them against the original quotes. And find them to be accurate and then do what I did, I don’t know whether or not Mr. Finkelstein read footnote 31 that appears on page 246 which says, the research of French Cartographer Vital relied on for the I may of mispronounced it.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: You misspelled it.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: See Joan Peters From Time Immemorial, then Peters’ conclusions and data have been challenged and then I quote from Hitchens, I did not in any way rely on them in this book. In other words, what I did, it’s very common for scholars to do that. Is I read her books, I read Mr. Finkelstein’s criticism of them I came away from enough doubt about the conclusions that although I don’t regard the Peters’ book in any way as a fraud, I think it was well intentioned effort to recreate and very difficult to recreate events that existed in 1890 and 1900. Did I find her quotes which have been as I said used extensively by Facts and Myths and other publications, to be quite compelling. This book and none of my writing, I don’t purport to be independent historian who goes back to the Middle East and reads original documents. I’m doing what a lawyer would do and what lawyers do is they find sources, they check the sources, I had a research staff that obviously checked the sources. I haven’t heard a word from Mr. Finkelstein suggesting that the quote from Mark Twain is not an accurate quote. If Peters had made up a quote that hadn’t existed. Mark Twain had never written it then somebody borrowed the quote without going to check back on whether Mark Twain had said that, obviously that would be a serious charge. I’ve done nothing like that. The vast majority of my book deals with current situations. In fact I start my book by saying there has to be a statute of limitations on grievances. I don’t try to base the case for Israel on the fact that Jews lived in Palestine before the birth of Jesus or the fact that Jews were expelled from what is now Israel in 72 A.D. and I argue that Palestinians can’t really make the case against the two state solution based on historic claims that go back 100 years but first couple of chapters which are quite brief, I recount never purporting to be creative or original in the recounting, I recount what has been accepted as traditional history. That includes the fact that the land particularly what is now what would be western Palestine, what was the part of Palestinian allocated to Israel in the 1947 division was land that before the Jews got there in the first 1880 in the beginning of the 20th century was land that was coming into disuse. Now these are controversial, by the way, there are some Palestinians who say you shouldn’t trust Mark Twain. Some Palestinians say you shouldn’t trust the various English travelers. Reasonable people could disagree about that. I quote those sources, I lay them out there for people to read so that they can evaluate the claims that Israel was established on the basis of colonialism. I make the following argument which I’d love to hear from Finkelstein’s rebuttal. You can’t be a colonialist country unless another country sent people there as soldiers to take over that country. For example, France sent its settlers to Algeria. England sent settlers to India. Dutch and other countries sent their settlers to parts of Africa with guns to take over. What did the Jews do during the first and second? They escaped from countries that were persecuting them. They escaped from Russia and Poland, Lithuania. They didn’t come at the request of those countries, if you claim people were colonialist you have to say on whose behalf they were working. The Jews weren’t working on behalf of Russia or Poland or Lithuania. They came as refugees. Much like American Jews came as refugees to America. The ones who went to Palestine went with rakes and hoes to try to build the land, to try to join collectively with the local population. They did in fact improve the land as the result of work projects in western Palestine many Arabs from eastern Palestine moved there, I cite statistics, Peters cites the same statistics in fact showing in various the fact that I can’t remember the exact numbers, Jews moved there attracted 300 or 400, you may disagree with it. But those are the data that I presented and we can reasonably disagree with that. Now I just want to make one point about Mr. Finkelstein’s research. I don’t want to get ad hominem into this debate. But for example I do quote Mr. Finkelstein at one point I think only once in the book. That is he makes an argument in the collection that to judge the 1947 partition the only fair way to do it is to look at either all of Palestine, which I don’t know whether he needs to include what became Jordan, trans-Jordan or not or you have to look at what became of Israel after the 1948 war. I disagree with that. What I say respectfully in the book is that when you look at the fairness of the 1947 petition, you only look at the land that was allocated to the state of Israel. In that land Jews were clearly a majority according to the U.N. census to be sure once the Arab nations attacked Israel, once the Palestinians attacked Israel there was a war and Israel secured more land which was regularized by a crease fire in 1949. What Mr. Finkelstein does is he counts that land and says, look how much they got and look at the proportion of Jews and Palestinians that’s not the correct demographic to look at. So we can have reasonable …

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s get the response to that.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Stay away from the ad hominems and get to the merit of the case.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Professor Dershowitz, I’m not a professor at Harvard but I do …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: You seem to resent that a lot.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I do teach elsewhere. And when we discuss issues like falsifying information, plagiarizing, lifting whole cloth from other books I’ve never heard that called ad hominem for a serious scholar and a serious academic, those are very fundamental issues.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: But when they’re false …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: If they’re false then you dispute them. To characterize them as ad hominem seems really out of court for a professor …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: You said I don’t deserve to teach at Harvard that sounds pretty …

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dershowitz let Norman make his case.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: You raise that issue then I’ll address it then returning to the substantive issues of your book.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: First tell me why I shouldn’t be teaching at Harvard.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: On page 207 of your book you say that to deliberately misinform, miseducate, and misdirect students is a particularly nasty form of educational malpractice.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Of which I accuse Noam Chomsky and others.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I consider what you have done in the book to be a paradigmatic illustration of misinforming, miseducating and misdirecting. Allow me to finish.

AMY GOODMAN: Let him make his point.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Allow me to finish, Mr. Dershowitz, I’ve with very respectful of your time. On page 213 you discussed Holocaust fraud by Robert Soan and you write, quote, “it was their extensive historical research” referring to his book.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: That’s right.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Instead there was the fraudulent manufacturing of false anti-history.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: That’s right. And Chomsky wrote as you …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Please don’t bring in Mr. Chomsky. He can defend himself. We’re talking about you and your book. It was the kind of deception referring to the book that let me quote clearly, for which professors are rightly fired.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I stand by that.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Not because their views are controversial, let me underline this again, but because they are violating the most basic canons of historical scholarship.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Let me respond to that. You compare me to …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I didn’t ask …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: You made up the story that the Holocaust …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I’m referring to your standards. I have no interested in someone else; I’m talking about your standards. To miseducate, misinform and misdirect to violate the standards of historical scholarship are grounds for expulsion.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Absolutely.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: It’s not an ad hominem argument, it’s using your standards.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: No, it’s an ad …

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to interrupt here because I want to get to some of the main points of your book. Also we were intrigued on watching Scarborough Country when you debated, the offer that you made just play it for a moment.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Tell you what I will give $10,000 to the P.L.O. in your name if you can find historical fact in my book that you can prove to be false. I issue that challenge, I issue it to you, I issue it to the Palestinian Authority, I issue it to Noam Chomsky to Edward Said, every word in my book is accurate and you can’t just simply say it’s false without documenting it. Tell me one thing in the book now that is false?

AMY GOODMAN: Okay. Let’s go to the book. The Case for Israel — $10,000.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Let me tell you what he came up with this is really fascinating if you show the rest of the clip. He came up he said on television, I saw a photograph or a videotape of Israeli soldiers aiming their guns at that, whatever 12-year-old boy who was caught in the cross fire and killed and I actually upped the offer to $25,000 if he could produce a photograph or if he could produce proof that he had seen that. Why was I so confident? Because German television did a very thorough study of that one particular incident. Let’s just spend one minute on that. What happened is when that child was killed in his father’s arms, the nation of Israel went into almost universal mourning, it was as if they were sitting shiva on one of their own children. A child had died, it looked as if possibly Israeli soldier might have shot him. When you contrast that to how Palestinians respond to a child dying in Israel from terrorism — dancing in the streets — it’s a very striking comparison. Then German television did a study they found out that the Israeli soldiers were positioned in a way that it was physically impossible for the bullet from an Israeli soldier to have hit that Palestinian child and it was virtually certain that the bullet had come from a Palestinian gun. In my view that’s not particularly relevant when a child is caught in cross fire it’s a tragic death resulting from the crossfire. Which bullet actually hit was not relevant. But that was the answer that he came up with.

AMY GOODMAN: Norman Finkelstein.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Well, first of all I want to clarify the monetary issue. Is it now $25,000?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: $25,000 on that issue.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Just on that issue. In general $10,000.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Let me be clear

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: We just saw the tape. I think it’s clear.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I made it very clear I said afterward a material willful …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I don’t want afterwards. Professor Dershowitz it’s on tape. We just saw it. We’re not talking about a spelling mistake. We’re not talking about a minor …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: All right. Let’s talk about …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Serious material. Let’s start. Number one, I’m going to first deal with just concrete facts which are not particularly controversial, which can easily be confirmed. On page 80 of your book you write, according to Benny Morris between …

AMY GOODMAN: Benny Morris is an Israeli historian.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I have a copy of his book here, which I’ll hold up. 2,000 to 3,000 Palestinians were made refugees during the second stage of the flight. Here is the book. Page 256, do you read what the sentence says.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Let me read you what I say, in some areas Arab …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Please don’t read the whole paragraph.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Let me put in the context. Chomsky says that Morris does not believe that any Arab leaders told the Palestinians to leave. I say, in some areas I quote from Morris, in some areas Arab commanders ordered …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: I’m not pursuing that.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: … to clear the ground for military purposes to prevent surrender. More than half dozen villages, et cetera, were abandoned during these months as result of such orders. Elsewhere in east Jerusalem in many villages, the Arab commanders ordered women, old people and children to be sent away out of harm’s way. Indeed psychological preparation for the removal of the dependents had begin in 1947-48 and Arab League periodically endorsed such a move. And I say therefore, Chomsky is simply wrong when he says that there’s no evidence, he says again in another point, nobody today believes that any of the refugees were told to leave. I dispute that by quoting Morris himself.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: You seem to have obsession with Mr. Chomsky but he’s not here. I’m here. Let’s look at …

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I was surprised …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Let’s be serious.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I agree with you.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Read the next sentence. Morris estimates in your book I have right in front of me. Next sentence.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: That between 2,000 and 3,000 Arabs fled their homes.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Can you please what Mr. Morris wrote.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: You’re talking about …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Please read what he wrote.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: If I have the whole book I will find for you if you want to take time. Norm Finkelstein if you want the …

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at page 256 of Morris book.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: Phase two now same one as you. You’re talking about …

AMY GOODMAN: About 2,000 to 3,000 Arabs fled their homes.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: The difference between 2,000 and 3,000 and 200,000 and 300,000. You could check this many times, Mr. Dershowitz. But you are really going to have to pay the $10,000. I hope you allow me to earmark it for Jenin.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: We’re talking about a variety of …

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: It is not the O.J. trial. This is not the O.J. trial. We’re not going to play a game.

AMY GOODMAN: Is your point that you’re citing that Norm Finkelstein is in Alan Dershowitz’s book he says 2,000 to 3,000.

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN: It’s 200,000 to 300,000.

  • Additional evidence, Norman Finkelstein, September 2003.