—   The sharp point of dissent   —

Section: Middle East
14 August 2005

Fuming for Israel: the Case of Alan Dershowitz

13. In Conclusion: Style and Substance

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'He is not only a bore' Malcolm Muggeridge once said of Sir Anthony Eden, 'but he bores for England.' Alan Dershowitz is no bore, but as he has clearly demonstrated in his Case for Israel, he can certainly fume for his country with the best of them. His country? You may wish to recall the exchange with Robert Fisk, in which Dershowitz equated Anti-Americanism with Anti-Semitism.[1] From the ridiculous to the sublimated there is only a step ...

Dershowitz, in fact, talks openly and with some pride about his traffic-jam debating style. In the Introduction he has the following to say:
If the tone of this book sometimes sounds contentious, it is because the accusations currently being made against Israel are so often shrill, uncompromising, one-sided and exaggerated ... The tone of [my] defenses sometimes necessarily mirrors the tone of the accusations. The hallmark of my writing, teaching and speaking over the years has always been to be direct and not to pander to, or worry about offending those who, on the basis of their own bigoted actions and false accusations, deserve to be offended. I try to follow that path in this book.
       Once the air is cleared of the pollutants of bigotry and falsehood, a more nuanced debate can begin over specific Israeli policies - as well as specific Palestinian policies. This book is not part of that debate.[2]
Indeed not.

A few things to notice here. Firstly: having excoriated a power bloc of 'bigots' who exist largely in his own mind, Dershowitz then announces his intention to drag himself down to their level. Secondly, you will note that his hope for a day when 'the air is cleared' and balanced debate restored is expressed in the same breath as his intention to make yet another contribution to the canon of 'shrill, uncompromising, one-sided' opinions on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Thirdly, since there is not a word in this book about the equivocations of Israel's legions of apologists, it seems that all the one-sidedness on this issue comes only from the critics of Israel. I will presume the irony of this argument is apparent to all.

Bertrand Russell once warned that when considering an argument, we should develop what he called 'immunity to eloquence': fortunately, no such prophylactic is required before digesting Professor Dershowitz's thesis. Peevish, repetitive and pitiless, The Case for Israel is truly a monument to airhead partisanship. It's difficult to imagine anything less balanced, less disciplined, or less moderate in tone than this book. I found the experience of reading it to be like having someone shouting at me for hours on end. Towards the conclusion of his book, as he getting hoarse, Dershowitz has the following to say to those who (alarmingly) are taking a positive and very vocal stand against Israeli state terror. It's worth quoting at length:
Before I turn to proposals for a future peace, let me directly address the growing number of students and young people who are joining the legion of bigots who can see no right on the side of Israel and no wrong on the side of those who seek to destroy the Jewish state and transfer its population. You are on the wrong side of history. You are on the wrong side of morality and justice. You have, perhaps inadvertently, joined hands with forces of evil that have for millennia imposed a double standard upon everything Jewish.
       You are on the side of those who supported Hitler's Holocaust and now deny that it occurred. You are assisting those who are once again targeting babies, children, women, and the elderly just because they are Jewish. You are in very bad company. Nor can you continue to hide behind claims of ignorance, because the facts are so easily available to anyone who wants to think for himself or herself.[3]
There's more, of course, but it's just more of the same. For anyone who dares to protest the decades-long Israeli occupation, Alan Dershowitz simply cannot pack enough slurs into a paragraph.

Suffused with intellectual immaturity, the opinions and ideas expressed in this bad-tempered volume will scarcely be believable in a brighter era (hopefully not too many years from now) when millions of long-suffering Palestinians are finally liberated from Israeli oppression and the two sides have reached some sort of workable and just two-state compromise. Alan Dershowitz's prefatory claim that this is also 'a pro-Palestinian book'[4] is a sad as it is disingenuous.

Want to hear my case for Israel? The Israeli protestors who volunteer to protect the occupied Palestinians from armed settlers. Journalists like Amira Hass, Gideon Levy and Tanya Reinhart, who have never flinched from revealing unpalatable truths about their government. Israeli human rights groups like Peace Now, Gush Shalom and B'Tselem. And most especially, the recent wave of refuseniks from the IDF, many of whom have served time in jail for refusing to act as Ariel Sharon's hit-men. (As Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian put it, '[t]heir protest is an act of great bravery, and they - every last one of them - are nothing less than heroes'.[5]) Everything that's good about Israel seems to flow from all those people who are trying to halt their nation's downward spiral into state terrorism, international obloquy, and moral decay. And given the unsympathetic political climate within Israel at present, with suicide bombings devastating the lives of their fellow-citizens, it takes considerable courage, self-sacrifice and independence of mind to follow this moral compass. Interestingly, such people seem to be more in touch with the reality on the ground than show-trial lawyers fulminating away from the comfort of their Massachusetts office. If Alan Dershowitz really wanted to make the best possible case for Israel (and avoid accusations of being a mere apologist for a pariah state), he would have started with its most morally unimpeachable elements - in short, all of the people described above, whose qualities are among the best in that country. Instead, he is embarrassed by them, for they are mentioned in his book only fleetingly and dismissively. Which, in many respects, tells us everything we need to know about him.

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1 Dershowitz has extended his victim-blaming screed to a fellow American, Rachel Corrie, who died under the spade of an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent a Palestinian house from being demolished. Lacking either the courage or interest to be able call Corrie by her name, he excoriated her as belonging to 'a radical pro-Palestinian group of zealots ... who are one-sided supporters of Palestinian terrorism' and claimed that she 'threw herself in front of the bulldozer' (p. 170). In fact, Rachel Corrie was standing in plain sight of the driver for some time, wearing a fluorescent orange jacket. In the pages of The Case for Israel her parents may now read their daughter's tragic fate described as 'the death of the zealot' (p. 171). That such soccer-hooligan disrespect is tolerated at the highest levels of academic life in Harvard is as breathtaking as it is unedifying.
2 Dershowitz, p. 11, et seq.
3 Dershowitz, p. 237
4 Dershowitz, p. 8
5 Jonathan Freedland, 'Israel's army of peace', The Guardian, 6 March 2002