Lies and Dershowitz
Lies and Dershowitz
"The great enemy of clear language," wrote George Orwell, "is insincerity." So it is natural that a man as dishonest as Alan Dershowitz should hate clarity and abhor consistency. Actually Dershowitz will never forgive you if you hold him to his word. I find that heartening; one mightâ€™ve feared that utter shamelessness precluded feelings of embarrassment, but there is hope.
Dershowitz has chutzpah. Thatâ€™s the title of one of his tedious books, and thatâ€™s Norman Finkelsteinâ€™s conclusion in his upcoming book Beyond Chutzpah, which demonstrates the banality of the mendacious intellectual using the example of Alan Dershowitzâ€™s The Case for Israel. After trying, and failing, to stop the publication of Finkelsteinâ€™s book, Dershowitz composed a smear of Finkelstein that was posted on several websites.
In it he lists the â€œThe Ten Biggest Lies Finkelstein Has Been Caught Telling.â€ Itâ€™s a puzzling read: Finkelstein had said the Dershowitz never cited a mainstream human rights organization in The Case For Israel to support his depiction of Israelâ€™s human rights records. â€œThe truthâ€, Dershowitz yells, is that â€œDershowitz cites Amnesty on at least five occasions, B'Tselem on three occasions and numerous other human rights groups. Amnesty and B'Tselem even appear in the index.â€
Finkelstein was right. He said that Dershowitz adduced statistics from the IDF, and sources such as the New York Times and the Atlantic Monthly, to conclude that the Israeli army did not deliberately kill a single Palestinian civilian in the Battle of Jenin, and that a mere 18 per cent of Palestinian casualties were innocent. Thatâ€™s like citing the Sudanese government, and pro-Janjaweed publications, to prove that reports of a catastrophe in Darfur are exaggerated.
The Case for Israelâ€™s index includes one entry for Amnesty International, which leads to pages 190, 191 and 230. In page 190, Dershowitz quotes Amnesty in â€œThe Accusersâ€ section at the beginning of chapter 29. Amnesty accused the IDF and Palestinian militias of showing disregard for the lives of children. Dershowitz disputes Amnestyâ€™s charge against the IDF, but in the next page he approvingly quotes them condemning suicide bombings as â€œa crime against humanity.â€ On page 230, he writes that Amnestyâ€”â€œan otherwise wonderful organization, which I supportâ€â€”â€œhas contributed to the false comparisons between Israel and the outlaw nations that do not respect the rule of law.â€
In the preceding pages, Dershowitz denied that Israel tortured Palestinian prisoners; that the majority of Palestinians killed by the IDF were innocent civilians; that collective punishment and the razing of homes and groves was unjust; and that Israelâ€™s illegal colonies were a â€œbarrier to peaceâ€â€”all this by ignoring the carefully documented reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Bâ€™Tselem, which are evidently â€œwonderfulâ€ only when they address Palestinian terrorism, or Cuban and North Korean and Syrian human rights abuses.
Bâ€™Tselem is cited twice in the index; leading to page 173 in the â€œAccusersâ€ section of chapter 25, where he quotes their condemnation of Israelâ€™s policy of assassinations (theyâ€™re wrong, says Dershowitz: assassinations are â€œperfectly properâ€) and to page 218, where he writes that Bâ€™Tselemâ€™s criticisms against Israel are â€œmisusedâ€ by antisemites.
Those organizationsâ€™ findings on Israeli war crimes against Palestinians, and the copious research by their fieldworkers, are not once cited in Case for Israel, simply because they contradict the Israeli governmentâ€™s propaganda i.e. the â€œThe Realityâ€ and â€œProofâ€ sections of The Case for Israel.
â€œIndeedâ€, writes Dershowitz in his recent attack on Finkelstein. â€œMuch of the book is a critique of the double standard employed by these very organizations with regard to Israel.â€ What Dershowitz means by â€œdouble standardsâ€ isnâ€™t clear; those human rights groups are equally critical of Palestinian human rights abuses.
And why on earth would he wish to join an organization that practices a â€œdouble standardâ€ against Israelâ€?
At a debate, Finkelstein said that Dershowitz disliked Bâ€™Tselem, and Dershowitz responded: â€œIf I were an Israeli I'd belong to B'Tselem. So don't characterize my views, you don't know my views.â€ A month after, he told me that he stood by that comment. But during a visit to Israel, he told Haaretz that Bâ€™Tselem was no good. And now he says that â€œmuch of his book is a critiqueâ€ of the standards used by B'Tselem.
What exactly are his views? I shouldnâ€™t â€œcharacterizeâ€; here is Dershowitz in his words:
â€œIâ€™m a pro-Palestinian. The only difference between me and other pro-Palestinians is that theyâ€™re anti-Israelâ€¦my goal is simply to bring more nuances into the debateâ€¦â€ Great. But then he says that he misses â€œthe days when the Israeli-Arab conflict presented a clear cut conflict between good and evil.â€ He warns against reductio ad Hitlerums, but responds to supporters of Jewish-Palestinian secular binationalism with this freak: â€œthe last dictator who supported a one state solution was Hitler.â€ Heâ€™s against identifying Israelâ€™s policies with the Jewish people (as are we all truly, Mr. Dershowitz) but he believes: â€œit was right for the entire German people to suffer for what their elected leader had unleashed on the world â€¦ that is part of what it means to be a nation or a people.â€ A majority of Palestinians support suicide bombings, Dershowitz writes, and â€œit is just (albeit imperfectly just) to hold the cause collectively accountable for the murderous acts perpetrated in its nameâ€¦â€ but he charges the Presbyterian Church with â€œsinningâ€ and â€œbigotryâ€ for divesting from Israel in protest against Israeli war crimes, which have the support of a majority of Israeli Jews. He says that a mark of an anti-Jewish racist is the â€œsingling outâ€ of Israel for reproach, but he â€œsingles outâ€ the Palestinians, and heâ€™s not a bigot. Have you ever heard Dershowitz say that Israel bears at least part of the blame for the past five years of violence? Dershowitz says that the Palestinians â€œhave suffered greatly, although mostly at the hands of their own destructive leadership and their exploitation by other Arab nations.â€ It seems that just about every country, with the exception of Israel, in that region oppresses the Palestinians. Is Israel blameless, or is Dershowitz a stupid racist?
He says that heâ€™s â€œa human rights activist.â€ He then turns and cheerily proposes that the Israeli army randomly select Palestinian villages for destruction, in retaliation for Palestinian suicide bombings. He says that the New York Times is an â€œobjective newspaperâ€, although it somehow hired a Middle East bureau chief who disseminated a â€œblood libel.â€
I confronted Dershowitz on that last comment about Chris Hedges. Hedges had recounted that he witnessed Israeli soldiers goading Palestinian children onto the street, where they would shoot them â€œfor sport.â€ In The Case for Israel, Dershowitz condemned Hedgesâ€™ account as a â€œblood libel.â€
I asked Dershowitz whether he still respected Bâ€™Tselem, and he said yes. I then read him a passage from a Bâ€™Tselem report:
â€œA conscript soldier who gave testimony to Bâ€™Tselem told of a procedure in a particular area of the West Bank during which IDF jeeps were sent as a provocation to areas of friction with Palestinians in order to serve as bait for throwers of stones and petrol bombs. When the latter would approach, the soldiers, who had taken up position in advance at other points, would shoot at them. The stated goal of this procedure was to distance the demonstrations from other sites, but in fact, stated the soldier, â€œIt became a kind of sport, to â€œknock downâ€ as many â€œfire-bombersâ€ as possible. It was an obsessive search. Itâ€™s called â€˜strive to make contact.â€™ What bothers me is had the jeeps not have entered, there would have been no disturbances of the peace.â€
I said â€œare Bâ€™Tselem guilty of â€˜blood libelâ€™, is that conscript spreading a â€˜blood libelâ€™?â€ Dershowitz responded: â€œNo that is different, when you take it to the terrorists, to suicide bombers.â€ The conscript, I told Dershowitz, made no mention of suicide bombers.
Dershowitz responded: â€œfire bombs are a lethal weapon!â€ Not one Israeli had died of a fire bombing since the start of the intifada, I countered. Dershowitz, that well trained man, barked: â€œthree were killed today!â€ He was referring to an 80 kilogram roadside bomb in Gaza that targeted an armored American convey, killing three. â€œThatâ€™s a roadside bombâ€â€”by then I felt a bit embarrassed for Dershowitzâ€™s plightâ€”â€œthat could level a house! Thatâ€™s not a fire bomb, a fire bomb is a Molotov cocktail.â€
â€œNoâ€, said the insouciant huckster, â€œa fire bomb is any projectileâ€¦â€ at which point the exasperated moderator interrupted.
Circumambulate Dershowitzâ€™s Wonderland, and you will arrive to Finkelsteinâ€™s conclusion: Dershowitz is "constitutionally incapable of saying anything that is true. I think that if a true word actually came out of him, he would implode.â€
Actually that is almost true. In his memoirs, you will discover a nugget of truth spoken by Dershowitz the advocate for Israel:
â€œAlmost all my clients have been guilty.â€
ps I debated Dershowitz on October 15th 2003, in the studio of CKUT 90.3 FM, a community radio station in Montreal. The debate was to have lasted for 30 minutes, but it stretched for over an hour. At the end Dershowitz, furiously panting into the phone, signed off and dialed the programmer to threaten her with perdition if they didnâ€™t play the entire debate. They complied and never aired the debate. The debate was recorded, however, and I should be soon posting it on the net.
pps: Dershowitz imparts a chilling, disturbing anecdote on the effects of the new antisemitism on campuses:
"â€¦a young student came to me from Harvard College and asked me for forgiveness. I said, "What do I have to forgive you for? I don't even know you."
He said, "I never speak up on campus, in my classroom, in my dormitory, at dinner. I never speak up in favor of Israel even though I've been there on Operation Birthright and I know the facts and hear the lies."
"Why not?" I asked. He replied, "Because if I am perceived as pro-Israel pro-Zionist, in favor of Israel. I won't be able to get dates with young girls."
Samer Elatrash writes from Montreal. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org