Wednesday, February 14, 2007

# Posted 7:26 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DERSHOWITZ SLIPS UP: After reading the introduction to The Case for Israel, I developed a first impression of Alan Dershowitz as bombastic but not unserious. Critics warned me that Dershowitz was an extremist and a fool, or as one comment put it:
Mr. Dershowitz has proven himself to be so blinded by his bias towards Israel that to even make mention of him in an academic discussion induces mirth.
I'm not sure if that says more about Dershowitz or more about the academy, but anyhow, my opinion of Dershowitz's book has diminished considerably after reading the first hundred pages, which cover Israeli/Palestinian history from the Jewish migration of the late 19th century to the first Arab-Israeli war of 1947-1949.

The most important source Dershowitz relies on is Benny Morris' Righteous Victims, published in 1999. In fact, Dershowitz relies on Morris so heavily that The Case for Israel almost becomes a summary of Righteous Victims, or perhaps a commentary on Morris' book informed by supplementary material.

Which is not to say that Morris is a bad source. In fact, he tends to be a good one because his he still has the grudging respect of the academic left while his politics are considerably to their right. The problem is when Dershowitz cites Morris selectively in a way that downplays Israeli brutality while emphasizing that of the Palestinian Arabs.

The most important case in point is Dershowitz's chapter on the origins of the Palestinian refugee crisis, the subject of Morris' best-known research. Accordingly, 21 of 49 footnotes cites Morris' work.

The first tip-off that Dershowitz has read Morris selectively is his assertion that:
While the Arab armies tried to kill Jewish civilians and did in fact massacre many who tried to escape, the Israeli army allowed Arab civilians to flee to Arab-controlled areas. (p.79)
Yet as I summarized in a recent post about Morris' work, he believes that (especially) after the Arab invasion of Israel in May 1948, the Israeli army mounted a very aggressive effort to force Palestinians out of their homes, often by destroying their villages or worse. If Dershowitz had brought this up later in the chapter, his initial phrasing might not be a problem. But no discussion of the expulsions is forthcoming.

Among the best known of those expulsions involved the exodus of 60,000 Arabs from Lydda and Ramle. FYI, at the beginning of each chapter of The Case for Israel, Dershowitz includes a series of topical quotations from Israel's harshest critics which he intends to debunk. In his chapter on the refugee problem, he includes a quote from Edward Said who refers to the explusion from Lydda and Ramle. Yet Dershowitz never confirms that this expulsion was real, instead leaving the casual reader to assume that this incident was just one more fabrication invented by Israel's critics.

Another serious omission by Dershowitz concerns the terrorist activities of hardline Jewish organizations such as the Irgun and Lehi (both of whose leaders would later serve as Prime Minister of the Jewish state). According to Morris, Lehi and the Irgun were responsible for scores of attacks on civilian targets, which helped persuade countless Arabs to take flight as Israeli forces marched forward. (Certain Haganah attacks also straddled the line between military operations and terorrism.)

One Jewish atrocity that Dershowitz does mention is the massacre at Deir Yassin, perpetrated by Lehi and Irgun forces. Dershowitz calls it a massacre, but his account is so convoluted and fills with caveats, you would never know, as Morris writes, that:
Whole families were riddled with bullets and grenade fragments and buried and buried when houses were blown up on top of them.
That quotation is taken from page 208 of Righteous Vicitms, the same page Dershowitz relies on for his account of Deir Yassin. Not surprisingly, Dershowitz is much more lucid in his description of the retaliation for Deir Yassin in which Arab militiamen surrounded a Jewish convoy, fought off a handful of defenders, then slaughtered seventy civilian passengers, many of whom the militiamen burned alive in the buses where they were trapped.

Dershowitz is also very lucid in his description of other Arab atrocities as well taking special care to note all of those Arab leaders who called for the extermination of the Jewish race after the invasion of the Jewish state. For good reason, Dershowitz lavishes attention on Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and official head of the Palestinian community (appointed by the British).

Citing Morris, Dershowitz recounts that Husseini received direct material support from Himmler's SS and that Adolf Eichmann actually visited Husseini in Palestine. Hussieni then spent most of the war in Berlin, where he broadcast viciously anti-Semitic propaganda on Berlin Radio. Drawing on Morris again, Dershowitz also recounts that Husseini personally intervened with Eichmann on one occasion after discovering that Hungarian authorities were going to allow thousands of Jewish children to escape from the Nazis. Eichmann then saw to it that those children were sent to the death camps.

Finally, Dershowitz takes care to mention Yasser Arafat's fondness for Husseini, whom he described as his "hero" as recently as 2002. (pp.53-62)

If Dershowitz had been able to step out of his prosecutorial mindset, he might have protected his credibility by quoting Morris fairly and letting the evidence speak for itself. If Morris' history is accurate, then no friend of Israel should be concerned about Palestinians invoking the events of the 1940s to demonstrate their innocence.

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(13) opinions -- Add your opinion

Duh. Dershowitz is a criminal lawyer, and IIUC a damned good one, not a historian or academic. He got interested in Jewish issues back in the '70s when some of his fellow leftists who would defend all kinds of radicals and bomb throwers wouldnt touch the JDL.

I dont know why you would look to him for an academic case - Id think there are many much better.
You're not getting the point of the book. It's "The Case for Israel", as written by a defense lawyer. He says clearly in the beginning that he's not there to defend or even discuss Israeli atrocities. He's there to justify Israel's existence and refute the countless blood libels.

For every accurate accusation against Israel, there are at least 10 blood libels that are equally accepted as truth.
Dershowitz, Edward Said: you're mixing with a bad crowd.
If I wanted to mix with a better crowd, I'd write about gardening, not politics.

And francois, I think Dershowitz does specifically take on the obligation to discuss Israeli atrocities because he sets out to prove that Israel has always behaved in a far more humane manner than its enemies.
I also read Dershowitz actually hoping for a scholarly presentation of the Israeli side. Boy was I disappointed.

What was I thinking, expecting a defense lawyer to tell the truth? :)

By the way, does anyone know of any good scholarly presentations of the Israeli side?
David, does he not do that? I think it's pretty clear that Israel's behavior is at least an order of magnitude better than that of it's enemies. I think Dershowitz made that case very well.
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May already read this item at American Thinker. While not directly answering your question, the paper is well worth reading, and you may find answers in the copious, and linked to, footnotes.

"By the way, does anyone know of any good scholarly presentations of the Israeli side?"

I dont know of any "case for Israel" type books, but theres plenty of stuff on Israeli history and politics and Zionist history that would be good to read. Try Howard Sachar's History of Israel, Walter Laquer on Zionism, Nadav Safran. Read Abba Eban.
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