Sunday, February 04, 2007

# Posted 10:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS DERSHOWITZ A LOON? That seems to be the prevailing sentiment among strong supporters of the Palestinian cause. Naturally, I had to find out for myself whether that is a fair description, so I recently picked up Dershowitz's book, The Case for Israel.

I've only had time for twenty pages so far, but my sense is that Dershowitz is not the kind of disreputable hack whose arguments can be dismissed out of hand. Compared to Norman Finkelstein, who is often held up as a model of scholarly integrity by Dershowitz's harshest critics, Dershowitz seems more open-minded and nuanced in his arguments.

On the first page of his book, Dershowitz writes that he will:

...try to present a realistic picture of Israel, warts and all.
In most situations, I would dismiss that statement as nothing more than lip service to the ideal of fairness and balance. Yet compared to Finkelstein, who insists that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only seems complicated because pro-Israel forces have willfully distorted the public debate, Dershowitz's lip service seems positively enlightened.

Also on the first page, Dershowitz tries to inoculate himself from the charge that defenders of Israel recklessly throw about accusations of anti-Semitism in order to shut down the public debate. According to Dershowitz,
"Thomas Friedmand of the New York Times got it right when he said "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction -- out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East -- is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest." (pp.1-2)
That is the definition of anti-Semitism that Dershowitz defends more than once in his opening chapter. One can criticize such a definition, but it's hardly unreasonable. And it is certainly more sophisticated than Finkelstein's outright dismissal of anti-Semitism as a contributing influence to Palestinian behavior.

Now, in spite bowing to potential criticism, Dershowitz's claims on his own behalf certainly come across as bombastic. He writes that:
This book will prove not only that Israel is innocent of the charges being leveled against it but that no other nation in history faced with comparable challenges has ever adhered to a higher standard of human rights, been more sensitive to the safety of innocent civilians, tried harder to operate under the rule of law, or been willing to take more risks for peace. This is a bold claim [duh!], and I support it with facts and figures, some of which will surprise those who get their information from biased sources. (p.2)
Personally, I would say that Dershowitz's constant resort to courtroom metaphors detracts from his credibility. Such metaphors promise a simple and unequivocal outcome, with a clear verdict being rendered. Yet I find it improbable that one book will "prove" anything about such a controverisal subject.

Anyhow, Dershowtiz continues to raise the bar by writing that:
Each chapter of the book starts with the accusation leveled against Israel, quoting specific sources. I respond to the accusation with hard facts backed up by credible evidence. In presenting the facts, I do not generally rely on pro-Israel sources, but primarily on objective, and sometimes to emphasize the point, overtly anti-Israel sources. (pp.6-7)
When it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, boasting of one's incomparable objectivity tends to be a mistake. I'd be come comfortable if Dershowitz said that he hopes to persaude the reader that he is reasonably objective and relies on a diverse array of sources.

Another problem with claims of absolute objectivity is that those who make them tend to confuse opinions with facts. For example, Dershowitz writes that:
There can be no reasonable disagreement about the basic facts: the European Jews who jointed their Sephardic Jewish cousins in what is now Israel at the end of the nineteenth century had an absolute right to seek refuge in the land of their ancestors. (p.8)
I would say that whether such a right exists is a matter of opinion. I would certainly defend the proposition that European Jews deserved a refuge in Ottoman Palestine. But the issue here is an ethical one, not a matter of fact.

In the penultimate paragraph of his introduction, Dershowitz writes that:
I support Israel precisely because I am a civil libertarian and a liberal. I also criticize Israel whenever its policies violate the rule of law. Nor do I try to defend egregrious actions by Israelis or their allies, such as the 1948 killings by irregular troops of civilians at Deir Yassin, the 1982 Phalangist massace of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, or the 1994 mass murder of Muslims at prayer by Baruch Goldstein. (p.12)
I agree completely (although not a liberal). Dershowitz's unconditional commitment to civil libertarianism contrasts favorably with Finkelstein's blanket defense of Palestinian atrocities as a natural response to terrible provocations.

I am certainly going to read the rest of Dershowitz's book with a very skeptical eye, but his opening makes me think that he is much more open-minded and fair than his critics allow.

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(19) opinions -- Add your opinion

"I've only had time for twenty pages so far, but my sense is that Dershowitz is not the kind of disreputable hack whose arguments can be dismissed out of hand. "

IIRC, Dershowitz indignately (sp?) denied that Israel tortured prisoners, and staunchly opposed torture. When Israel admitted torturing prisoners, Dershowitz pulled a 180 worthy of a NFL wide receiver.

There's words for people like him; those words might not be 'hack', but they certainly would include 'dishonest'.
Dershowitz's rationale for torture warrants is a calssic in hackery.
"But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction .. is anti-Semitic". Not sure. It may be a way of saying "You're like us. You're white men, First World, ought to know better". Rather like singling out the Afrikaaners for criticism when so many of the other, but black, Africans were behaving even worse. A left-handed compliment, you might say. Just a suggestion.
Singling out Israel isn't anti-Semitic. After all, the Palestinians are Semites as well. The manner in which it is done, however, can indicate someone does not like Jews.
You also might want to review Myths and Facts. Like Dershowitz's book, Myths and Facts takes purported facts that put Israel in a negative light and explains why/how many are misleading or simply incorrect. You might also read the Israel-Arab Reader (Laqueur and Rubin editors) and The Trouble with Islam by Irshad Manji (esp. pp .94-116 or so). A couple of other sources: Efraim Karsh's Fabricating Israeli History criticizes the accuracy of the "New Historians" (Morris, Pappe, etc.). My understanding is that Karsh is a highly regarded historian. And Yaacov Lozowick's Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars.
I'm uncertain as to your exact purposes in reading these books (and the ones about the Palestinian refugees). Is it to come to a more considered position about the right way forward in resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? Is it simply to more clearly understand the arguments surrounding the historical questions at issue? Or is it to satisfy an argument over who, the Israelis or the Palestinians, have conducted themselves most morally? (or least immorally?)

These three goals may conflict with each other. For example, I am a general sympathiser with the Palestinian position, basing this on the following premises : First, that the UN declaration of Human Rights and other common, internationally agreed definitions of human rights hold that there is an inalienable right of peoples to democratic self-determination, and that support of this right is consistent with all manner of liberal internationalist principles including the 'idealist foreign policy' you claim to espouse ; second, that while Israelis have been afforded broad international recognition and support for their own self-determination, this right has not been accorded to Palestinians ; Thirdly, that Israel has repeatedly frustrated all attempts by Palestinians to secure internationally recognised borders and territorial integrity, notably by its settlement programme.

I feel that this position is entirely consistent with also holding the following opinions about the Palestinian war of resistance : 1) that using suicide bombings and other attempts to achieve mass murder of civilians is totally unjustifiable 2) That any such actions can not be defended or explained away by reference to the difficult circumstances in which the Palestinians find themselves 3) That this is morally worse than the methods Israel uses to fight its war (note that I'm not saying I actually hold these positions, just that they are compatible with the broader position outlined earlier).

My point being that even if you believe that Israel fights less dirtily, this does not and should not imply that one has to take any position on the 'root causes' of the conflict. But unfortunately, as is my impression with your posts, often attempts to construct some kind of 'moral scorecard' risks deflecting consideration form these more basic questions, as the supposition sometimes seems to be floated that if one sides with Israel in the way that it conducts its war, that means that somehow, as a 'supporter of ISrael' one must accept its analysis of the territorial issues also. Perhaps if you could clarify the questions you are seeking to answer it would be easier to judge if you are interrogating the books in the right way.
All this well-considered, reasonable, humanistic analysis....

All of it ignoring---as it must---the one salient fact: That while the Zionist/Israeli leadership, from 1947 onward (actually, as far back as the Peel Commission in 1938-9) has been prepared to compromise territorially regarding Cis-Jordan, the Palestinian leadership has been---and continues to be---just as eager to destroy the Zionist entity in any manifestation.

And this point must be ignored. Absolutely. Positively. As it is. Or else rationalized away. Since the longer the conflict continues, the less Israel's continued existence, in any shape or form, can be defended (simply because its existence causes war, causes occupation, causes, as it were, Palestinian oppression and death, so the logic of the humanistic and progressive seems to work).

Hence there is every reason for the conflict to continue (since Israel's desire to continue to exist and Palestine's wish to expunge Israel wouls seem to be mutually exclusive---besides, the amount of aid given to Palestine, to alleviate Palestinian suffering, is so huge that the Palestinians would be totally crazy to do anything---such as do anything to alleviate their suffering---that might turn off the spigot).

Yes, folks, the tragedy of the Palestinian people is that they haven't yet been able to destroy the Zionist Entity.

But who knows? Perhaps, one day they'll succeed (they certainly deserve a lot of credit for tenacity), to the delight of so many humanists around the world....

Or possibly, the Iranian regime---the only one with a really creative idea to break the logjam---may finally succeed. Which is why progressive humanity must go out of its way to protect the Iranian regime.
Dershowitz's book is supposed to sound like a defense case of a courtroom lawyer. It isn't objective. It's not supposed to be.

What it is supposed to be is, "The Case For Israel". While it is certainly a biased book, all the facts in it are true, at least based on what was known at the time.
Niall, suppose the Palestinians get full control over their borders with Egypt and Jordan, embassies from every nation in the world, and a representative at the UN.

What arguments will you then use to excuse people who celebrate the murder of children, as the Palestinians will without a doubt continue to do, in their ongoing drive to destroy the state of Israel?
That's odd bgates. Where in my first post did you see any excuses for 'people who celebrate the murder of children'?
The fact that you think supporting Palestinian self-determination equates to making excuses for child murderers is very interesting, and reveals far more about you than about me.
David please...stop. You're preconceptions about Finkelstein and Dershowitz are dripping with bias.
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. Try again. There is still hope for you. But until you are willing to condemn the juggernaut that is the AIPAC, for trying to silence meaningful debate in the form of threats and lies, you will continue to be part of the problem. Go to www.btselem.org and educate yourself. Israel has a responsibilty as the greater power to exercise compassion and restraint. So far they've dropped the ball...it's time to say ENOUGH!

Consider this report from Haaretz:

Niall, Palestinian governance to date has involved trading Fatah for Hamas. Are you saying that Hamas does not celebrate the murder of Israeli children?
bgates : look over what I've read, again, and you'll see I say no such thing.

Now : why do you not support the right of the Palestinians to democratic self-determnation?
Let me add this about Dershowitz, who really can't be considered a credible source. He makes a living out of lying and you, David, are putting him out there as Israel's best apologist. If Dershowitz is the best Israel's got, the Case for Israel is looking pretty weak.

Here is one of many of his boldface lies:


And he's an outspoken supporter of torture. You've gotta get someone with credibility and integrity to argue Israel's case or intellectually honest people are going to continue rolling their eyes.
"Israel's best apologist"? Did I say that? I picked up his book because Dershowitz is well-known, much-hated and much-loved. And I was able to borrow the book from P instead of paying for it.

At minimum, you'll have to admit that discussions involving Dershowitz tend not to be dull.

And Anon 3:01, I am rather intrigued by your division of the world into those who are part of the problem and those who condemn AIPAC. Are there any other organizations or individuals I must condemn before you consider me enlightened?
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