It is extraordinary that somebody with such an extensive resume, such a reputation, and such obvious intelligence can produce a book full of so many obvious flaws and still be applauded for it. This could be explained away by the fact that, when dealing with the Middle East conflict, people often suspend all rationality. It is worth, in the case of leading American lawyer Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel, looking past such easy explanations, especially when there is a tremendous validity at the heart of his enterprise, “a defence – not of every Israeli policy or action, but of its basic right to exist, to protect its citizens from terrorism, and to defend its borders from hostile enemies.” Amen to that. However, unfortunately this justification soon turns out to be merely a disingenuous attempt to return us to the days of the classical Zionist myth, when Israel is always the victim, when all its government’s policies are an attempt at securing a fair peace, and when the Arabs are unrelenting in their pursuit of Israeli lives. In critique of Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel, then, I hope to make my own ‘case for Israel’.Perhaps the "case for Israel" is a work in progress for Alex as he doesn't actually do that in this post.
So, to the plagiarism:
Many accusations of plagiarism have been levelled at Dershowitz over the book. It is not worth getting into details of these here, but it is important to note that many of the historical ideas seem literally lifted wholesale from classic works in the Zionist-apologist canon, for example Joan Peters’ debunked work, From Time Immemorial.Next up, Alex deals with the persistent false allegation of antisemitism:
“when the Jewish nation is the only one criticized for faults that are far worse among other nations, such criticism crosses the line from fair to foul, from acceptable to anti-Semitic.” Of the particularities in this claim, more later. For now, it is important to note that it is unclear whether inclusion as an ‘accuser’ in one of Dershowitz’s chapter headings means that he considers you an anti-Semite. After all, he cries out “When the best is accused of being the worst, the focus must shift to the accusers, who I contend may be guilty of bigotry, hypocrisy, or abysmal ignorance at the very least. It is they who must stand in the dock of history, along with others who have also singled out the Jewish people, the Jewish religion, the Jewish culture, or the Jewish nation for unique and undeserved condemnation.” Thus the usual suspects of Edward Said and Noam Chomsky become anti-Semitic by default, as well as Christopher Hitchens Rabbi Michael Lerner, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, Member of Knesset Azmi Bishara, and Yael Stein of the leading Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem. While Dershowitz does not explicitly call (most of) these figures anti-Semitic, by defining the ‘accusers’ as he does, he certainly opens the door for their inclusion as Jew-haters. This, of course, is not backed by any real evidence of anti-Semitism.And then from sheer dishonesty to racism:
Despite trying to create the impression of being a fair advocate for Israel who is not averse to criticism, Dershowitz sometimes crosses the line from dishonesty to crude stereotyping which verges on racism. We have referred above to Dershowitz’s comments on the families of suicide bombers. In a similar vein, when defending home demolitions against the charge of collective punishment, he writes “Even when it is clear that no one is inside, the inevitable picture of the crying woman bemoaning the loss of her home creates sympathy, even if that same woman was yesterday encouraging her son to become a martyr and tomorrow will be cheering at the news of an Israeli restaurant being blown up with a dozen teenagers.” Dershowitz is largely correct in noting that the bulldozers make sure the people are out of the house before going to work (although there have been enough exceptions to be ashamed of), but this should not detract from the fact that survival must seem scant consolation when you are witness to your home being destroyed. More importantly, however, Dershowitz’s derision of the crying woman again assumes that the family members of suicide bombers are always to blame, and also forgets that it is not only the families of suicide bombers who are victims of home demolitions. Take what happened in Rafah recently, for example. I wonder what he thought of Tommy Lapid’s (Israeli Justice Minister) comments. Unlike Dershowitz, Lapid did not see the eyes of a prime supporter of terrorism in the ‘crying woman bemoaning the loss of her home’. He was reminded of the eyes of his grandmother under Nazi occupation.In the course of his critique of Dershowitz, Alex has a nice little swipe at Ariel Sharon:
This libelling of the Palestinian people extends to the more progressive elements within the their leadership.
Dershowitz recognizes that Abu Mazen desires a fair two-state solution, but makes the error of implying that Ariel Sharon does as well. Sharon still wants to eventually annex as much of the West Bank as possible, and the Gaza disengagement proposal fits in with this plan. He is not willing to even consider any settlement that would remotely satisfy the most legitimate of Palestinian demands.But having said he would put his own case for Israel, Alex ends his piece not quite as promised:
If Dershowitz had been serious about his laudable aims, he would have maintained some form of critical angle. In reality, there is none. Israel is never to blame; anything that looks like a mistake can be explained away by the fact that it remains a teething democracy. Dershowitz is really trying to stifle dissent, both from within and without. His primary ire is targeted at those he perceives as anti-Zionist, but progressives within the Zionist ranks are tarnished along the way. The time for trying to win the historical battle should be over by now. There is a more important battle to be fought, a battle for peace, for pressure to be placed on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to pursue a path of peace. This is never done by apologising for its wrongful actions. It can only be done through constant self-criticism and reform. In doing that, we would be making a stronger case for Israel than any lawyer could.And yet we are not making a case for Israel here. Perhaps that's for another post on Alex Stein's False Dichotomies.
UPDATE: Alex has asked for an amendment as follows: I deliberately said 'verged on racism' - so I'd appreciate if you made that clear. My piece about his 'The Case for Peace' is here.
Perhaps if Alex read the Jewish Chronicle report a few weeks ago of Dershowitz telling SOAS students that the Palestinians have to take some responsibility for the holocaust on account of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem's collaboration with Hitler he might take the view that Dershowitz has crossed the verge and gone full blown.