Alan Dershowitz, The Case Against Israel's Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand in the Way of Peace (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2008) $25.95, 304 pp., Hardcover.
Reviewed by Stephen J. Sniegoski
This is a very revealing book by a major defender of Israel, Alan Dershowitz, a high-profile criminal defense trial lawyer and professor of law at Harvard. It is revealing because Dershowitz is a very influential mainstream liberal who cannot be said to represent neoconservatism or the broader Zionist Right. As stated in the subtitle, the fundamental thesis of the work is that it is the critics of Israel “who stand in the way of peace” between Israel and the Palestinians. If Israel were not faced with external hostility and Palestinian resistance, Dershowitz implies, it would, on its own, establish a just peace with a Palestinian state.
The work takes the form of a tendentious lawyer’s brief on behalf of Israel and not a more balanced assessment of the critics’ overall messages. Dershowitz cleverly uses the rhetorical chicanery that works so well in courtroom against the critics of Israel-- tearing down their arguments and maligning their character--and also offers chapters excoriating the Islamic “suicide bombers” and their sympathizers, and Iran, especially, the latter’s alleged “genocidal nuclear weapons program.” (p. 186)
In Dershowitz’s eyes, Israel, though not without (largely undiscussed) flaws, is a paragon of virtue and benefactor to all of humanity. He gushes that “over the last sixty years, no nation in the world has contributed more per capital to the general welfare of the people of this planet than Israel.” (p. 2) Yet, despite Israel’s unparalleled goodness, “no nation is hated as much as the Jewish nation.” (p. 2) This brings to mind Bush the Younger’s similar claim that the “terrorists” hate the United States because it is so good.
But how does Dershowitz address the various charges against Israel, especially in its military operations? Israel, he maintains, “does everything reasonable to minimize civilian casualties.” (p. 160) He claims that for every 30 combatants killed by the Israeli air force, the collateral damage is only one civilian. “No army in history,” Dershowitz intones, “has ever had a better ratio of combatants to civilians killed in a comparable setting.” (p. 179) Moreover, he contends that the number of Palestinian civilians allegedly killed by Israeli forces is likely much inflated because “some Palestinian spokespersons count among the Palestinian dead some or all of the following: the suicide bombers themselves; armed Palestinian fighters, leaders of terrorist groups; terrorists who were shot in self-defense while they were planting or throwing bombs; bomb makers (and their neighbors) who have been killed when the bombs they were making accidentally blew up; collaborators who have been killed by other Palestinians; and even people who have died as a result of the absurd and dangerous practice of shooting live ammunition in the air at Palestinian funerals and protests.” (p. 179) Now it is actually hard to believe that significant numbers of Palestinians are killed in bomb making or in celebrations compared to the bombing and shelling by Israeli forces, but Dershowitz is able to get away with such an outlandish claim to diminish Israeli culpability for Palestinian suffering. One contrasts here the absolute tsunami of moral outrage--and likely job loss and, in many Western democratic countries, incarceration—accompanying those very few individuals who ever minimize Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.
Dershowitz firmly asserts that any “reasoned, comparative assessment” of Israel’s actions in war would “show that no other such nation [in a comparable situation] has tried harder to comply with the rule of law or has achieved a higher standard of human rights and civil liberties than embattled Israel.” (p. 180) However, this is not the way that the world looks at Israel, as the “biased media and nongovernmental organizations, as well as the official organs of the United Nations, devote more attention to [the alleged faults of] Israel than to any other nation.” (p. 180)
But what does Dershowitz say about the Israeli occupation and its control of the Palestinian population? Don’t the Palestinians have something to complain about? In Dershowitz’s view all Israeli actions are simply defensive. Dershowitz declares that “Israel would have left Gaza and much of the West Bank long ago if not for the fear of terrorism from that area.” (p. 183) Dershowitz’s lawyerly choice of words here needs to be noted, since he doesn’t actually say that Israel would leave all of the West Bank, much less that the Palestinians would have the control of a viable state. Israel has never firmly promised to give up its major West Bank settlements, control of the West Bank’s water supply (the West Bank aquifer), Jordan River border “security zone,” or a number of Jewish-only roads traversing Palestinian territory. In its peace offers it actually seems that Israel would leave a territory for the Palestinians, in the same way, or to a lesser extent, than the white South African government left the Bantustans for its Black inhabitants. .
Don’t the Palestinians have the right to be upset and forcefully resist Israeli oppression? As a recognized liberal, Dershowitz would be predisposed to believe that poverty and injustice cause crime in the United States, but he doesn’t believe that any Israeli activities, including the occupation, have caused Palestinian terrorism. He writes that the “oft-repeated manta that ‘occupation causes terrorism’—[is] a claim that has been disproved over and over again by history and contemporary experience.” (p. 182) Dershowitz tries to prove his contention by pointing out that the Palestinians began their terrorist attacks against the Jews in 1929, “well before there was any occupation.” (p. 182) One would think, however, that the Palestinians of that time realized that the Jews intended to dispossess them of their land and sought to prevent this from happening—that Palestinian terrorism was a reaction to Zionist settlement. However, Dershowitz implies that Palestinian terrorism is simply a radical Islamic idea that has nothing to do with the actions of Israel. “Even if there were no Israel,” Dershowitz insists, “ terrorism would persist as long as any part of the world is not under Islamic control.” (p. 183)
But haven’t the Palestinians been dispossessed of their homeland? In a previous book, The Case for Israel (2005),Dershowitz had claimed that there really were few legitimate Palestinians to be dispossessed. In this book, however, he takes a different tact, arguing that the dispossession of the Palestinians was deserved because of their support for Hitler during World War II, declaring bluntly that “the Palestinian leadership, supported by the Palestinian masses, played a significant role in Hitler’s Holocaust.” (p. 196)
Obviously, the Palestinians hated the Zionists who were bent on taking over their country and looked to support from anyone, including Hitler. And as nationalists they sought to free themselves from their British rulers. (Similarly, the still-admired Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose had sought to ally with the Germans and Japanese during World War II.) Dershowitz takes the most extreme version of alleged Palestinian killing of Jews while playing down the extent of any Jewish killing or other oppression of the Palestinians. Dershowitz expresses revulsion that “Israel’s enemies sometimes compare the so-called Palestinian Nakba [“catastrophe”] with the Holocaust,” which he regards as “not only an obscenely false comparison, [but] it is essentially a form of Holocaust denial or minimization.” (p. 206) It should be noted, however, that Dershowitz did think it appropriate to claim that Palestinians played a “significant role” in the Holocaust, though the number of Jews killed by them would be infinitesimal compared to the millions of Jews killed by the Germans in death camp gas chambers.
In using the phrase “so-called Nakba,” Dershowitz would seem to even deny that the Palestinians suffered a catastrophe in being driven from their homeland. While the phrase the “so-called Holocaust” would cause Dershowitz to go apoplectic in moral outrage, he sees nothing wrong in implicitly denying, or at least greatly diminishing, the suffering of another group.
In Dershowitz’s view, the Palestinians, because of their leaders’ support for Hitler and their opposition to Zionist settlements, actually deserved to be forcibly dispossessed. “Considering the active support by the Palestinian leadership and masses for the losing side of a genocidal war,” Dershowitz pontificates, “it was more than fair for the United Nations to offer them a state of their own on more than half of the arable land of the British mandate.” (p. 203)
Dershowitz ironically turns to what has been called World War II revisionism to justify Israel’s prohibition of the Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes in what had become Israel. “Recall that the Israeli decision not to allow the return of the Palestinian refugees,” Dershowitz solemnly opines, “was made against the background of post-World War II decisions by the allies, supported by the United Nations to remove millions of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia and other countries and resettle them in Germany.” (p. 204) Dershowitz points out that “Tens of thousands may have died in the process of the transfer.” (p. 205)
Although Jews often go ballistic when World War II crimes against the Germans are mentioned—the blasphemy of Holocaust equivalency—Dershowitz, in contrast, uses this barbarity as a precedent to justify Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. But why would such an atrocity against the Germans, which R.J. Rummel, the noted expert on mass murders by governments, labels as “democide,”[i] become a justifiable standard? And in actual fact, it is not apparent that the Allies officially approved the brutal reality of the expulsion. Article 13 of the Potsdam Agreement did sanction the transfer of some of the German population from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary--though not to the degree that this took place--but specified "that all transfers should take place in an orderly and humane way.” Moreover, the Charter of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi Germans leaders (1945-1946) declared forced deportation of civilian populations to be both a war crime and a crime against humanity. And specifically regarding the Palestinian refugees, the UN General Assembly on 11 December 1948 resolved: "that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbor should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” Thus the permanent removal of the Palestinians from what became Israel and the prevention of their return to their homeland simply does not have any international sanction. It should be noted here that the requirement to “live at peace with their neighbor” did not require the Palestinians to politically accept the Jewish control of the government, which is intimately connected to the Zionist view of the “Jewish state.” It is the fear that a large Palestinian population could by democratic means eliminate the Jewish domination and orientation of the state of Israel that has not only prevented Israel from allowing the return of the Palestinian refugees but has caused concern about Israel’s existing Arab population. Despite his negative portrayal of the Palestinians and claim that they deserve their plight, Dershowitz simultaneously professes to be among the “many supporters of Israel . . . who care deeply about the Palestinian people.” (p. 15)
Dershowitz’s contention that the Palestinian people bear collective guilt for the Holocaust because of their actions and sympathies and thus deserve their oppression is a standard that Dershowitz does not even consider for Jews. Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Ariel Sharon all were involved in terroristic activities, yet all were elected prime ministers of Israel by the Jewish citizenry of that state. If the Palestinians are culpable for the crimes of their leaders, then the same should be said of Jews. Of course, Dershowitz never acknowledges the fact that Jews have ever been involved in terrorism.
Let’s briefly mention the terrorist actions of the aforementioned trio of Israeli prime ministers, which Dershowitz omitted in his fixation on Palestinian terror. Menachem Begin headed the terrorist gang Irgun, which was involved in terror tactics against the British and the Palestinians in the 1940s. In July 1946, the Irgun used explosives to destroy the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was serving as the home of the British military command and government administration. The explosion destroyed the building and killed 91 people, Arab and Jewish civilians as well as British administrators and troops. The British government officially labeled Begin as a criminal terrorist and put a price on his head.
In April 1948, Irgun commandos along with members of the terrorist Stern Gang attacked the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, massacring 250 men, women, and children. The massacre induced thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes and thus was a significant factor in removing most of the Palestinian population from what would become the state of Israel.
Yitzhak Shamir was one of the leaders of the terrorist Stern Gang, officially named Lehi. When war broke out between Britain and Germany in September 1939, Avraham Stern, a member of the Irgun who was an admirer of Mussolini, contended that it was the British who were the main obstacle to Jewish settlement of Palestine. Consequently, he broke with the Irgun and formed his own organization. While Britain was fighting Hitler, the Stern Gang engaged in robberies, murders, and terrorist attacks against the British, as well as the Arabs. In September 1948, the Stern Gang assassinated of the UN mediator in Palestine, Folke Bernadotte, which caused the United Nations Security Council to label it "a criminal group of terrorists.”
Perhaps even more intriguing than the Stern Gang’s terrorism was the effort of its leader to collaborate with Nazi Germany. Since Nazi Germany had facilitated Jewish immigration to Palestine in the 1930s, Stern assumed that Nazi Germany might support a Jewish state in then British-controlled Palestine in order to weaken Britain’s geostrategic position in the Middle East. In December 1940, Stern contacted German authorities with the aim of gaining their support in establishing a Jewish state in Palestine and beyond (Eretz Israel) open to Jewish refugees from Europe. He proposed to recruit and train an army of 40,000 Jews from occupied Europe with which he would use to defeat the British. Stern’s proposed alliance with Nazi Germany never materialized. However, while Dershowitz goes into apoplexy about the Palestinian leadership’s war against the British to aid Nazi Germany, he is silent about the fact that one of Israel’s prime ministers would be a member of a Jewish organization that had tried to do the same thing, and did engage in wartime attacks on the British, making it more difficult for them to combat the Nazi threat.[ii]
SHARON'S TERRORIST BACKGROUND
Ariel Sharon’s terrorist background included his command of special operations “Unit 101” that launched brutal cross-border raids against Israel’s enemies in the 1950s, including the notorious massacre of Palestinian villagers at Qibya in the then Jordanian-controlled West Bank in October 1953. As Begin’s Defense Minister in 1982, Sharon was intimately involved in the slaughter of Palestinians by Lebanese Christian militiamen at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps outside Beirut.
One aspect of the this book that especially stands out is Dershowitz’s focus on some of the noted moral leaders and institutions of the world who, because of their criticism of Israel, are described as motivated by a strong bias against the Jewish state. He gives prominent attention to Jimmy Carter who, because of criticism of Israel’s policies, was denied a significant speaking role at 2008 Democratic Convention. Dershowitz has claimed a role in preventing Carter from speaking.
Carter’s criticism of Israel’s policies in the occupied territories is referred to by Dershowitz as “his recent descent into the gutter of bigotry.” (p. 48) Moreover, Dershowitz holds that in 2000 Arafat would have agreed to Israel’s allegedly generous terms (for which there is no clear evidence and, if true, would have been equivalent to a one-time only bargain sale), but that Carter persuaded him to reject them. Dershowitz implies that Carter might not even sincerely believe his criticism of Israel, informing his readers that “regarding money, it is he who has been bought off by millions of dollars in donations from Arab governments that refuse to recognize Israel and from Arab rulers who actively promote Jew-hatred in the Middle East and elsewhere.” (p. 33) In summarizing Carter’s actions, Dershowitz wails that he “must be exposed as an enemy of a compromise peace, an inciter of Palestinian extremism, and an apologist for those who would continue to employ terror in an effort to destroy the Jewish state.” (p. 48) In short, the vituperative Dershowitz seeks to transmute the image of Carter from beneficent humanitarian to purveyor of hatred and murder. It appears that this verbal assault on the former President’s reputation by Dershowitz and other Zionist Jews has worked well since Carter has apologized to the Jewish community for “stigmatizing Israel” and asked for forgiveness.
Dershowitz also takes on the highly esteemed human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have issued reports critical of Israeli actions. Dershowitz refers to them as "so-called human rights groups" (p. 164) who “constantly side with the terrorists.” (p. 174)
Mahatma Gandhi doesn’t fare too well, either. Gandhi, Dershowitz maintains, “railed against Zionist, supporting the British decision to exclude the Jews of Europe from Palestine, where many could have been saved.” (p. 154) Dershowitz goes on in an endnote to caustically observe that “Gandhi’s selfishness and singular concern only for his own people dates back to his earliest activism in South Africa, when he refused to lift a finger or raise his voice on behalf of Black South Africans.” (p. 275) It would seem that in Dershowitz’s mind, Jews are the only group that lacks this ethnocentrism and identifies with the good of all humanity.
Naturally, the Catholic Church is a target for Dershowitz’s barbs. Dershowitz is incensed that Pope Benedict XVI would make what actually appears to be an extremely tepid remark that Israel’s attacks on civilians were “not always compatible with the rules of international law.” (p. 181) One wonders what country has always and everywhere followed the “rules of international law” in warfare. Obviously, not the United States. But as hypocritical as the Allies were during World War II, even they did not have the audacity to claim that they had never violated international law and, in fact, implied otherwise at the major war crimes trials of the German leadership at Nuremberg in 1945-46 when they denied the legitimacy of a tu quoque defense—that the Allies had engaged in similar activities.
Dershowitz is also incensed by the Vatican’s omission of Israel in a 2005 statement listing countries victimized by terrorism and is enraged further by a Vatican response that “it could not protest every Palestinian attack against Jewish civilians if Israel did not always follow international law.” (p. 181) Presumably Dershowitz regards attacks on Jewish settlers on the West Bank to be terrorism. While this dispute was patched up between then Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and the Vatican in August 2005, with the former sending the Pope a letter describing him as a "a true friend of Israel,"[iii] Dershowitz is unwilling to let this tiff end, but seeks to use it to infer Catholic anti-Semitism. Trotting out the Vatican’s alleged indifference to the Holocaust, he holds that the its position on this issue was motivated by the “same reason that the Vatican took too long and did too little in protesting against the mass extermination of Jews by Nazi Germany.” (p. 181) But how loud was the protest from the rest of the world about the Holocaust? Was there any firm belief at that time that the Germans were actually engaging in a mass extermination of Jews in gas chambers? Certainly, the Allies did not bomb Auschwitz or launch any undertaking to actually save Jews. Nor was an effective effort ever made to barter for Jewish civilians under Nazi control. It would even seem that the Zionists were more concerned about settling Palestine than about saving Jews from Hitler.
And regarding mass killings, it should be remembered that during World War II there was no huge outcry about the Stalin’s mass killings either. On the contrary, the Allied leaders not only praised Stalin during the war but in the immediate postwar period and actually turned over hundreds of thousands of prisoners to Stalin’s death camps in such abominations as Operation Keelhaul. Moreover, such highly-praised Jewish leaders as Albert Einstein, who was widely sought for the position of president of Israel, was actually quite supportive of Stalin. In fact, many Jews were pro-Soviet until it became clearly apparent—with such post-war Stalinist concoctions as the alleged (Jewish) “doctor’s plot”—that Stalin intended to do them harm, too.
While the Vatican’s reactions to the secret Holocaust in the 1940s or to the state of Israel today can be seen quite in line with the mainstream, Dershowitz attributes it to historical Catholic anti-Judaism. “The truth is that the Vatican has always had something of a Jewish problem,” Dershowitz declaims. “Today that problem focuses more on the Jewish state than on the Jewish religion.” (p. 181)
But if the Catholic Church historically has been hostile toward Judaism, what does Dershowitz say about the anti-Christian and anti-gentile statements in the Jewish Talmud? Dershowitz takes to task Israel Shahak, the Jewish Israeli Holocaust survivor, for his negative presentation of the Talmud. How does Dershowitz know Shahak is wrong? Dershowitz says that he “asked dozens of Orthodox rabbis about Shahak’s characterization of Talmudic principles, and not a single one agreed with it.” (p. 103) Of course, one of Shahak’s allegations is that Jews schooled in the Talmud engage in dissimulation if they think its real messages might antagonize a gentile audience and thus be detrimental to Jewish interests (this approach to outsiders is not unknown to representatives of other religions also). A more objective description of the Talmud, however, is often is provided in specialized scholarship, which Dershowitz apparently felt no need to consult. For example, Peter Schäfer, Director of the Program in Judaic Studies at Princeton University, recently authored the generally acclaimed Jesus in the Talmud, which clearly brings out the Talmud’s virulent hostility toward Jesus.
Dershowitz’s attack on Shahak illustrates his contention that Jews themselves can express anti-Semitic ideas (he does not use the term “self-hating Jew”) in criticizing Israel and thus are just as prejudiced as gentile critics of the Jewish state. He lambasts Jewish critics of Israel, such as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and Rabbi Michael Lerner, as inauthentic Jews who use “their Jewish identity to discredit accusations that their ideas are anti-Semitic . . . to establish their special right to criticize Israel, and to give added stress to the evils of Zionism.” (p. 100) In fact, Dershowitz claims that these critics are not really “Jewish in any real sense, other than their parentage.” However, “they accentuate their Jewish heritage (their names and connections to the Holocaust) to gain credibility for their Israel bashing.” (p. 100) It is quite interesting that Dershowitz does not even regard Jewish victims of the Holocaust to be authentic Jews if they criticize Israel. But something tells be that if someone ever tried to subtract the substantial number of non-Zionist Jews from the six million figure, he would end up in very deep kimchi.
In making this semantic argument regarding Jewishness, Dershowitz deftly engages in a verbal slight-of-hand to shift the meaning of key words. Thus, Dershowitz equates gentile criticism of anything to do with Zionism as being anti-Semitic, in essence, reflecting a racial or ethnic bias. However, his claim that Jewish critics of Zionism are not really Jewish would mean that Zionism and Jewishness are not determined by race or ethnicity but rather are intellectual beliefs. By this logic, then, criticism of Zionism should not be considered racial or ethnic bias—that is, anti-Semitic--any more than the criticism of radical Islam or any political movement.
Moving over to criticism of the power of Israel’s American supporters to influence America’s Middle East policy, Dershowitz goes into overdrive to smear John J. Mearsheimer’s and Stephen Walt’s daring work, The Israel Lobby. To Dershowitz, however, their thesis that Israel lobby plays a major role in shaping American Middle East policy simply represents an anti-Semitic meme. “The accusations leveled by Mearsheimer and Walt,” Dershowitz proclaims, “share the same themes as the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the czarist forgery whose motifs became a staple of anti-Semitic propaganda.” (p. 52) After clearly implying anti-Semitism, Dershowitz later emphatically denies that he ever made such a lethal charge, categorically stating: “I have never called Mearsheimer or Walt anti-Semitic.” (p. 78) Presumably in Dershowitz’s lawyerly mind, and in order to avoid the charge that he attempts to silence people by name-calling, there is presumably a major distinction between the expression of anti-Semitic themes that form the “staple of anti-Semitic propaganda” and actually being anti-Semitic.
BONA FIDE ANTI-SEMITES
But if not deemed bona-fide anti-Semites, Dershowitz does defame Mearsheimer and Walt as “hate-mongers who have given up on scholarly debate and the democratic process in order to become rock-star heroes of anti-Israel extremists.” (p. 79) How he arrives at this scurrilous conclusion is not brought out fully from his analysis of their writing. For example, Dershowitz discerns great significance in the book cover of The Israel Lobby. “It is telling,” he conjectures, “that the cover of their book consists of the U.S. flag in the colors of the Israeli blue-and-white, implying that ‘the lobby’ controls not only U.S. foreign policy but the United States itself. That is the classic conspiratorial mind-set.” (p. 55) Here Dershowitz relies on bludgeoning a straw man — or, better termed, a straw demon— since in their actual book Mearsheimer and Walt explicitly reject the idea of a Jewish "conspiracy" and never make the patently outrageous claim that Jews "control" the United States, but only that the Israeli lobby is very influential in shaping American policy in the Middle East.
Dershowitz further distorts what Mearsheimer and Walt actually write in contending that “Their charge that Israel pushed the Bush administration to go to war in Iraq, for example, is based entirely on opinion articles in the popular press. That does not qualify as evidence.” (p. 58) Mearsheimer and Walt, however, never claim that Israel “pushed” the Bush administration into war. In fact, they describe the neoconservatives within the Bush administration as the driving force for the war. However, while Dershowitz asserts that “Sharon actually opposed the war against Iraq,” (p. 132) Sharon’s government actually publicly advocated American entrance into war, for which there was plenty of evidence in the mainstream newspapers, including direct quotes of Israeli leaders, which I document in my own book, The Transparent Cabal. And this evidence mostly came from regular news articles, not “opinion articles,” as Dershowitz would have it. If Dershowitz really believes that these mainstream newspapers fabricated the news to make Israel appear bellicistic, then it would seem to be he, not Mearsheimer and Walt, who possesses a “conspiratorial mind-set.”
Dershowitz continues: “Given the small size of the U.S. Jewish population, the broad support among American Jews for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the heavy opposition to the Iraq War in the American Jewish community—all facts that Mearsheimer and Walt admit to be true—it would seem odd to assign responsibility for U.S. foreign policy to pro-Israel activists and Jewish organizations.” (p. 74) Here Dershowitz tosses in a red-herring since the two authors argue that only a small segment of the Jewish population, fundamentally the neoconservatives, led the country into the Iraq war, the anti-war position of most Jews is irrelevant. And it is hardly odd for historians to attribute the power to shape national policy to a small group of people—bankers, munitions makers, slave-holders, oil interests, corporatists, etc.
Dershowitz goes so far as to maintain that there is no clear evidence that the Israel lobby has had any influence on American foreign policy and that, furthermore, Mearsheimer and Walt did not take the necessary research approach to prove their case. To adduce sufficient proof, he contends, the two authors would have had to conduct “original research, such as interviews, analysis of government documents, financial audits of lobby groups, and so on, to obtain a complete picture of the policy process. From this wealth of primary sources they would have needed to identify the most important individual actors, the most effective lobbing strategies—if indeed domestic lobby groups had managed to shift U. S. policy in any examples under scrutiny.” (p. 75) In going over the elements of this alleged proper methodology, Dershowitz does not cite one book that made use of such an approach to demonstrate the existence of any lobby. Yet, it is generally accepted that various lobbies exist and do influence policy—the Cuban-American lobby, the China lobby, the Greek Lobby, the oil lobby, the gun lobby. Does the lack of the extensive proof demanded by Dershowitz mean that none of these lobbies exists or ever existed? As a Ph.D. in American history, I have read many history books that maintain that various extra-governmental groups shaped government policy at various times in America’s history, but I can’t recall any that engaged in all the research that Dershowitz holds to be essential. Obviously, Dershowitz does not provide anything like this level of proof for any of his own arguments.
Given Dershowitz’s assertion of a lack of proof of the capability of the Israel lobby to shape American policy, and, in fact, its likely powerlessness, one would reasonably think that out of self-interest the lobby’s members, such as AIPAC, would need to take issue with him to justify their existence. The fact of the matter, however, is that Dershowitz actually expounds the basic position of members of the Israel lobby toward Mearsheimer and Walt’s argument. It was really quite piquant to hear members of the Israel lobby, who devote their careers to promoting Israel, proclaim their uselessness and lack of influence. Of course, if AIPAC’s donors actually believed any of this rhetorical spin, there would be no reason for them to provide any financial support for a totally ineffectual lobby.
Moreover, this idea of the impotency of the Israel lobby would also seem to be belied by Dershowitz’s own actions. For Dershowitz is widely recognized as an advocate for Israel. He provides seminars instructing American Jews how to promote the interests of Israel. And Dershowitz has recently been debating representatives from J Street, which presents itself as the new progressive alternative lobby to AIPAC. Dershowitz holds that J Street’s positions would be deleterious to Israeli security, which certainly does imply that lobbies for Israel can affect United States policy. Dershowitz even claims that his book “may help to promote the kind of enduring peace that will serve the interests not only of the Israeli and the Palestinian people but of the whole world as well.” (p. 16) To reiterate, if the vast Israel lobby has had no impact on American foreign policy, how could Dershowitz possibly believe that any of his own activities could have any effect? On the issue of the influence of the Israel lobby, therefore, his own actions speak far louder than his words.
Further illustrating Dershowitz’s proclivity to render judgments with minimal or no proof, he cavalierly categorizes Patrick Buchanan as a “vicious hater of Israel,” criticism of Israel being equated with hatred. His alleged proof descends into mind-reading, as he proclaims: “If Israel were not the Jewish state, he [Buchanan] would be its most vocal supporter . . . . There is no theory or policy that explains Buchanan’s upside-down view on this issue except simply anti-Semitism.” (p. 128) However, since the end of the Cold War, Buchanan has taken staunch non-interventionist positions, which loom large in such books as A Republic not an Empire. There is no evidence that the non-interventionist Buchanan advocates American support for any other country, no matter what its ethnic or religious make-up, comparable to the current United States support for Israel. For example, Buchanan opposes close collaboration with Christian Eastern European countries, including Catholic Poland, against Russia. Thus, Buchanan’s opposition to a virtual alliance with Israel is completely consistent with his overall non-interventionist stance. That Dershowitz ignores this obvious fact is either a sign of extreme ignorance, since Buchanan is a prominent news commentator, or an effort to deceive his less knowledgeable readers.
Like the government of Israel, Dershowitz focuses on Iran—with its alleged “genocidal nuclear weapons program”--as the current major threat to the Jewish state. Dershowitz, in numerous places in the book, imputes the intention of the Iranian nuclear program to be the genocide of the Jewish citizens of Israel. For example, he refers to “Ahmadinejad’s nuclear weapons program for Iran (which it has threatened to use to wipe Israel off the map).” (p. 110) In actuality, this interpretation of Ahmadinejad’s statement is highly questionable. First, there is no clear proof that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons; the question is whether its nuclear power program will lead to a nuclear weapons capability. Moreover, there is no evidence that Ahmadinejad has ever threatened to initiate a nuclear attack on Israel. And in one place in his book, Dershowitz does admit that Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric could mean the elimination of the Zionist regime over time rather than the extermination of the Jewish people by a nuclear strike. This, of course, would seem to be the much more accurate interpretation, given the fact that the Iranian government has actually said it has no intention to launch an attack on Israel. And, with Israel’s 200-400 nuclear warheads, including nuclear-armed submarines, plus an extensive air defense system, an Iranian strike by one or a few missiles would be suicidal while perhaps doing absolutely no damage to Israel. But Dershowitz argues by analogy that “Hitler too often spoke in vague and euphemistic terms about ridding Europe of Jews. Israel certainly has no obligation to give Ahmadinejad the benefit of any doubts when it comes to interpreting threats of annihilation.” (p. 212) In this reductio ad Hitlerum, Dershowitz manages to transcend even former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Orwellian reasoning regarding the inability to discover the Saddam’s non-existent WMD: “The absence of evidence is not necessarily the evidence of absence.” For Dershowitz, the absence of evidence actually serves as evidence, because this was presumably the case with Hitler.
Dershowitz worries that “an Iran with nuclear weapons would become the first nation in the Middle East to use its nuclear arsenal, not only against Israel but against U.S. interests.” (p. 216) There is no real evidence for this. Again why would the Iranian leadership risk suicide? But he argues that a nuclear-armed Iran could not be contained by nuclear deterrence, as was the Soviet Union, because of its “suicidal and apocalyptic leadership.” (p. 216) Although often implying with certitude that, once in possession of nuclear weapons, Iran would ineluctably attack Israel, in a few places he does qualify the likelihood of such an attack, though without changing the implication. He writes: “Even if Israelis believe there is only a 5 percent chance that Iran would attack Israel with nuclear weapons, the risk of national annihilation would be too great for any nation to ignore—most especially one built on the ashes of the Holocaust.” (p. 221) But there is no reason to posit even a five percent probability of an attack, since Islamic Republic of Iran has never initiated any type of suicidal war. From the time of its beginning in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has not been involved in an offensive war and only fought a major war after Saddam’s full-scale invasion of its territory in 1980. It would be just as logically justifiable to claim that there is a five percent chance that Israel would launch a surprise nuclear attack on Iran, despite the fact that Israel has yet to attack with its nuclear weapons.
Dershowitz maintains that if all other measures—diplomacy, economic sanctions—fail to stop the Iranian nuclear program, “Israel and the United States must be allowed under international law to take out the Iranian nuclear threat before it is capable of the genocide for which it is being built.” (p. 219) Although Dershowitz argues in favor of preemptive and preventative war, he claims that this argument would not even be required to justify an Israeli attack on Iran. An Israeli attack on Iran, in his view, would be “retaliatory, since Iran attacked the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires [in 1992] and Iran assisted Hezbollah in its attack against Israel in 2006.” (p. 217) One wonders if he would also agree if that the United States support for various anti-government terrorist groups in Iran would justify an Iranian attack on United States forces in the Middle East? Or could Iran “retaliate” for the military support the United States gave to Saddam in the 1980s in his war on Iran? The attack on the Israeli embassy took place in 1992, so it would seem to be appropriate to move back even a few more years.
While Dershowitz views an American or Israeli attack on Iran as entirely justifiable, he is expresses pessimism (from his perspective) about the outcome, holding that the United States will not attack Iran and that an inevitably weaker Israeli air strike might actually serve to strengthen the Islamic regime. Undoubtedly, however, if Dershowitz were largely certain of this (for him) pessimistic scenario, he would have discussed some alternative way of dealing with Iran, since otherwise Israel, in his view, would be left vulnerable to an Iranian nuclear attack. A seemingly reasonable option to protect Israel from nuclear annihilation would be the creation of a nuclear-free Middle East.
In bemoaning Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons, however, it is noteworthy that Dershowitz does not see the need to discuss Israel’s extensive nuclear arsenal. If Israel’s extremely large nuclear arsenal is for defensive purposes, why would that not also be the case for any nuclear weapons that Iran would possibly ever develop? For Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers—Israel, Pakistan, India, and currently United States military forces—but Dershowitz cannot even conceive of the possibility that Iran would want to have a nuclear capability for the purpose of deterrence. If Israel is terrified of Iran’s potential nuclear weapons, why would not Iran likewise be fearful of its neighbors’ existing nuclear weapons? An internationally-guaranteed nuclear-free region, with rigorous inspections for all countries, would secure the safety of all countries in the area from a nuclear attack and thus preclude the prospect of Israel’s nuclear decimation, which Dershowitz so professes to fear. And Dershowitz ignores this solution despite the fact that his choice for the President, Barack Obama, publicly emphasizes the need to move to a nuclear-free world. Given Dershowitz’s omission of this crucial subject, it would seem that his unstated, actual goal is the preservation of Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly, which undergirds its unchallengeable hegemony.
For his conclusion, Dershowitz calls for “people of good will and common sense to insist that rationality be restored to discussions of the Middle East.” He looks to “reasoned discourse” and the need to “cease the name-calling” and to an end to the “double-standard against the Jewish state.” (p. 228) Most, if not all concessions, would have to be made by Israel’s adversaries. While he refers to a compromise, it is not apparent that Israel would have to compromise on anything since Dershowitz describes all significant criticism of Israel as spurious and malicious. Thus, it would seem that Dershowitz believes that Israel, without any outside interference, would fashion a just peace for the Palestinians.
What makes Dershowitz’s book so revealing is that despite its extreme claims that run afoul of obvious reality, its heavy use of vituperation and character assassination, its unproven assertions, its distortion of Israel’s critics’ actual positions and numerous other flaws, it is deemed perfectly acceptable in the mainstream. Not only was it extensively reviewed, but a quick perusal of the Web shows that almost all of the reviews are very positive. Few, if any, of the book’s flaws noted in this review are ever mentioned. Obviously, a writer who applied comparable tactics in most (non-PC) situations would be excoriated to high heaven. And when one takes a critical approach to Jewish interests, even the mildest language is denounced as hateful or extremist, as I have seen in some reactions to my book (that is, the few times when it is not being totally ignored).
It might be somewhat understandable that a Jewish individual would be highly-biased in favor of the Jewish state, and regard all of its critics as morally defective. Perhaps self-deception can prevent such an individual from seeing his own extreme biases. Thus the fundamental problem is not with pro-Zionist Jews, but rather with American gentiles. But why do many respectable gentiles find nothing wrong with Dershowitz’s approach (and approaches like his by other pro-Zionist Jews)? Instead of being chided for his obvious bias, Dershowitz is described as “brilliant” and “outspoken,” and has achieved the status of a media celebrity. In contrast, criticism of Israel and its American supporters, even if of the mildest variety, can make one a pariah in the American mainstream. And the success of pro-Zionist Jews such as Dershowitz to smear and silence the few open critics of Israel is successful only because respectable gentiles go along with it and shun those so targeted.
Undoubtedly, respectable American gentiles either feel too guilty or too fearful to do anything but collaborate with Israel Firsters such as Dershowitz. Given his success and the plaudits he has received, there is no external motivation to induce him to change his modus operandi. His current views sell very well not only in the marketplace of ideas but in the economic marketplace as well.
Tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of Middle Easterners have already died and suffered dire hardships as a result of America’s Israelocentric Middle East policy. Maybe most Americans are unconcerned about truth and morality when it involves distant subjects and when its pursuit could bring about a possible confrontation with a powerful interest group and the concomitant deleterious personal consequences. However, now the security of the American people themselves has become intimately involved. Due to America’s Israelocentric policy, the Middle East has become so fraught with incalculable peril for the United States and for the world-at-large that American gentiles can no longer afford to coddle people such as Dershowitz but must dare to confront them with the truth. At stake is the peace and security of the United States and the world as a whole.
Stephen J. Sniegoski is author of The Transparent Cabal.
This review was published in the October 2011 issue of Culture Wars.
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[i] “Democide” is a term coined by political scientist R. J. Rummel for "the murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder." R. J. Rummel, Death by Government (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1994).
[ii] For a discussion of the overall Zionists connection to Nazism, see Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators (1983), which is on-line at http://www.marxists.de/middleast/brenner/index.htm; For the Stern gang specifically, see: Joseph Heller, The Stern Gang: Ideology, Politics, and Terror, 1940-1949 (London: 1995), extensive preview in Google books, http://tinyurl.com/ydwkhe9