This site has already reported on many of Alan Dershowitz’s arguments about Jewish power and entitlement to use that power, delivered to a large, enthusiastic audience at a Scarsdale synagogue on Tuesday night. Dershowitz also peppered his remarks with indefensible smears of numerous figures as anti-Semites for their criticism of Israel.
Keep in mind that when defending the repulsive Steve Bannon a few months back, Dershowitz declared, “I don’t think anybody should be called or accused of being anti-Semitic unless the evidence is overwhelming,”
Of course, when dealing with critics of Israel, Dershowitz settles for a far lower standard. Take Daniel Berrigan, the heroic pacifist priest who spent a lifetime fighting against war, oppression, and injustice. Dershowitz, in retaliation for Berrigan’s crime of refusing to immunize Israel from universal application of his bedrock principles, called him an “unbelievable anti-semite, a real bigot. . . He was a genuinely evil, evil man.” Dershowitz’s main complaint is a 1973 speech in which Berrigan called Israel a “criminal community of Jews.” Upon Berrigan’s passing a year ago, this tribute to him properly analyzed that speech as “prophetic.” It is rather remarkable that Berrigan spoke up so early in very harsh terms that almost no other progressive Westerner could muster at the time.
Berrigan, in my opinion, is a one-person refutation (but far from the only one) of the simplistic, smug, condescending “new atheist” view of religion as the source of most evil in the world, and I say that as a proud old atheist.
Dershowitz is free to disagree with Berrigan’s harsh critique of Israel, but his defamatory description of him as an “unbelievable anti-semite,” when Berrigan never uttered a word against Jews, is indefensible. At least in this instance, the quote that provoked Dersh’s bile is reasonably accurate, since Berrigan’s 1973 speech did refer to Israel as a “criminal Jewish community.” This minor accidental accuracy is a departure from Dershowitz’s attacks on some other respected peace and justice activists, such as Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter, that are based on pure fabrications.
The subject of outright fabrications brings us to Omar Barghouti, one of the founders and leaders of the BDS movement. Dershowitz, unable to find a truly anti-Jewish sentiment uttered by Barghouti, invents one. According to Dershowitz in Scarsdale:
“The BDS movement applies to me. I’m not an Israeli but I’m a Jew. And Oxford University challenged Barghouti to debate me at Oxford last year. He said, I can’t debate Dershowitz. He is a subject of BDS. So I, as a non-Israeli Jew, am boycotted . . . There’s a word for that. It’s called anti-Semitism, when you boycott people based on their Jewishness.”
Fact check: Pants on fire. Barghouti has never hesitated to debate with Jewish, even Israeli, opponents, such as an Israeli peace activist and an American rabbi. It took me less than 60 seconds to find several examples of such debates. So Dershowitz knew quite well that Barghouti wasn’t boycotting him “based on his Jewishness.”
I asked Barghouti if he did decline such an invitation, and if so, why. He told me what I already knew – “I have debated many Jewish persons before and their religious/ethnic identity was never an issue” – and supplied me with his response to the Oxford invitation, which included the following:
A debate on BDS at the Oxford Union sounds great, but for it to be truly engaging and beneficial to the audience, in house and out, intellectually and politically, both sides of the debate would need to have a minimal level of civility (i.e., avoiding ad hominem attacks), intellectual honesty, rationality and logic.
I am afraid this is not the case with your invited speaker from the other side. If you have watched any of his so-called debates, they look more like American mud-slinging matches than rational, logical, respectful and intellectually-honest exchanges of ideas, facts and arguments. His respect for facts, in particular, as opposed to lies and fabrications, is notoriously lacking.
To me, a truly good debate is one that leaves both sides and the audience richer, intellectually. An insult-ridden exchange that dwells on bullying hardly qualifies. It may be quite compelling for an audience interested in gladiators, bull fighting and the like, not rational debate.
Dershowitz was not privy to this response, but he had to know that Barghouti was not BDS-ing him for his Jewishness. Ironically, Dershowitz’s entire discussion of Barghouti proves beyond any doubt that Barghouti’s assessment of Dershowitz as someone with a long, proven track record of intellectual dishonesty was 100% accurate.
Dershowitz’s hyperbolic denunciations are not reserved for the truly admirable but include morally ambiguous figures as well, like Gertrude Stein. He asked: “Do you know who one of the villains of the French Occupation was? A Jewish woman named Gertrude Stein. . . She was a horrible, horrible woman, who collaborated with the SS in turning in Jews.” It is true that Stein and Alice B. Toklas, both of Jewish ancestry, managed to survive the war in occupied France, and that their friendship with a collaborator named Bernard Fay may well have been the reason. But whatever moral issues are presented by their survival of the war, there is an enormous chasm between accepting the protection of a bad guy and “turning in” innocent human beings for slaughter. I’ve never seen any other similar accusation made against her. Even in his own 2012 crusade to get New York’s Metropolitan Museum to include the unsavory aspects of Stein’s life in an exhibition, Dersh did not include the charge that she “turned in Jews.” That appears to be a fabrication of more recent vintage.
One more item of nonsense from Dershowitz’s speech. He claimed that BDS is
not a movement. You should never describe BDS as a movement. A movement is something that’s universal. The feminist movement is universal, it’s all over the world. The environmental movement. All over the world. The gay rights movement. All over the world. BDS is not a movement. If it were a movement, it would list every country in the world” by reference to their human rights record and whether the victims have access to the legal process. “Israel would be 197th”on this list of countries to be boycotted.”
(I saw him make precisely the same “point” in a speech at the UN last year.)
All movements are universal or they’re not movements at all? If we follow his reasoning, the Civil Rights Movement would have to be renamed, because it focused on civil rights for blacks in the US only and was not “universal.” Ditto the anti-apartheid movement. And what about the Zionist movement itself to create a Jewish State in Palestine? Indeed, in a 2014 screed against BDS , Dersh repeatedly refers to the “BDS movement.” I guess he hadn’t gotten the memo he hadn’t yet written.
So what is this semantic nonsense about? It’s just a variation on his famous what-aboutery, in which he identifies Israel as the greatest nation-state promoter of human rights in the world (197th worst means the best when there are only about 195 countries). In a virtuoso display of uber-hypocrisy, Dershowitz, who has written several books about Israel, delivered countless lectures, made countless TV appearances and written countless articles on behalf of Israel, demands to know why others are so interested in the issue! Supporters of Israel need not answer; they get an automatic pass. But supporters of Palestinian rights will be suspected of anti-Semitism because they should be supporting more beleaguered populations throughout the world. Only mild and toothless criticism of Israel within Dershowitz’s narrow parameters of permissible thought will be tolerated.
Some may question whether Dershowitz is a cartoon character who is not worth the effort to analyze and refute. I disagree. His buffoonery may be plain for some to see, but to anyone who wonders how Israel remains a darling among the elites of the most powerful country on Earth, Dershowitz cannot be ignored. The guy has great rhetorical skills, as evidenced by his effortless performance before a large and enthusiastic audience. True, it was a self-selected group of pre-determined admirers, but Dershowitz did win that Oxford debate after all. He is as accomplished and prolific a liar as Trump, but with infinitely more polish, and after all these decades of plying his trade with a complete lack of integrity and conscience, he remains a very toxic but influential figure in Israel-Palestine discourse.