For years, Alan Dershowitz has obsessively been searching for legal avenues to condemn the Second Worst Regime Ever in Iran. In 2009, Dershowitz urged that international criminal charges be filed against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then the Iranian President, for incitement to genocide. Pretending to know what he was talking about, Dersh proclaimed that Ahmadinejad’s supposed remark about Israel being wiped off the map “is the equivalent of a military order given by a commander to his troops or by a mafia don to his soldiers. . . It is to be followed without question or dissent.” (Apparently he got Ahmadinejad confused with Chris Christie.)
Of course Ahmadinejad’s departure did not end Dershowitz’s crusade, as he recently urged that the same charges be brought against Iran’s current leadership, claiming its “statements and actions constitute a clear incitement to genocide, which is explicitly prohibited by international law and by the rules governing the International Criminal Court.”
Dershowitz also has proclaimed Israel’s right to attack Iran pursuant to international law based on a casus belli theory.
Iran would have no legal standing to protest a surgical attack on its nuclear facilities that are designing weapons that could be used to achieve Iran’s declared goal of wiping Israel off the map and killing millions of its citizens. The leaders of Iran have publicly declared that a nuclear exchange, killing millions of Jews and Muslims, would be acceptable to them because it would destroy Israel while only damaging Islam.
Dershowitz contends that “Israel has the right morally and legally to strike Iran just as it did on [the nuclear facility] in Iraq in 1981.” Dershowitz’s view of Israel’s legal right to attack Iraq was unaffected by the unanimous vote of the UN Security Council in Resolution 487 condemning the Israeli strike as a violation of the UN Charter.
Dershowitz has no expertise in the field of international law, but has nevertheless pontificated frequently on the subject, insisting that Israel has the legal right to conduct targeted assassinations of Palestinians (pp. 174-175 of The Case for Israel) and suggesting that there be a “cardinal principle that must govern all international prosecutions: namely, that the worst must be prosecuted first.” This presumably would allow every prosecution of the International Criminal Court to be foiled by the defense that some party somewhere in the world is more culpable. He has proposed that the international community implement a “continuum of civilianality” to judge how we feel about those who die at the hands of the Israeli military: really sad for a two-year-old, indifferent to someone who voted for Hamas or Hezbollah, and kinda good for someone who allowed his house to be a repository for rockets. Of course, all Israeli civilians presumably enjoy fully protected civilian status, regardless of how they vote or whether they are part-time military personnel subject to call-up orders.
Having seen his views on international law repeatedly spurned by actual international lawyers, Dershowitz has lost patience. He now asks, Who needs international law anyway? In a recent talk at the Institute of National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, Dershowitz described international law as “a construct in the mind of a bunch of left wing academics. There is no basis for international law in any reality. It’s not based on legislation. Much of it is not based on treaty. It is the ultimate exercise in elitist nondemocracy.” Referring to a possible attack on Iran, Dershowitz said: “I urge the State of Israel not to base its decision on existing international law. . . International law in this regard is anachronistic. It is out of date. . .”
Dershowitz summed up all that is wrong with international law:
I cannot imagine any rational government making a decision on its own survival based on a bunch of academics sitting in the Sorbonne deciding in ivory towers what international law should be in a society of perfect beings as if men were angels and women were angels.
Dershowitz’s latest eureka moment is not new. In fact, it’s a carbon copy of John Bolton’s exclamations at a “Lawfare” conference a few years ago. Bolton drew huge ovations with remarks like “I believe in disproportionate force,” and “If other countries want to subordinate themselves to international law, be my guest.” According to Bolton, countries like the US and Israel need not say, “Mother, may I,” when exercising “full spectrum dominance,” that is, launching overwhelming military force against any country or target chosen by the country’s leadership. It makes bizarro-world sense that Bush’s US Ambassador to the UN would express such contempt for international law, but I haven’t seen Dersh himself abandon respect for the law altogether until now.
In some ways, Dershowitz’s new stance is more honest. The way international law has been warped to justify “preemptive attacks, targeted assassinations, the wall/barrier/fence in Palestinian territory, West Bank settlements, etc. has been obscene. Of course, one can hardly credit Alan Dershowitz with “honesty” without risking severe nausea. His motivation surely is not to level with the public. His problem is that all of his recommendations for international consensus – the worst first, the continuum of civilianality, the indictment for incitement: the casus belli justification for Israel to attack Iran– haven’t convinced the world to discard well-honed principles in favor of Dershowitz’s real cardinal principle of international law: Thou shalt not hold Israel accountable for anything. So he is just dropping the pretense and dispensing with international law altogether, and as an added bonus blames it on pointy-headed hard leftists and elitists in their ivory towers.
In addition to subscribing to an immoral might-makes-right world, Dersh is just plain wrong on the facts (shocker, I know). As Hostage points out, Amnesty International reported that 166 of the 193 UN member states have defined one or more crimes under international law (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture) as crimes in their own domestic national laws. Almost that many (147) have provided for universal (i.e. extraterritorial) jurisdiction over one or more of these crimes in their national laws. Hostage: “So Dersh is simply wrong when he says that international law is not contained in legislation.”
One of Dersh’s high profile, megabucks fee-paying clients, Leona Helmsley, the “Queen of Mean,” reportedly told a housekeeper, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” At least that’s what the housekeeper reported at Leona’s tax evasion trial. Dershowitz’s version on behalf of Israel: “We don’t follow international law. Only the little countries have to comply.”
For an added bonus, here is the most recent Dershowitz laugher. The forward to his new autobiography says that he has been called “the winningest appellate criminal defense lawyer in history.” In a generally favorable review of the book in the Boston Globe, Alex Beam says that in his pre-publication copy of the book, “that quote has a message from the fact checker: ‘ALAN: I COULD NOT FIND A SOURCE FOR THIS. DO YOU REMEMBER WHO CALLED YOU THAT?’”
(Thanks to Hostage for a very informative email on Dershowitz, Bolton and international law)