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Dershowitz defames Gertrude Stein, Daniel Berrigan and Omar Barghouti

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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.

Gertrude Stein, in 1935

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.

About David Samel

David Samel is an attorney in New York City.

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18 Responses

  1. Citizen
    May 14, 2017, 4:49 pm

    Even Bernie Sanders has taken up Dershowitz’s whattabottery. Disgusting. Tiny Israel is #1 foreign welfare recipient in US history. So why shouldn’t Americans hold Israel to account with equal zeal?

  2. pabelmont
    May 14, 2017, 8:13 pm

    Senators Sanders and Warren signed the most recent AIPAC you-must-sign-this letter. Disgusting I guess. Maybe politicians just know that you must choose your battles and this is not one they find important just now. Why spend “political capital” opposing AIPAC when there is Trump to oppose on so very many fronts.

    Still, I wish they’d refrained. Shown some spine. Because I like them both. Worse than the AIPAC thing, it now appears that the DNC is caving in to the Clinton-Obama-Oligarchic-Corporatist-Neoliberal ideas and (elite) people who lost the election of 2016. I guess their theory is they can win congress in 2018 because Trump is so awful and they are (merely) better by comparison. (They do not understand how awful they are themselves and how awful they appear to voters. They don’t think about the strong push for sanders and what it meant. They cannot think of themselves as evil.!)

  3. talknic
    May 14, 2017, 11:48 pm

    The stupidity of the Dershowitzes and other moronic bores for Zionist colonization is astounding.

    NOTHING they say, no smears they attempt, none of the justifications they give, in any way effect the legal limitations of Israel’s territories and the Jewish State’s illegal activities outside of those territories.

    Cherry tomatoes, Nobel Prizes, mobile phones, what Mark Twain wrote, who was who 3,000 yrs ago, DNA, whether there was or was not an exodus, the Holocaust, not even rabid Antisemitism real alleged or faked effects the legal limitations of Israel’s territories and the Jewish State’s illegal activities outside of those territories.

    I defy anyone to put up a valid argument justifying the ongoing colonization of Palestine.

    • Mooser
      May 15, 2017, 12:15 pm

      “I defy anyone to put up a valid argument justifying the ongoing colonization of Palestine.”

      Only one argument is needed, and it contains its own validity. And that is the will, resources and power of 180 million Jews, united and disciplined in the service of Zionism!

      • eljay
        May 15, 2017, 1:11 pm

        || Mooser: … Only one argument is needed, and it contains its own validity. And that is the will, resources and power of 180 million Jews … ||

        From 2B to 180M in just over a month – the Jewish civilization is in unimaginably rapid decline! Thankfully the determination has already been made that the “Jewish State” will last a Thousand Years.

      • Mooser
        May 15, 2017, 3:37 pm

        “From 2B to 180M in just over a month – the Jewish civilization is in unimaginably rapid decline!”

        I was hoping nobody would notice.

    • Misterioso
      May 15, 2017, 12:39 pm

      talknic, et al

      Save this for future reference.

      “Dennis Ross Propagandist” for Israel by Jeffrey Rudolph

      Dennis Ross was the director of policy planning in the State Department under President George H. W. Bush, was a leading Middle East peace envoy under President Bill Clinton, served as a special advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and served two years as a special assistant to President Barack Obama.
      As Ross has been deeply involved in shaping US policy toward the Middle East for over 25 years, and may again play an important role in a future administration, his geopolitical views are worth examining.

      For a less detailed version of this article, and for other articles, go to:

      Jeffrey Rudolph was the Quebec representative of the East Timor Alert Network and presented a paper on its behalf at the United Nations. He was awarded the prestigious Cheryl Rosa Teresa Doran Prize upon graduation from McGill University’s faculty of law; has worked at one of the world’s largest public accounting firms; and, has taught at McGill University. He has prepared widely-distributed quizzes on Israel-Palestine, Iran, Hamas, Terrorism, Saudi Arabia, US Inequality, the US Christian Right, Hezbollah, the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox, Qatar, and China.

      • talknic
        May 15, 2017, 8:42 pm


  4. Paranam Kid
    Paranam Kid
    May 15, 2017, 12:51 am

    David, a very good article, there aren’t enough such analyses about this vile character. This man actually does more harm than good in terms of non-Jews’ perception of the Jews & israel.
    Perhaps 1 small criticism: calling the person “Dersh” sounds like an endearment to me, which I am sure is not your intention. Considering the man’s character I personally would prefer a more debasing epithet, but that would be stooping to his low level. So why not stick to Dershowitz, seems more neutral. Just a thought :-)

    • DaveS
      May 15, 2017, 11:12 am

      Thanks, Kid. I occasionally call him “Dersh” solely because Dershowitz is a pain to type. For the same reason, some people, even harsh critics, refer to Netanyahu as “Bibi.” In my opinion, “Bibi” sounds cute and endearing, but “Dersh” has about the same sound as his full name.

      On your more important point, while true anti-Semitism is inexcusable, I do agree that Dershowitz’s actions (and to a much larger extent Israel’s) do feed world-wide anti-Semitism. While that may be a danger to Jews throughout the world, it is effectively a plus for Israel, which holds itself out to be the one true refuge for Jews facing persecution. It is the country’s raison d’etre.

  5. Ossinev
    May 15, 2017, 8:07 am

    “The guy has great rhetorical skills, as evidenced by his effortless performance before a large and enthusiastic audience”

    I question the “great rhetorical skills”. In a one to one debate the man is a joke. He has his say listened to politely and without interruption by his opponents and then when he has had his “say” his “rhetorical” skills consist of constant bad mannered interruptions and mumblings whilst his opponents have their say in a desperate attempt to disrupt their line of thought.

    I am really looking forward to a scenario where Dershowitz`s antics are properly called out as in “you have had your say and I listened politely without interruption will you please STFU and let me have my say without interruption and mumblings”

    • DaveS
      May 15, 2017, 11:19 am

      Ossinev, I agree with your annoyance of his interruptions and mumblings but disagree with your assessment of his debating skills. When I watch a debate, I know what side I’m on and I’m always evaluating the effectiveness of the opposing speaker to persuade the undecided. I think he’s far more effective than you think. His default tone of moral outrage and righteous indignation is very carefully cultivated and charismatic, even though I detest the substance of almost everything he says. I’m not surprised that he won the Oxford debate, and think that only a highly skilled debater could have defeated him the way he deserves.

    • talknic
      May 15, 2017, 8:47 pm

      I’d love to debate Dershowitz

  6. JosephA
    May 15, 2017, 7:40 pm

    Why does anybody take Alan Dershowitz seriously after he was proven to have plagiarized by Norman Finkelstein?

  7. Ossinev
    May 16, 2017, 7:32 am

    I thought Dershowitz was the complete act when it came to creepy slimy Zionist apologetics but I recently came across a creature called Davis Lewin who somehow ended up in a debate with Norman Finklestein amongst others at the Cambridge Union on the motion “Israel is a Rogue State”

    Lewin comes on at the end. An absolute joy .The very essence of Israel/Zionism – loud ,lying
    ugly ,arrogant,dismissive,insulting and with all that absolutely hilarious.

    • MHughes976
      May 16, 2017, 11:48 am

      Perhaps if the scintillating Dershowitz had been there Cambridge would have gone the same way as Oxford.
      There is something special about remarks in this style both from Dershowitz and from the Israel Victory crowd of which we’ve been hearing. We think of them as arrogant and cruel, but these orators are arrogant about being arrogant, cruel about being cruel, so our objections actually make them feel that they were right all along, rather than give them pause, and audiences can be caught up in this self-confirming spiral. Perhaps that’s what happened at Oxford.
      I suppose I’m grateful to Dershowitz for making me think about Gertrude Stein and her Petainism. It seems she thought that Petain had saved France, at any rate the rural, Catholic France where she felt at home. She moved to be near a railway station, perhaps so that she could do a quick leap into Switzerland, for which she had the necessary papers, if someone
      denounced her as Jewish: she was no fool. This brought her near Izieu, where several Jewish children were hiding until they were rounded up – France’s Anne Franks. I think the suspicions of Dershowitz and maybe a few others are that GS was deep in the Gestapo controlled networks that ferreted them out, but there’s nothing really supporting that idea. Thoughts of those times easily become paranoid and Dershowitz, this demagogue, has the skills to make paranoia seem like reason.

    • amigo
      May 16, 2017, 12:40 pm

      “Lewin comes on at the end. An absolute joy .The very essence of Israel/Zionism – loud ,lying
      ugly ,arrogant,dismissive,insulting and with all that absolutely hilarious. “0ssinev

      I saw this video about a year ago.Priceless.Thanks for resurfacing it.

      The highlight for me , was the guy in the white shirt sitting behind Norman Finkelstein who spent his time shaking his head and looking completely devastated that anyone should be given a podium to berate his beloved Israel.I enjoyed every minute of his discomfort.

  8. Ron Fox
    Ron Fox
    May 16, 2017, 9:00 am

    Hi David Samel,

    What an excellent description of the anti-Judaic tirades of Alan Dershowitz.

    You may have already received a link to my post.

    As you say, none of this is new.

    I posted an article, “Dershowitz’s Despicable Smear of Jimmy Carter”

    on my blog on May 1, 2008. Here is an excerpt:

    Alan Dershowitz is a symbol of those who support peace, justice, love, fairness, human rights, and dignity and equality for all unless they are Palestinians. Here’s a few values of Judaism embodied by the work of Jimmy Carter and opposed by Alan Dershowitz when the subject is the Palestinians: Exodus 22:20-21 – You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Rabbi Akiva – “‘Love your neighbor as yourself’(Leviticus 19:18) – this is the major principle of the Torah.” Deuteronomy XVI, 18:20 – “Justice, Justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” And the footnote in the Hertz edition “(T)here is international justice, which demands respect for the personality of every national group, and proclaims that no people can of right be robbed of its national life or territory, its language or spiritual heritage.”

    Ron Fox

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