(photo credit: REUTERS)
The numerous legal or quasi-legal scandals raised against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are witchhunts which harm democracy, the counterattack against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is having mixed success, and the Kotel must be “for all Jews,” Prof. Alan Dershowitz told The Jerusalem Post in a wide-ranging interview on Thursday.
“For 25 years I have been writing, talking and raging against attempts... to undermine democracy” by using quasi-legal scandals against top public officials, the renowned legal scholar said.
He listed a line of political figures including former US president Bill Clinton, former speaker of the US House of Representatives Tom DeLay, former Texas governor Rick Perry and former New York governor Elliot Spitzer, saying “many... public figures are prosecuted and the vast majority are acquitted.”
The emeritus Harvard law school professor was careful to note his list included both Republicans and Democrats, arguing that it is a bipartisan issue.
“There is an enormous disparity between indictments and convictions. With such a disparity... in a democracy, something is wrong... I see this happening in Israel today,” he said.
Looking at the treatment of Netanyahu, he said that the prime minister won a legitimate election and yet so much of the media are “determined to chase him from office by raising the most outrageous claims against him, his wife, child, dog, his wife’s dying father – this is dangerous to democracy.
“I started making this complaint when my dear friend then-attorney-genera l ] Aharon Barak basically threw [then-prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin out of office [in 1977] for his wife holding a foreign bank account. The impact on peace was possibly very great. Think about the impact these things have had on Israel’s security.”
Railing against some of the would-be Netanyahu scandals, Dershowitz said exasperatedly, “Did the chairs belong in the Caesarea or the Prime Minister’s Residence? Should his wife be allowed to take care of her dying father in Caesarea versus the Prime Minister’s Residence? In the White House, everything the president does is paid for by the public. The president’s mother-in-law lives there and it is all paid for.”
While saying he understands the importance of the principle that “no one is above the law and [that] Israel is proud its president was convicted by a court which included an Arab judge,” he said that was only one side of the issue.
“Equally important is the principle that when you elect someone, you let them govern,” unless “there are major issues, massive corruption or the rule of law” is threatened.
Moving on to the anti-Israel boycott movement, he said that “we are winning and we are losing the BDS battle. BDS is failing largely because Israel produces products that the world can’t do without. BDS is failing because hundreds of American professors are saying: If you boycott Israel, you boycott us.”
At the same time, Dershowitz is concerned that we are “losing on college campuses around the world, where BDS is used as a vehicle to mis-educate the world... that Israel is the worst human rights offender.”
In contrast, “When I debated at the Oxford Union, I said I challenge all of you to name one country in the world facing threats comparable to those faced by Israel.
Name one country with a better record complying with human rights, the rule of law and a record of reducing civilian casualties. Not a single student could come up with a name of a single country,” he said. “This is not just about stopping BDS... we need to use this moment to teach students about the case for Israel.”
One area where he said that Israel is making the case harder is regarding the Western Wall “not being open” to all kinds of Jews and Jewish prayer.
Asked if he had raised the issue in a meeting he had last week with Netanyahu, Dershowitz declined to comment on specifics, but added, “Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve raised this issue, including to three prime ministers and to presidents of Israel and other leaders, and I am not shy. I always express my views as strongly in private as in public.”
Next, he was pressed about whether Netanyahu would fight for non-Orthodox Jews’ rights at the Western Wall in the face of strong political opposition by the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
He responded, “My own hope is that he stands up for all Jews. All Jews means anybody who wants to pray at the Kotel. I certainly agree the major part of the Kotel appropriately remains an Orthodox synagogue, but other areas of the retaining wall, which still have historical significance,” should be open to non-Orthodox prayer.
“Israel would benefit tremendously by decentralizing religion, putting it into the private sphere” and not in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate, Dershowitz said.