Alan Dershowitz 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It has been my distinct privilege to help Prof. Alan Dershowitz during his
not-infrequent trips to Israel.
Hassidim have their rebbe; I have Alan.
It is hard to imagine how one man can command so many fields and in virtually
every subject area provide absolute clarity when discussing incredibly complex
problems. Few people combine his passion for the law and for protecting the
rights of all people with a love for Israel and our Jewish heritage.
what is it like to escort him on his travels in the Holy Land?
From the moment
he lands he is in demand – not only for public events (he came as the Globes
keynote speaker and also received the Begin Prize), but by top decision-makers
from all walks of life.
I was with him at Herzliya when he spoke just
before Ariel Sharon announced the Gaza disengagement plan. Sitting at the dinner
table, Alan raised a few reservations that immediately came into his mind. The
prime minister cleared time for Alan to come to his office the next
At the outset of that meeting, Sharon, a great strategic thinker,
launched into a brilliant and methodical rendition of modern Israeli history
beginning with the Sykes-Picot Treaty. Alan looked at his watch and politely
reminded the PM that he had just published the Case for Israel, so they could
skip the background and get to the tachlis (brass tacks), which was contained in
six tough questions Alan had prepared. Unfortunately, each point Alan raised
turned out to be a stumbling block, as we can now see in hindsight.
Alan is not simply a purebred gingy (redhead) who speaks his mind openly to PMs
and presidents. He does it respectfully and in a manner that helps his listeners
gain greater insight into the challenges they face.
One more important
note about that 2002 meeting: The first thing Alan did as soon as he got into
the car (having sparred successfully with Sharon) was to pick up his cell phone,
dial furiously and declare: “Mom, guess who I just met with?” Alan was the
penultimate good Jewish son to his mother (the late Claire Dershowitz) and is
incredibly devoted to his family. This week, he gained strength and wisdom (if
you can add to quantities that approach infinity) from his wife Carolyn, who, to
his delight, joined him on this trip.
Perhaps that is the key to Alan’s
strength: his menchlechkeit
. He cares about all people and sees everyone
(as an equal). His Hebrew name, used by family members and Boro
Park cronies, is Avi and he follows in the footsteps of Avraham Avinu, whom he
considers his role model – both in standing up to even God Himself to demand
that justice be done, and in extending hospitality to all.
So it may be
no surprise that several years ago Alan formed a very close relationship withanother gingy, Eliezer Shkedy, the current head of El Al and former chief of
Israel’s air force. When Shkedy took over the IAF the ratio of terrorists killed
to “unintended deaths” (sometimes called collateral damage) in surgical strikes
was one-to-one. Yet Shkedy, like Dershowitz, set his mind to a goal and by the
time he left the IAF, there was just one unintended death for every 24
terrorists successfully attacked, a ratio unmatched by any other
Yet Shkedy could not openly land in England without the threat
of arrest on bogus charges. So a year ago Alan offered to defend Shkedy or any
other IDF soldier, and offered to assemble the greatest legal team ever. But
quietly, Shkedy decided that enough was enough and he would go to England
without the cover of a diplomatic passport. If his young officers or any IDF
soldiers would not have immunity, neither would he.
I remember the call I
got last month from Shkedy telling me when he would take off. I put Alan on
“five-minute alert” and he got his team together, but fortunately nothing
happened. Nevertheless, any US or Israeli soldier knows that Alan will be there
On his latest trip, Israel’s brightest leaders picked Alan’s
brains. He also got a midnight call from one of the highest US officials wanting
to know what people were thinking here.
But he also devoted himself to
his primary love: teaching.
He found time to conduct a master class with
students from StandWithUs, held two intense sessions with Israeli academics and
engaged them in a free-wheeling debate under the aegis of Scholars for Peace in
the Middle East. He also found time to do a benefit for an Israeli hospital.
(And did I mention that he flew to Paris on his only free weekend to take part
in International Human Rights Day?) At age 73, Alan he has the energy of seven
10-year-olds. I can only say that I look forward to his next visit.The
writer is a retired US and Israeli fighter pilot and former student of
Dershowitz at Harvard University.