Dershowitz strikes back: ‘J Street has harmed Israel’

"It’s a myth that criticism of Israel is silenced. I have spoken at AIPAC many times, criticizing Israeli policy," lawyer says in response to Ben-Ami.

Alan Dershowitz 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Alan Dershowitz 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
WASHINGTON – Prominent Israel advocate Prof. Alan Dershowitz hit back at a book by the founder of J Street charging that he and others have silenced criticism of the Jewish state, in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post.
J Street President Jeremy Ben- Ami’s recently released book, A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation, singles out Dershowitz, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and other members of the US Jewish establishment.
RELATED:J-Street urges trial period for Palestinian coalitionJ Street, the book—expect more controversyA Discussion with J Street (Part I): BDS, the Boycott Law
“It’s a myth that criticism of Israel is silenced,” Dershowitz said in a phone interview with the Post on Thursday. I have spoken at AIPAC many times and have criticized Israeli policy. AIPAC has never silenced me, because AIPAC knows I’m pro-Israel.”
In the book, Ben-Ami argues that the major Jewish organizations and pro-Israel advocates in America have “created a situation where one can’t question or criticize Israeli policy or actions without being branded an outcast.”
Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, vehemently expressed disagreement with that assertion.
“Ben-Ami was in diapers when I opposed the occupation and was in favor of the two-state solution,” Dershowitz said on Thursday.
“See, I’m [J Street’s] worst nightmare. I oppose the occupation. But I’m really pro-Israel, unlike them.”
Dershowitz also argued that J Street’s actions have had a deleterious effect on the next generation’s ability to effectively advocate for Israel.
“I think J Street has done more damage to Israel than any [other] American organization,” he said.
“It has made a generation of Jews ashamed to be pro-Israel, and has made it politically correct among young people to single out Israel to a double standard and for fault.”
In the book, Ben-Ami argues that it is the attacks on those within the Jewish community who criticize Israel that harm the pro-Israel community most. “For [many] younger liberal Jews, such confrontations [are] more than enough to ensure their permanent withdrawal not simply from the conversation but from the community,” he wrote.
The book also outlines Ben- Ami’s vision of giving voice to a base of traditionally liberal pro- Israel Jewish Americans who may disagree with Israeli policies and seek to broaden the discussion of what it means to advocate for Israel.
Dershowitz called J Street’s branding of its message as pro-Israel “dishonest.”
“It is a fraud in advertising to call J Street pro-Israel,” he said. “An organization that calls for the US to censure Israel at the UN is not pro-Israel. An organization that praises [judge Richard] Goldstone is not pro-Israel. An organization that calls for taking any military measure against Iran off the table is not pro-Israel. It should stop defrauding the public.”
Dershowitz, who Ben-Ami himself notes is “looked to by so many Jewish Americans as the preeminent advocate in the United States for the State of Israel,” is described in the book as practicing a modern day version of McCarthyism in his attempts to delegitimize J Street for having “unacceptable” friends in the political community.
But Dershowitz maintained that as a new organization trying to broaden its base to challenge the old guard, J Street has sacrificed values in favor of larger support.
“They are trying to have it both ways,” he said. “J Street wants to expand its base, and therefore makes no red lines. They are prepared to accept the support of some of Israel’s worst enemies.”
In response to Dershowitz’s comments, J Street’s director of government affairs, Dylan Jacob Williams, told the Post in a statement that “Alan Dershowitz’s comments provide ample evidence of the self-censorship of the American Jewish community from within concerning the real dangers facing Israel.”
He continued, “In contrast to such shrill hyperbole, Jeremy Ben-Ami’s book methodically sets forth the case for the heretofore silent super-majority of centrist American Jews to come forward and save a Jewish and democratic Israel.”
In Ben-Ami’s book, he asserts that it is this “broader pool of ‘passionate moderates’” who must mobilize “into a true counterweight to balance the energized minority [of the American Jewish establishment].”
Those who aim to silence these “nuanced” critiques of Israeli policy, Ben-Ami maintains, act in a manner “unhealthy, un-Jewish, and in the long run extraordinarily counterproductive, not only to our community but to Israel itself.”
Ben-Ami also harshly critiques AIPAC, the AJC, the ADL and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations for siding with Israel “right-orwrong,” and for marginalizing and ostracizing voices of dissent against Israeli policy from the pro- Israel community.
Representatives from AJC, ADL, Conference of Presidents and AIPAC offered no comment in response. ADL and AIPAC representatives noted that they had not read the book.