The plots thicken

Dershowitz spends this volume trying to deal with multiplicity of assaults.

alan dershowitz 88 (photo credit: )
alan dershowitz 88
(photo credit: )
The Case Against Israel's Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand in the Way of Peace By Alan Dershowitz John Wiley, 2008 304 pages; $17.13 With The Case Against Israel's Enemies Prof. Alan Dershowitz, who holds the Felix Frankfurter chair at Harvard Law School, has added yet again to his writings in defense and support of the Jewish state. This book changes from the format of his previous The Case for Israel (2004) and The Case for Peace (2005) and presents a potent defense of specific individuals' criticism. In presenting this more defensive text, the author is treading the ground that he relishes the best, that of a defense attorney. It is here, in the public arena and the courtroom, that he has had the most success and gained the most fame, defending celebrities such as O.J. Simpson. Over the years Dershowitz has been put in the unlikely position of being one of Israel's greatest defenders. This is because, contrary to widespread opinion, he is not wholeheartedly in agreement with its policies. However the statements of its critics are so unpalatable that he made it a personal crusade to defend it. It is a testimony to the centrality of Israel in the international arena and the extremism of its critics. The importance of Dershowitz's book however is not in fighting the battles of the past. Operation Cast Lead proves once again just how necessary it is for the supporters of Israel, and those sitting on the fence, to be presented with concrete and factual arguments in support of the country and its policies. The Gaza war sowed a renewed round of delegitimization and anti-Israel extremism. From the "End Gaza Holocaust" signs churned out at violent London demonstrations, riots in Malmo, Sweden over the appearance of tennis star Andy Ram, to the comments by Richard Falk and others about "war crimes," Durban II, the almost-appointment of critic Chas Freeman to a top spot in the Obama administration and the latest success of Israel Apartheid Week on campuses throughout the West, a passionate defense is needed. The problem with Dershowitz's newest volume is that while the first Case for Israel was a unique and important work, the more books in the series that are released the more the arguments appear to become trite, personal, reactive, particular and quickly outdated. In February 2005 Michael Neumann released The Case Against Israel and in August of the same year Norman Finkelstein published Beyond Chutzpah whose "second, much longer, part is a line-by-line debunking of The Case for Israel, which he compares to communist apologetics for Stalinist Russia." In 2006 Jimmy Carter published Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter's latest, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, was published in January and Mike Evans' Jimmy Carter: The Liberal Left and World Chaos: A Carter/Obama Plan That Will Not Work came out the same month. This endless stream of books and polemics, some of which directly challenge Dershowitz and vice versa are becoming a world unto themselves with smaller debates, petty intrigues, even "affairs," lawsuits and tenure disputes between the authors. While Dershowitz confronts John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby, it has already been the subject of a book by the Anti-Defamation League's Abraham Foxman (The Deadliest Lies, 2007). The more obscure the debate becomes the less it has to do with Israel. In fact the task of defending the country is becoming more reactive and in terms of public opinion it is almost all being played within Israel's court. The sheer avalanche of accusations, the numerous voices from a variety of disciplines and countries, from Desmond Tutu to the Church of England and the grandson of Gandhi, mean that Dershowitz spends this volume trying to deal, on a case by case basis, with a multiplicity of assaults. He breaks them down into different themes beginning with Carter (while the title places Jimmy Carter at the center of this volume, only 48 pages are devoted to refuting his accusations) and moving on to Mearsheimer and Walt, academic boycotts, the "Hard Left and Hard Right," terrorism and Iran. There is no doubt that this book does an excellent job refuting the attacks encompassed in these various voices. In fact an extensive appendix is included examining each of the points on which Carter is mistaken. Dershowitz's point of departure is that he is "pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. I want to see a vibrant, democratic, economically viable, peaceful Palestinian state existing side by side with Israel." For him the use of the word "apartheid" is "to strike at the foundations of the state [of Israel] itself" and implies that it should disappear as the former South African regime did. Dershowitz examines in detail the hypocrisy of Carter's allegations, showing that while Carter throws around the word "apartheid" to "stimulate discussion," he has refused to use the word "genocide" to describe Sudan because it might "falsely... exaggerate a horrible situation." In confronting Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky and others, Dershowitz points out that they "accentuate their Jewish heritage" a fact that is clear from Neumann's book where he is described as a "son of German Jewish refugees." In dealing with the Israel lobby, he notes that "almost every cause, worthy or otherwise, has a lobby." Ever in the legal mind-set, Dershowitz shows that "Mearsheimer and Walt would fail a first-year criminal law class" because their work relies entirely on "articles in the popular press... flimsy, poorly supported arguments... contrary to the standards of serious scholarship." But Dershowitz sometimes goes too far in his arguments. He claims that "the rise of al-Qaida has been traced by some pundits to Carter's misguided foreign policy decisions" such as funding the mujahedeen. However it was under Ronald Reagan that annual funding jumped from $20 million to $630 million. Similarly Dershowitz argues that the word "civilian" has become "increasingly meaningless" and that Palestinian civilians could be culpable for suicide bombings by supporting them. But Dershowitz would have none of the argument that Israelis cannot be defined as civilians simply because they are all eligible for the army or vote in elections. He speaks of a "line of complicity," but it is a line that cuts both ways. Better to preserve Israelis as civilians than to define all Palestinians as combatants and thus make Kassams fired at Sderot an acceptable means of fighting war. The writer, a PhD student in geography at the Hebrew University, runs the Terra Incognita blog.