Travels with Alan

Few people combine Dershowitz's passion for the law with a love for Israel and our Jewish heritage.

Alan Dershowitz 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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.
So 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 day.
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.
But 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 b’gova ha’aynaim (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 military.
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 if needed.
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.