Top lawyer’s advice: keep the bombing and torture of Palestinians short and sharp
Even with a distinguished career in Academia, his musings on the peace process will form the bulk of his legacy.
By Belen Fernandez, Al Jazeera
October 15, 2013
After half a century of service at Harvard University, law professor Alan Dershowitz is preparing to retire.
A recent article in the Harvard Gazette quotes Dershowitz’s musings on his legacy outside academia:
‘I hope people will at least analyze fairly what I’ve tried to do in those two areas where I’m most well-known: representing unpopular defendants in criminal cases and helping to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. I don’t expect that I will be represented fairly, but I’m going to do what I can do bring that about’, he said, mentioning his plan to rebut his obituary in advance in case news outlets don’t accurately reflect his life.
In the interest of fairness and accuracy, let us review some of Dershowitz’s alleged contributions to conflict resolution in the Middle East. As it turns out, his “help” in this field also revolves around the practice of defending criminals.
Out-terrorising the terrorists
In a 2002 Jerusalem Post article titled “New response to Palestinian terrorism”, Dershowitz prescribed an “immediate unilateral cessation in [Israeli] retaliation against terrorist attacks… for a short period, say four or five days”.
After the period had passed, Israel “would institute the following new policy if Palestinian terrorism were to resume”:
It will announce precisely what it will do in response to the next act of terrorism. For example, it could announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings.
Recommending a highly publicised “‘waiting list’ [of] targets” and an “automatic policy of destroying targets announced in advance”, Dershowitz endeavored to justify the above with the fact that the procedure would have been clearly outlined beforehand.
Other Dershowitzian interventions to provide legal veneers to illegal policies have of course included his campaign to legalise torture, which he proposed be limited to “nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain”.
Despite the obvious cause-and-effect relationship that exists between the institutionalised violence of Zionism on the one hand and Palestinian terrorism on the other, meanwhile, Dershowitz contended that his four- or five-day moratorium on counterterrorist retaliation would “make it clear to the world that Israel is taking an important step in ending what has become a cycle of violence”.
At some point over the ensuing decade, references to the apparently cyclical nature of Israeli-Palestinian violence became impermissible, and Dershowitz issued the following complaint in an article for Haaretz during the IDF’s November 2012 assault on Gaza:
Some in the media… insist on describing the recent events in Gaza as ‘a cycle of violence’, without distinguishing between the war crimes committed by Hamas and the lawful actions undertaken by Israel to protect its citizens against such war crimes.
Comparing Hamas’ alleged dedication to “target[ing] Israeli civilians in their homes” with Israel’s alleged practice of “targeting only terrorists and Hamas military leaders”, Dershowitz declared: “Every rocket fired by Hamas from one of its own civilian areas at a non-military Israeli target is a double war crime that should be universally condemned by all reasonable people”.
One wonders what “reasonable people” might say about a New York Times headline from the same day – “Israeli Airstrike Kills Three Generations of a Palestinian Family” – or about Dershowitz’s fanatical aside in Haaretz in defense of targeted killings:
There are some who argue, quite absurdly, that all targeted assassination is unlawful, since it constitutes ‘extrajudicial killing’
Some “reasonable” folks might go as far as to question how persons incapable of concocting coherent arguments or presenting valid evidence in support of them end up professors of law at the nation’s leading academic institutions.
To illustrate his frustration with “cycle of violence” terminology, Dershowitz offered an analogy: “It would be as if the media described lawful police efforts to stop illegal drug-related murders as a ‘cycle of violence'”.
As I pointed out in an op-ed for Al Jazeera at the time, he refrained from citing any historical instances in which police had deterred drug-induced murder by pulverising apartment buildings.
The last word
The vastly disproportionate Israeli slaughter of civilians in Lebanon in July and August of 2006 also received disproportionate encouragement from Dershowitz, who in an essay for the Los Angeles Times devised a “continuum of civilianality” in order to effectively negate the civilian status of those perishing in the assault.
Walking us through various gradations of civilian-ness, Dershowitz warned:
Hezbollah and Hamas militants… are difficult to distinguish from those ‘civilians’ who recruit, finance, harbour and facilitate their terrorism. Nor can women and children always be counted as civilians, as some organisations do.
Reuters put total war deaths in Lebanon at “1,200 people… most of them civilians, according to the United Nations” but failed to break down the tally into more-civilian civilians and less-civilian civilians.
Dershowitz meanwhile concluded that “[e]very civilian death is a tragedy, but some are more tragic than others”.
As for deaths that will be decidedly less tragic, the retiring professor has already penned a takedown of his own obituary. In a review of Dershowitz’s latest memoir, Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law, the Boston Globe’s Alex Beam notes that the book “ends with his posthumous letter to the editor, complaining about being called a pro-Israel patsy and a celebrity lawyer in his obituary”.
Dershowitz has, Beam writes, “[found] fault with the as-yet unpublished, indeed unwritten obituaries that he assumes will herald his passing”. Beam also quotes
an interesting admission from Dershowitz, concerning his successful defense of a Jewish Defense League bomb-maker: “This was the first time I had used my legal talents to help free guilty murderers. It would not be the last”.
Of course, no amount of talent or preemptive obituary rebuttals can redeem Dershowitz himself.
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work , released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, Salon, The Baffler, Al Akhbar English and many other publications.
Born 1938 to Orthodox Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York
He was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1979, and in 1983 received the William O. Douglas First Amendment Award from the Anti-Defamation League for his work on civil rights. In November 2007, he was awarded the Soviet Jewry Freedom Award by the Russian Jewish Community Foundation. In December 2011, he was awarded the Menachem Begin Award of Honor by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center at an event co-sponsored by NGO Monitor. He has been awarded honorary doctorates in law from Yeshiva University, the Hebrew Union College, Monmouth University, University of Haifa, Syracuse University, Fitchburg State College, Bar-Ilan University, and Brooklyn College.In addition, he is a member of the International Advisory Board of NGO Monitor.
While Dershowitz is a leading supporter of Israel, he self-identifies as “Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine”, and said “were I an Israeli, I’d be a person of the left and voting the left”.
Dershowitz engaged in highly publicized debates with a number of other commentators, including Meir Kahane, Noam Chomsky, and Norman Finkelstein. When former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (2006) published—in which he argues that Israel’s control of Palestinian land is the primary obstacle to peace—Dershowitz challenged Carter to a debate at Brandeis University. Carter declined, saying, “I don’t want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz. There is no need to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine.” Carter did address Brandeis in January 2007, but only Brandeis students and staff were allowed to attend. Dershowitz was invited to respond on the same stage only after Carter had left.
He also took part in the Doha Debates at Georgetown University in April 2009, where he spoke against the motion “this House believes it’s time for the US to get tough on Israel,” with Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Speakers for the motion were Avraham Burg, former Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and former Speaker of the Knesset; and Michael Scheuer, former Chief of the CIA Bin Laden Issue Station. Dershowitz’s side lost the debate, with 63 percent of the audience voting for the motion.
1st paragraph, September 2009, Frontpagemag
“The definition of the ad hominem fallacy is to respond to substantive arguments solely by attacking the person who offered them. The mirror image of this classic fallacy is to try to bolster arguments solely by praising the person who offered them. This is what is happening with respect to the notorious Goldstone report regarding Israel’s conduct during the Gaza War. Had Richard Goldstone, a distinguished judge and a prominent Jew, not been the author of the United Nations Human Rights Council report on Israel, it would be tossed in the trash barrel along with other one-sided and biased reports by this prejudice group which targets only Israel for human rights violations. But those seeking to defend this indefensible report point to Goldstone’s authorship as proof that it must have credibility. He has in effect placed his “Hechsher,” that is his religious certification of purity, on this impure report. It is appropriate, therefore, to respond to this argument by discrediting its author and his selfish motives for granting his imprimatur to conclusions which he well knows are false, incomplete, misleading and bigoted.”
Ad Hominem Attack on Israel – by Alan M. Dershowitz
Alan Dershowitz’s book, The Case for Israel (John Wiley and Sons, 2003, 2004), was strongly criticised for falsification of facts and for plagiarism by Norman Finkelstein and Avi Shlaim amongst others. He was cleared of the charge of plagiarism by Harvard university.