Point of Desperation: Alan Dershowitz and the Defense of Israeli Conduct

The list of UN resolutions, legal bodies, mainstream human rights organizations, and prominent human rights advocates who have recently condemned, with overwhelming evidence, Israel's atrocities against Palestinians has become too large to ignore. Indeed, it is so extensive that one can no longer defend Israel's human rights record without having to attack the international human rights community itself, along with authoritative institutions of international law, and accuse them of exacerbating the conflict. Such zealotry was on full display since the human rights community shed light on Israel's atrocious conduct in last year's assault on Gaza. However, it sank to a new low of desperation yesterday, when Israeli news outlets reported that Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz has accused the eminent South African judge Richard Goldstone of being an "evil man" and a "traitor to the Jewish people."

This is not the first time that Deshowitz has attacked respected figures or organizations in the human rights community. To take a couple of recent examples among many, Dershowitz accused Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) of supporting terrorists and, in the case of HRW, of suppressing evidence of terrorist misconduct in order to demonize Israel. One expects such wild and grotesque attacks on credible human rights organizations perhaps from a North Korean or a Sudanese government agent eager to obscure the crimes of the state apparatus they serve. But in this case, such attacks are coming from a so-called "progressive" professor at Harvard.

Nor was yesterday's report the first time that Dershowitz has taken on Goldstone. When the Goldstone Report was first released last September as yet another highly credible report detailing the crimes of Israel and Hamas, Dershowitz was quick to castigate the report, though his allegations then at least had the semblance of merits.

But the case against the Goldstone Report is not winnable on merits. One cannot assert, as Dershowitz does, that the IDF is "one of the most moral armies in the world" when its extensive use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians prompted an Israeli commander to say: "What we did was insane and monstrous." Not when Israel flattens entire neighborhoods, uses white phosphorous against civilians, and certainly not when confessions of Israeli soldiers regularly beating Palestinians (including children) are constantly being released can one make such an absurd assertion about the IDF's morality with a straight face.

With an unwinnable case on merits, Dershowitz appears to have turned to ad hominem attacks instead (i.e. if you cannot respond to the message, attack the messenger). Indeed, his latest book on the topic, The Case Against Israel's Enemies, is riddled with ad hominem attacks on prominent critics of Israeli policy, including Jimmy Carter, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, and many others.

But this most recent accusation against Justice Goldstone as a "traitor to the Jewish people" is unique in that it implies a demand from Dershowitz on all Jewish people to adopt a monolithic view in defense of Israeli policies. A demand for groupthink is undesirable in any setting, but is even more detestable as a test for ethnic loyalty. And it gets even more unfathomable: Richard Goldstone is a very highly respected jurist who was the chief prosecutor for the international criminal tribunals on Rwanda and Yugoslavia. He is Jewish, Zionist, has close ties to Israel, serves on the board of Hebrew University, refused to investigate Israeli conduct without investigating Hamas as well, and is critical of the UN Human Rights Council for (in his view) singling out Israel too often. Despite all of this, Dershowitz saw it fit to declare his treason, not to the state of Israel, but to the "Jewish people," because his investigation accused Israel of war crimes.

Of course, I would not insult my readers by suggesting that my help is needed in figuring out whether this reputable and highly respected jurist was simply investigating the evidence of what took place in Gaza, or whether he suddenly decided to betray his people (reasonable people can easily figure this one out). But what is difficult to deny at this point is that Dershowitz seems more interested in discrediting critics of Israeli policy than he is in engaging in honest discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is nothing less than a desperate and single-minded attempt to obscure or exonerate Israel's atrocities; in effect, defending the indefensible.

Such stubbornness and zealotry, on this issue in particular, is all too common, and it must be resisted by peace and justice advocates on all sides, so that we may hopefully see peace within our lifetime.