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Making the Case for Israel By: Alan M. Dershowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, June 01, 2004


Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University Law School. He is an internationally respected attorney and human rights activist. At one time he was actively involved as an attorney in the Soviet Jewry Movement and helped to free Natan Sharansky from the USSR. He is recognized as a member of the liberal establishment yet a strong supporter of Israel. He has also become aware of the continual anti-Israel bias that is growing on college campuses in the United States.

Below is an edited transcript of his speech at UC Berkeley, one of the most anti-Israel campuses in the United States. Dershowitz addressed an audience of 1,200 people on April 29, 2004, about the growing problem of anti-Semitism on U.S. campuses.

The Case For Israel

I remember so well the early days in the 1970's when I sat down in UC Berkeley. I was there for a year. I was probably defending some of the parents of the kids who are outside protesting tonight.

I defended Angela Davis and many of the people involved in the free speech movement at UC Berkeley. But I was also deeply involved with the Soviet Jewry Movement. Recently I was on a radio talk show and somebody asked me what my biggest fee I ever earned was. Was it Michael Milken or Leona Helmsley? I said it was Natan Sharansky.

"Sharansky?" they said, "We didn't know he had any money."

And I said no. He didn't have any money. I had to defend him at my own expense. But when he walked over the Glienicke Bridge and he threw his arms around me, and he whispered in my ear in Hebrew "Blessed are those who help free the imprisoned." Tears came to my eyes, to his eyes -- I'll never earn a bigger fee in my life than that.

When we were in Jerusalem, we said we'd look back at that time and remember it as a wonderful point in history, when civil liberties, love for Judaism and a love for Israel came together. This week marks the 56th anniversary of Israel. And I'm reminded of myself in 1947 and 1948, watching the UN on television, the division of Palestine into hopefully a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. It was accepted by the Jews, but rejected by the Palestinians.

And then Ben Gurion announced the statehood. It was such a joyous moment! I remember when the director of my yeshiva came in and announced the words from Hatikva [Israel's national anthem] were officially changed from "going back to the land of our fathers" to "a free people in our land."

Those were the days. Those were the days when the Israeli-Arab conflict presented a clear-cut conflict between good and evil. Israelis were Holocaust survivors trying to build a Jewish democratic homeland that would always be open to Jewish immigrants and refugees. Doors to the world had been closed to so many refugees during the Holocaust.

On the other side were the Holocaust perpetrators. We forget too often that the Egyptian army commanders in large part were former Nazis given asylum by the Egyptian government. Amung them was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the recognized leader of the Palestinian people. These were indicted war criminals who spent most of the war years with Hitler in Nazi Germany.

This was a conflict between democracy and tyranny. A conflict between those who wanted to accept the United Nations' plan of a two-state resolution and those who rejected the existence of Israel. Those were the days when it was so clear on which side civil liberties and human rights and progress lied and on which side tyranny and oppression lied. The sad reality is that nothing has changed on the ground. These facts are still the same today as they were in 1947 or 1948, yet the perspectives have changed so dramatically. Even in 1956, even in 1967, even in the early 1970's, most progressive, liberal and centrist people supported the right side of this struggle.

Sure, I favored a two state solution. I've always favored a two state solution. Israel has always favored a two state solution, since 1937, when they accepted the Peel Commission report which would have given the Palestinians a long, contiguous state and the Jews a totally non-contiguous state. The Jews said yes and the Palestinians and Arabs said no.

In 1947, the Jews were offered a non-contiguous state in which Jerusalem was separated from Tel Aviv and other Jewish cities, and the Palestinians were offered a contiguous state. And the Palestinians said no. Ben Gurion and the Israelis said yes. Nothing has changed. Not Israeli actions to be sure.

What changed is the perception of the world. The United Nations tragically has become a mega bomb for bigotry against Israel. If a space alien from another planet were to come down to earth and land at the General Assembly of the United Nations, or at some American college campuses, or many an urban capital, and have to report back to the distant galaxy from which he came, he'd have to report this is a wonderful planet with great countries that love peace. Like Syria, which is on the Security Council. Or Libya, that chairs the Human Rights Commission. But there's this one country, this evil nation that's been condemned by the UN more than any other country or all other countries combined. If the spaceship landed on the Berkeley campus, all the canards and untruths about Israel--genocide, apartheid, all the claims you hear so often, would be heard. And that's the tragedy.

And that's why I had to write The Case For Israel. It's my least favorite book, I have to tell you. It's the book nobody wants to write. Nobody has to write the Case for Canada or the Case for Spain or the Case for Australia. There's so much lying on college campuses today, so many untruths, so many legalese falsities being directed against Israel. But the impetus to write the Case For Israel came when the divestiture campaign began at Harvard and Berkeley and many of our college campuses. No members of the law school faculty, nor of the medical school faculty, nor the business school signed, but many at the other schools and departments signed the petition.

What did it call for? It called for no further investments in Israeli industries. What are Israel's main industries? It's not Jaffa oranges, it's high tech, life saving medical equipment, like kidney dialysis machines. Israel per capita saves more lives than any other country in the world.

I said cutting off this industry was immoral, so I challenged one of the leading pro-divestment professors at one of the Harvard colleges to debate me in front of his students. I challenged him to debate the morality of signing the petition to divest from Israel, but not from North Korea, not Cuba, not China, not Libya, not from Iraq in those days, not the Sudan -- only Israel. This was a man who taught the Christian approaches to the Old Testament. He said to me "Professor Dershowitz, my knowledge of the Middle East ended with the death of Moses." I invited those students to see me, watch me debate him or a surrogate. When nobody showed to take his position, I set the petition on a chair as a token surrogate and we had a dialog.

Many of the students who attended were not Jews and held no firm views of Israel. They all came up to me afterward and said the same three words: "We didn't know!"

"We didn't know Israel first offered a two state solution, a Palestinian state, but the Arabs rejected it!"

"We didn't know in 1967 Israel accepted Resolution 242, in which the United Nations called for the return of territories captured in exchange for full peace and secure boundaries."

All Arab states rejected it saying, "no peace, no recognition, no negotiations," but students today said, "We didn't know!"

These Harvard students didn't know that in the years 2000 and 2001 Ehud Barak along with President Bill Clinton had initially offered the Palestinians everything they were asking for -- a state made up of 97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, a capital in Jerusalem, control of East Jerusalem, control of the Temple Mount, 30 billion dollars in a compensation package, and symbolic return of several thousand refugees. Instead of accepting it or coming back to the negotiating table, Arafat walked away and started the intifada and all the violence. The Harvard students kept saying, "We didn't know!"

"We didn't know that Prince Bandar at Taba called Arafat's rejection of the offer a crime against the Palestinian people and against all the people of the region."

The students just didn't know.

I came away with a different view than my friend Natan Sharansky. He came away with a sense of hopelessness. When he toured American campuses, he believed that America was becoming like France [which is exceedingly anti-Israel].

I came away with a very different, optimistic view. To be sure, 15 to 20% of students on college campuses -- perhaps more at Berkeley, Michigan, or Rutgers, fewer at Harvard and Yale -- you can't argue with them. It's like putting a dollar in the soda machine and the soda doesn't come out and neither does your dollar. You just can't argue with them. You want to kick the machine but you can't do that.

You cannot convince people like Noam Chomsky. And there are 15% on the other side who are clearly favorably disposed to Israel. But then there are 70% on college campuses with open and unfortunately empty minds when it comes to Israel. They take what their peers and professors say the Gospel truth. It's crucially important to fill that information gap.

During the same divestiture campaign, a young student came to me from Harvard College and asked me for forgiveness. I said, "What do I have to forgive you for? I don't even know you."

He said, "I never speak up on campus, in my classroom, in my dormitory, at dinner. I never speak up in favor of Israel even though I've been there on Operation Birthright and I know the facts and hear the lies."

"Why not?" I asked.

He replied, "Because if I am perceived as pro-Israel, pro-Zionist, in favor of Israel, I won't be able to get dates with young girls."

It was as simple as that. It's not cool to be a "Zionist." It's not cool. I thought I should start a program at the Harvard campus: "Date a Zionist Tonight!" That's the way he put it -- Not cool to be a Zionist. It's really a problem.

I decided to make it cool again to support Israel and show you can support Israel from a progressive, liberal perspective. Indeed, I support Israel not in spite of my history as a human rights activist, but because of it. I support Israel because I support female rights, women's rights, feminism, and the Palestinian Authority does not.

I also support gay rights. I saw a student at a college campus hold up a sign that said, "Gays For Palestine." I said to him "Imagine what would happen if you carried that sign in Ramallah. You'd be killed." I support Israel because I support gay rights. Recently a progressive congressman, Barney Frank from Massachusetts, worked with me and Israel to grant asylum for 40 Palestinian gays.

"Environmentalists For Palestine" is another ironic group. Palestinians are utterly insensitive to environmental concerns. Israel is the most environmentally sensitive country in the Middle East.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East in which an Arab can file a case against his country in the Supreme Court. Israel's Supreme Court is among the finest courts in the world today. It enforces the rule of law on a daily basis against inevitable abuses that occur when a nation is at war. As we look at the United States Supreme Court this week there are two big cases -- the Hamdi case and the Padilla case. At question is if we can detain and hold terrorist combatants at Guantanamo indefinitely, while deciding if they are prisoners of war or common criminals. One has only to look to Israel, which see resolved these things 20 years ago.

We see that the Israelis routinely decide in favor of the Palestinians against their own government. In 1989, Justice Brennan, perhaps the most liberal justice in America's court, went to Israel at the invitation of Justice Aharon Barak of the Israeli Supreme Court. Brennan said, "God forbid that terrorism should ever come to the shores of the United States. At least we in America have the model to help balance the needs of security against the needs of liberty. That model is Israel."

I think the American courts today will look to that model, just as the United States Army looks to the Israeli army as a model to fight guerilla wars against terrorists with "holiness of arms." I recently attended a hearing of the Ethics Committee of the Israeli Army which decides when it's appropriate to consider somebody a combatant and target him for killing when he can't be arrested as a terrorist. The Ethics Committee consisted of a professor of Philosophy from Tel Aviv University, a human rights activist from Bar-Ilan University, several lawyers, mathematicians, and experts on how to evaluate potential collateral damage -- civilian deaths in numbers. They were debating how to value the life of a Palestinian civilian against the life of an Israeli soldier. The Ethics professor said the Israeli government has the right to balance and to value the life of its own soldiers over enemy civilians. And the Israeli general disagreed and said the Israeli soldiers must die to save the lives of civilians even if they are enemy civilians.

Now, however you decide what is the right result, the interesting point is Israel is debating these issues. The Israeli Supreme Court is debating these issues. They're trying their very best to fight within the constraints of the Rules of War. Laws are enacted that give terrorists an advantage in this fight against democracy. You know, Israel has nothing to be ashamed of in its general record. It's fought terrorism for over 56 years.

There was the massacre in Hebron in 1929 before the advent of Israel, before the occupied territories, before the settlements. Hebron's Jewish population was subject to a massacre at the whim of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The victims were not armed Zionists, but primarily yeshiva students and rabbis and they were massacred because they were of the wrong religion. In all its years, Israel has killed fewer civilians than any other comparable country.

Israel is the only country in modern times that has never dropped bombs on enemy capitols in retaliation for bombs dropped on its own civilians. People forget that in 1948, Egypt dropped bombs on a Tel Aviv bus station, killing many people. The '67 War began when the Jordanians lobbed 1600 bombs into downtown West Jerusalem. In the '73 War Syria tried to kill civilians in Galilee. But Israel never bombed Cairo or Damascus. When Israel did bomb on the outskirts of Beirut during the Beirut War, it tried its best not to kill innocent civilians.

In fact, in order to destroy a terrorist base in the middle of Beirut, Israel sent Ehud Barak dressed as a woman on a raft to eliminate the base so as not to drop bombs from the air.

The United States today, when they go into Fallujah from the air or on the ground they use Israel as the model. Israel went in on the ground in Jenin and lost 23 soldiers, yet it's called a massacre: first they claimed 5,000 people were killed, then 500, then 100. In truth, 52 people, most of them combatants, were killed. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers were killed in the process. Israel can be really proud of the way it fought terror and efforts to destroy it over the years. And Israel can be proud of the fact that it has constantly been willing to support the creation of a democratic, peaceful Palestinian state.

Look, I know there are people outside claiming they are Jews for Palestine. I suspect many of you in the auditorium are Jews for Palestine. We favored a Palestinian state in '37, in '47, and we favored Resolution 242. Many offers of statehood were made by Ehud Barak. It was not we who turned them down. It was Yasser Arafat. It's not we who stole money from the Palestinian people, not we who turn Palestinian children into suicide bombers. Yasser Arafat's primary victims have been the Palestinian people. He has stolen his people's lives from them.

There was a cartoon in the Berkeley Daily Planet. It shows a picture of a man holding a Palestinian flag that says. " State of Palestine," and it shows an American flag and a man with a Jewish Star of David stabbing him in the back, as if Israel denied statehood to the Palestinian people.

Prince Bandar, the Saudi Arabian member of the peace delegation, said if Arafat had accepted what was offered by 2001, we could be celebrating the third year of Palestinian statehood. Palestine could have been one of the wealthiest states in the Middle East, with all kinds of money pouring in from Europe, with great medical care and good education.

The best thing that could happen to the Middle East would be the existence of a democratic, economically viable Palestinian state. It is not Israel that has prevented that from happening. It's the Palestinian leadership. The Palestinians should value having their own state more than the destruction of the Jewish state. But it cannot come without, it must be a condition of, recognizing the existence of the state of Israel.

And statehood cannot come as a reward for terrorism. As Tom Friedman wrote in the New York Times, if Palestinian statehood is a reward for terrorism, then terrorism is coming to a theater near you. The world learned a terrible lesson when it rewarded Palestinian terrorism at Munich in 1972; when it rewarded Palestinian terrorism in Turkey and in France; when it rewarded Palestinian terrorists in Italy and Israel, as well. Indeed, I think Usama Bin Laden learned an important lesson from Arafat -- that terrorism works because the United States doesn't have the backbone to stand up to it.

Many European countries become complicit with terror by making deals with the devil, like when Germany's Wily Brandt freed the murderers of Munich after the fake hijacking that he arranged with the Palestinians. This is the kind of cowardly act which results in spreading terrorism around the world. And it's the United States that shares this same destiny with Israel. Both are victims of terrorism against civilians. They fight for the preservation of democracy in a world where terrorism is tolerated; a world where terrorists think they can change the outcome of elections the way they did in Spain, and hope to do in England, Australia, Untied States and Israel. These democracies have to be able to stand up to the tyranny of the world.

Israel can be proud of the way it stood up to terrorism. Israel should be proud of the way it has fought the wars that were thrust upon it for so many years. The last thing Israel wanted to do was fight the wars. Not in 1947, in 1948, not in 1956, not in 1967, not in 1973 and not in any era since. All Israel wants to do is live in peace and prosperity and openness and become a center of science, of intellectualism, of art and culture.

You know you hear excuses all the time that democracy is only for secure nations. "It's only for rich nations. It's only for old nations. Don't expect democracies too quickly in Iraq, don't expect it in other parts of the world. Don't expect it in China. It's a luxury. The United States can afford it, Western Europe can afford it." Israel puts the lie to that.

Israel has been a democracy since the day it was born. Israel never gave up democracy even when faced with genocidal attempts to destroy it. Even when faced with a war and the potential for major, major destruction, it never gave up on democracy. There is no question Israel will remain a democracy.

And as a democracy, Israel can take criticism. Israel is a country with a thick skin. It has had to develop that thick skin over a number of years. It will remain a democracy, believe it. That's a given. Just go online and read the Israeli press. If you want to see criticism in Israel just read Ma'ariv or Yediot Ahranot or Ha'aretz. They tell the joke of the Israelis who were stranded on a deserted island. They were rescued after five years and they had 15 political parties and several newspapers. And American Jews shouldn't be timid to criticize policies of a particular Israeli government. You hear Michael Lerner and others say that to criticize Israel you are called an anti-Semite. That's just nonsense.

I have challenged Michael Lerner, I have challenged others both in the Bay Area and other places too. Show me a single instance where a major Jewish leader or Israeli leader has ever said that criticizing a particular policy of Israeli government is anti-Semitic. That's just something made up by Israel's enemies. It is not something that can actually be argued today.

It is anti-Semitism to single out Israel -- to single out the Jewish nation and blow its faults out of proportion and beyond any kind of recognition, and it is anti-Semitism to continually compare Israel to Nazism.

I was accused of carrying my own anti-Semitisic agenda the first time in my adult life when I spoke at Fanueil Hall and received an award from a Jewish organization for my work in human rights. As I walked out there was a group from the hard Left chanting "Dershowitz and Hilter, it's all the same, the only difference is the name!" and "Dershowitz and Goebbels, all the same, the only difference is the name!" They were chanting that Jews who support Israel are worse than Nazis. Norman Finkelstein has said he doesn't understand why Israel isn't flattered by the comparison with Nazis.

You'll notice these people never compare Israel to others -- to dictatorships, to China, never to Pinochet, never to Cuba, never even to Mussolini and never to solve anything. And that is anti-Semitism. To compare a democratic state that is trying so hard to conform to the rule of law and has never killed innocent civilians deliberately or willfully to the Nazi regimes that killed Jews can only be motivated by hatred and bigotry. So criticism is there. Criticism should be comparable, contextual, constructive. Israel thrives on criticism and the Jewish community thrives on criticism. All I want when I come to Berkeley is to confront those people, those professors, those Israel haters.

Again, I say I'm pro-Palestinian. The only difference between me and other pro-Palestinians is they are anti-Israel. I could debate them because my goal is simply to bring more nuances in the discussion of the Israeli/Arab Palestinian conflict to the college campus. Enough of the shouting, enough of the polemics, enough of the extremism, enough of the ignorant comparisons to Nazism or to apartheid. Enough of the thoroughly non-intellectual sloganeering. Let's have a real intellectual discussion, let's have a real conversation. Let's have a real case.

But you can't buy that case unless there's elimination of the extremist rhetoric -- this sense that Israel is demonized, de-legitimized in the world. In fact, the extreme criticism makes it hard to get the nuances of criticism of both sides. And what happens is each side gets polemical views and that doesn't make progress toward peace.

So I ask those in the progressive movement, who support feminism and civil liberties, -- the kind of political theories I've supported all my life-- to come join an effort to support Israel and support Palestine. To support a democratic Palestinian state to be sure. Take the position you want on unilateralism, or on the fence; they are issues about which reasonable people can disagree. Israelis disagree.

The fence case is now in the Israeli Supreme Court as well as the International Court of Justice. The Israeli Supreme Court will resolve it fairly. The International Court of Justice won't. Why? Because the International Court of Justice is just like the Mississippi Supreme Court in the 1930's.

There was a Mississippi Supreme Court that could do justice only for cases of a White against a White. It was an all White court. It could in a paternalistic way solve a case of a Black against another Black, but it couldn't do justice in a case involving a Black and White. It would always find in favor of a White in such a case.

The same goes for the United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice, which is a United Nations court. It can do justice in some disputes, but when Israel is involved it is incapable of doing justice. Like the Mississippi Supreme Court, it used its credibility that existed in some cases to pretend it was doing justice, but no perspicacious students of the International Court of Justice will be fooled.  But many people are not perspicacious. They'll see judges with robes declaring the use of a fence to prevent terrorism not only a violation of international law, but a grievous one!

Among cases now pending before the International Court, there are no cases pending involving genocide or slavery, or oppression of women. There are no cases of oppression of people because of their religion. There are no cases involving events in Algeria or the Sudan or Rwanda. But Israel builds a moveable fence, a fence that three times already has been moved by order of the Israeli Supreme Court and by the Israeli government in response to changes on the ground, and that seems to be the greatest violation of international law.

There is a clear effort on the part of those who want to demonize and de-legitimize Israel to win a struggle for the hearts and souls and minds of the next generation of American leaders. The generation educated at Berkeley, at Stanford, at the University of San Francisco, today's students at UC Santa Cruz. Students from all over the state of California and all over the United States. Fifteen to 20 years from now these will be the congress people, the senators. These will be the judges and business leaders. The President of the United States and international leaders as well. The goal is to make these people so knee-jerk anti-Israel that they will resemble typical French or most Western European leaders of today. That's the goal of the divestiture campaign. The leaders of the divestiture movement knew it couldn't work. Noam Chomsky knew it. He said he never believed in divestiture, yet he supported it. Why? Because it would cause students to be misled by the context of the petition, to believe Israel deserved to be singled out as a great human rights violator of the world.

So it is a struggle for the hearts and minds of the students. "College is a dangerous place," Chomsky said. Your children and grandchildren and the children and grandchildren of our friends, they come from high schools, many from a Jewish education, and they are directed into classes that present a totally one-sided perspective. And when somebody tries to speak up for Israel they are demonized the way I have been demonized.

My book has been attacked viciously. I've been accused of plagiarism when I have all my original hand written copies. Norman Finkelstein said I didn't write it. People are prepared to make all kinds of false allegations not only against Israel, but against any Israel supporters also. Martin Gilbert, Stuart Eisenstadt, Debra Lipstadt, Elie Wiesel -- everybody who can speak in favor of the Jewish community -- is subjected to a well-organized, well-orchestrated and well-financed attack.

But they cannot stop us. They know they are not going to stop us. They know they aren't going to succeed in discrediting me, but they are sending a message to young assistant professors that "if you write a book that is pro-Israel or you write an article that is pro-Israel, we will savage you, we will accuse you of plagiarism. We will savage you, we will call you a fraud. And Dershowitz may be able to survive those charges, but you won't; when your tenure comes up those charges will be there, they will be in the air."

As Churchill said, "A lie can make its way half way around the world before the truth can get its pants on."

That's the goal, that's the purpose. And let there be no mistake about it. This is a battle for the hearts and minds for all of our future generation. That's why you all have to become Op Ed writers, you all have to become the people who call the TV and radio stations. You all have to write letters to the editor. You all have to support your local federation in the best defense of Israel.


Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, “The Case Against Israel’s Enemies.”


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