Read Part 2 Read Part 3
You really have to give Alan Dershowitz credit. It’s obvious that his success as a lawyer comes from a great talent for building a convincing argument. It is also clear that he understands very well the difference between a convincing argument and a cogent one.
Dershowitz has let loose with both barrels on Jimmy Carter in a blog at gather.com. Dershowitz not only makes the case that Carter is a Jew-hater, but also a supporter of terrorism, an accomplice of “evil” and a dishonest man who tries to turn the world against the Jews because he is paid to do so by Arabs.
That’s Dershowitz’s claim in a nutshell, but he makes it much more elaborate and less stark than that. If he simply summed it up, none but the most reactionary supporters of Israeli policies, like himself, would give it any credibility.
Dershowitz spends a great deal of effort to show that Carter is a mere lackey on the payroll of wealthy Arabs and that this is the reason for his so-called “anti-Israel” and “anti-Semitic” views. We’ll look at the financial allegations in part 2 of this piece.
As contemptible as the monetary smoke and mirrors Dershowitz put up was, his misleading interpretations of Carter’s words are even more egregious. In this, I do want to try to give Dershowitz the benefit of the doubt. As I have said previously in this space, I think Carter’s choice of a title for his recent book was ill-advised. A former president writing on arguably the single most controversial topic before us today is going to get attention. The title served to trigger many people and to give his opponents an easy way to sidetrack the conversation.
So, I can allow that Dershowitz, like many other Jews, has had a visceral reaction to some pretty touchy points, not only limited to the description, however defensible, of conditions on the West Bank as “apartheid.” Still, even allowing for high emotions, this must be confronted and challenged.
Dershowitz wastes no time in his series launching his attack. In the very first paragraph, he writes: “In his recent book tour to promote Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter has been peddling a particularly nasty bit of bigotry. The canard is that Jews own and control the media, and prevent newspapers and the broadcast media from presenting an objective assessment of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that Jews have bought and paid for every single member of Congress so as to prevent any of them from espousing a balanced position. How else can anyone understand Carter’s claims that it is impossible for the media and politicians to speak freely about Israel and the Middle East? The only explanation – and one that Carter tap dances around, but won’t come out and say directly – is that Jews control the media and buy politicians.”
This is perfectly typical of Dershowitz’s methods, and is repeated throughout the four articles Dershowitz has published thus far as volumes of attacks on Carter. On Planet Dershowitz, which is, sadly, all too populous, mentioning the undeniable truth that Israel has a very powerful support bloc working to prevent serious debate in both Congress and the public arena about American policy in this conflict must, by definition, mean advocating a “Jewish cabal conspiracy” along the lines of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The infamous “Israel Lobby” is often credited with even more power than it really has (such as when people allege that it is so powerful that it can get the US to invade Iraq contrary to American interests and just for the sake of Israel). But to deny its power and influence is equally absurd.
As one colleague said to me recently, if, in fact, AIPAC and the many other organizations, PACs, media watchdog groups and grassroots activist groups have so little influence on policy and public discourse, then they are one of the greatest con games of all time. Because an awful lot of people, Jewish and not, are giving an awful lot of money to those groups to ensure that Congress and the media consistently reinforce the status quo; that Israel’s position as the single largest recipient of US military aid is never seriously debated; that the research institutes and think-tanks which are most closely consulted on American Middle East policy are dominated by people who approach policy first and foremost not with fairness or even pragmatism, but with the theory that American and Israeli interests are generally the same.
All those large contributions that a great many people make are, on Planet Dershowitz, apparently wasted because they do not affect public discourse or policy.
Moreover, when Carter spoke of “powerful political, social and religious forces” stifling debate here in the US, there was a widespread assumption that, as Dershowitz stated, this must mean “the Jews”. Jewish institutions are certainly a part of those forces, but so are radical “Christian Zionist” groups, as well as other groups who profit from the status quo.
In many ways, too, some of this comes down to an atmosphere, something not driven consciously. Israel is a long-time American ally, a country whose birth was mythologized both as a compensation for historical atrocities and as a “triumph of the underdog,” a kind of story story that Americans absolutely eat up. And the high level of emotions on all sides of the issue make many shy away from the issue, or, if they get into it at all, to choose the safer road of supporting the status quo. There is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about Carter pointing out that these forces, both active and passive, serve to stifle serious debate on this very important issue.
Indeed, the very fact that hysterics like Dershowitz immediately accused Carter of anti-Semitism demonstrates the degree to which a rational discussion of Israel is made impossible in the US. No such accusations are heard in Israel, even while many in Israel disagree vehemently with many of Carter’s views.
In part 3 of his article, Dershowitz takes Carter to task for allegedly condoning terrorist attacks on Israelis. Carter, of course, did no such thing.
The most common charge is based on a passage from Carter’s book, on page 213, which Carter has retracted as poorly worded and has promised to change in future editions of his book. The offending sentence reads as follows:
“It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel.”
It is poorly worded, as Carter acknowledged. But that poor wording simply opens the door for this sort of willful misinterpretation. Anyone reading that sentence in context, in the book, would understand that Carter was not endorsing terrorist attacks in the interim.
Carter simply understands that the Israeli and American insistence that Palestinian violence must stop before anything else, while the violence of the occupation continues unabated is a non-starter. It might be nice if it happens, but it is completely unrealistic.
Carter was, in fact, defending Israeli interests and even taking something of an Israeli point of view in saying that Israel needed to hear assurances that all attacks from these groups would end with the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and that they would enforce law and order in preventing such attacks from radical splinter groups in order for Israel to trust in a peace process.
On Planet Dershowitz, however, this is interpreted as encouraging armed attacks on Israelis.