Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday 15 June 2007

Dershowitz farts

So successful was the campaign against his nemesis, Norman G Finkelstein, that it snared yet another junior member of DePaul’s academic staff. Mehrene E. Larudee, an assistant professor of international studies, ‘praised as "outstanding" by the dean of her college and recommended unanimously by distinguished faculty peers during the tenure process’, was just about to be named director of DePaul's program in international studies.

And now, flushed with triumph, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan Dershowitz has launched a new crusade. Incensed at the injustice of the British University and College Union (UCU) resolving to consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, he has sent out a call for academics around the world to declare their solidarity with Israeli academics.

We all agree that singling out Israelis for an academic boycott is wrong. To show our solidarity with our Israeli academics in this matter, we, the undersigned, hereby declare ourselves to be Israeli academics for purposes of any academic boycott. We will regard ourselves as Israeli academics and decline to participate in any activity from which Israeli academics are excluded.

It was certainly no surprise when Dershowitz made his ‘Gam ani yisra’eli’ declaration in the immediate aftermath of the UCU conference resolution. But since the petition was launched on 4 June, it has attracted 4568 signatories, sixteen just in the few minutes since I first loaded the page. Among them are at least four university presidents and no fewer than fourteen Nobel Prize winners.

This is the man one of whose claims to fame is that in his 2002 book, Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age, he proposed that judges be empowered to issue a "torture warrant".

An application for a torture warrant would have to be based on the absolute need to obtain immediate information in order to save lives coupled with probable cause that the suspect had such information and is unwilling to reveal it.

By expressly limiting the use of torture only to the ticking bomb case and by requiring a highly visible judge to approve, limit and monitor the torture, it will be far more difficult to justify its extension to other institutions.

So either he doesn’t know or doesn’t care that information extracted by torture is notoriously unreliable and unlikely to save any lives from a ‘ticking bomb’. Furthermore, he acknowledges

Every democracy, including our own, has employed torture outside of the law.

Throughout the years, police officers have tortured murder and rape suspects into confessing -- sometimes truthfully, sometimes not truthfully.

The "third degree" is all too common, not only on TV shows such as "NYPD Blue," but in the back rooms of real police station houses.

So it can only be wilful naivete or downright stupidity that makes him think that legalising torture under specific circumstances will have any effect whatsoever on the torture that’s been going on all along anyway, apart from providing subtle reassurance that it’s a good idea. In any case,

Until quite recently, Israel recognized the power of its security agencies to employ what it euphemistically called "moderate physical pressure" to elicit information from terrorists about continuing threats.

And if Israeli did it, it must be ok.

Writing in The Times yesterday in collaboration with Anthony Julius, another lawyer, he enunciates this strange opinion.

the boycotters have aligned themselves with Hamas, a frankly anti-Semitic party, Hezbollah, another frankly anti-Semitic party, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a frankly anti-Semitic politician. All are unreconciled to Israel’s existence, wish it harm and are committed to an account of its power and standing that is utterly dependent on classical anti-Semitic tropes and texts.

I can’t imagine who they hope to hoodwink with allegations of this kind. Among those advocating a boycott, most are concerned exclusively with Israel’s acquisition of territory by force in June 1967. They want Israel to declare its border formally at or near the Green Line. For four decades Israel has been busy establishing ‘facts on the ground’ in the form of permanent settlements, demonstrating to all but the most studiously oblivious that they have no intention of leaving. This, and not wishing Israel harm or ‘classical anti-Semitic tropes’ is the principal motivation for the boycott movement.

Furthermore, the boycotters have most assuredly not aligned themselves with Hamas, Hizb’allah, or the Iranian president. Some might be more sympathetic to Hamas than to Fateh. Some might have supported Lebanon in the war Israel waged against it last July and August. Few if any would support Ahmedinejad’s ranting, even among those who realise that he never said anything about ‘wiping Israel off the map’.

In reality, the “one-state solution” is not ‘favoured by most boycotters’. The vast majority support Israel’s ‘right to exist as a Jewish state’ alongside a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

After blathering on about ‘the two academic principles’, Universality of science and learning and Freedom of expression, Dershowitz and Julius conclude that an academic boycott would only be justified when, in their view, ‘the person or institution to be boycotted does not meet the criterion of being a scholar or place of learning’ or

When the person or institution to be boycotted violates either or both of the two principles: For example, where freedom of research is denied to the employees of the institution. Another application of this exception is the counter-boycott. It meets the boycotter with a reciprocal gesture of rejection. A counter-boycott is justified in the face of a boycott. It is not open to the same objections as the boycott itself. [my emphasis]

They argue that ‘the boycotters rarely offer a rational account of why it is right to shun Israel or its academic institutions’. They reject the rationales that ‘Israel's universities are complicit in its misdeeds’ and that ‘Israel’s misdeeds justify the boycott regardless of the universities' own complicity in them’. Then they dismiss as irrelevant ‘Israel’s misdeeds’, ‘the “ethnic cleansing” during the 1948 War, the “military occupation and colonisation” following the 1967 War, and the “entrenched system of racial discrimination and segregation against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.”’, further claiming that they are fabrications.

The razor sharp legal minds have the audacity to criticise

…the utter irrationality of the boycotters’ position, its disconnectedness from the ordinary canons of argument – the marshalling of evidence, the advancing of coherent theses, the acknowledging of objections, and so on…

They never even trouble to mention the principal justification for an academic boycott in particular – that it in fact meets their second criterion. It is effectively a counter-boycott of precisely the kind they just endorsed. Palestinian universities are routinely closed by the Israeli authorities. Palestinian academics and students are actively prevented from attending classes and performing other academic activities by curfews, closures, roadblocks, checkpoints, and so forth, even if they escape ‘targetted assassination’ or ‘arrest’. Palestinian academics are not free to travel to meet with academics outside Palestine, or even in Israel. If they manage to do so, their return is often problematical. Students from Gaza are absolutely prohibited from studying in the West Bank notwithstanding the absence of suitable facilities within Gaza. And that’s without even considering the additional obstacles erected by the comprehensive boycott of the PA that has robbed vast numbers of Palestinian families of their sole source of livelihood.

This kind of unscrupulous ‘argumentation’ cloaked in self righteous indignation and presumptuous slurs on his adversary’s reasoning is absolutely characteristic of Dershowitz, the Likudniks’ toothless Rottweiler.

They conclude their diatribe by constructing what passes for a rigorous argument among Harvard Law Professors that the boycott is not just unjustified and counterproductive, but anti-Semitic, to boot.

‘There are two reasons for regarding the boycotters’ position as an anti-Semitic one’, they aver. ‘First, the academic boycott resonates with earlier boycotts of Jews. The history of anti-Semitism is in part the history of boycotts of Jews.’ Talk about red herrings! But they have the unmitigated chutzpah to raise the 1945 Arab boycott of Jewish Palestinian businesses, as if the Zionists had never boycotted Arab businesses, right down to market stalls and even victimised Jews with the temerity to employ Arab workers.

‘Second’, they reckon, ‘it is predicated on the defamation of Jews’ and proceed to recite a litany of caricatures of the positions they don’t possess the vertebrae, knowledge, or nous to refute.

The Jewish State, in pursuance of its racist ideology, is perceived as pure aggressor, and the Palestinians are perceived as pure victims. The PACBI boycotters and their UCU fellow travellers would deny to Jews the rights that they upholds [sic] for other, comparable peoples. They adhere to the principle of national self-determination, except in the Jews’ case. They affirm international law, except in Israel’s case. They are outraged by the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, but are untroubled (say) by the Islamic nature of Iran or of Saudi Arabia…They are indifferent to Jewish suffering… in supporting a boycott they have put themselves in anti-Semitism’s camp.

They go on to presume to ‘rewrite’ the definition of anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism consists, first, of beliefs about Jews or the Jewish State that are both false and hostile, and second, of injurious things said to or about Jews or the Jewish State, or done to them, in consequence of those beliefs. Anti-Semites wrong Jews and the Jewish State, and they are wrong about Jews and the Jewish State. Many anti-Semites also want to hurt Jews and the Jewish State or deny to them freedoms or rights enjoyed by non-Jews or the generality of States.

The fight against the boycott is one aspect, perhaps the most urgent aspect, of the contemporary fight against anti-Semitism.

By bracketing Jews and the Jewish State, by treating them as inseparable, by claiming above all that a slight on the Jewish State is a slight on Jews, Julius and Dershowitz reveal themselves as the true anti-Semites.

Since I started writing this, the signatory count has risen to 4591. Some actually are Israeli academics, so their gesture is irrelevant, and others don’t provide an academic affiliation, so probably don’t have one and can’t actually implement any meaningful acts of solidarity. But they are only a few.

What’s worrisome is that this swollen overpaid buffoon talks out the wrong orifice and Nobel Laureates queue up to have a sniff. It’s embarrassing.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. It is a sad sign indeed that so many academics, many eminent, would sign any petition initiated by a serial liar and all-around scumbag like Dershowitz. Even sadder is the fact that it isn't surprising at all.

  3. Unsurprising, but still frightening. It's no secret that you don't need to be a genius to get a PhD. My concern is that Dershowitz will succeed in spite of being a liar and a scumbag and as far as I can tell, either incapable of constructing a rational argument, or at least unconcerned to be caught out knocking down straw men and the like. As you know, Christian, a lot of people are taking heart from the way the Zionists are reacting to the UCU resolution. I'm all for finding cause for optimism where you find it, and they certainy do seem to be panicstricken. But that doesn't mean they're on the back foot. After all, Dershowitz's shrill crusade against Finkelstein also look over the top, and he won.