Dershowitz takes victory lap, but loses JCC Iran debate

Dershowitz takes victory lap, but loses JCC Iran debate

Alan Dershowitz is a lifelong Democrat who sees himself as very much a liberal.  Even in terms of Israel, he touts his professed support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians and contends that expanding West Bank settlements are a bad idea.  He has suffered for this with insults and heckling at predominantly right-wing gatherings, such as organized by the Jerusalem Post in New York, two years ago. 

Although his arguments did not prevail, his overlarge ego dominated his debate with Peter Beinart at the Manhattan JCC, Sept. 3, on the Iran nuclear agreement.  Beinart listened in some astonishment and chagrin as Dershowitz invented his own facts in attacking the Iran deal.  By way of contrast, I’ve never heard Beinart argue more fluently and confidently. 

Their major point of contention was in how thorough and prolonged are the agreement’s provisions to safeguard against an Iranian bomb.  Dershowitz tends to argue by selectively quoting (or misquoting) Pres. Obama to the effect that it’s only a ten-year deal, rather than 15 to 25, with Iran’s commitment to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty binding it “in perpetuity,” as Beinart contends. 

Dershowitz’s liberalism on Middle East issues is more theoretical than real.  His instincts are to excuse if not support virtually all Israeli government actions.  And so he made it clear that he sympathizes with Netanyahu in his highly public disputes with Obama.  In this connection, Dershowitz cited a metaphor attributed to J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami, characterizing his organization as a “blocking back” for Obama, thereby denigrating J Street as “pro-Obama” rather than “pro-Israel.”

Although he’s debated Ben-Ami as well as Beinart in the past, Dershowitz later hinted at a wounded ego, complaining that J Street has never invited him to one of their national conferences. (Evidently, this is a familiar trope; J Street advisory council member Larry Gellman wrote this Times of Israel blog post over a week before the JCC event: “Alan Dershowitz, stop whining and come to J Street as my guest.”)

He revels in lawyerly arguments that distort the truth.  One whopper was his claim that Obama does not like “tough Jews,” alleging that Rahm Emanuel and Larry Summers were “fired” within six months.  (You see, Netanyahu is also “one tough Jew”; get it?)

Actually, Emanuel served as White House chief of staff for nearly two years, from January 20, 2009 – October 1, 2010.  He left this high-pressure/high turnover job to pursue his ambition to become mayor of Chicago.   As for Summers, he served as director of the National Economic Council for nearly one year, from January 20, 2009 – December 31, 2010.

Moderator Jane Eisner (The Forward’s editor-in-chief) brought out a contradiction in Dershowitz’s position on the Iran deal.  Even in his just-authored instant book against the agreement, she noted that he concedes that although it’s a very bad deal in his view, the repercussions of defeating it now may make things worse.  He argued defensively that there was no contradiction. Later, in connection with Eisner’s attempt to rein in the discussion — so that the audience, seated together at tables, could submit their written questions and discuss the issue among themselves — Dershowitz rudely accused Eisner of being “an unfair moderator.”

As for the agreement itself, the details are complicated, especially insofar as various provisions sunset at 10, 15 and 25 year intervals.  This makes for confusion and honest misinterpretation.  Iran’s bad behaviors in the neighborhood, and its hostile rhetoric — especially toward Israel and the United States, and still ongoing after the agreement has been signed — make heated debate inevitable. 

I agree with Dershowitz over Beinart on at least one matter: opinion polls.  Beinart cites one survey of American-Jewish opinion that shows a 19 point edge in favor of the deal over those opposed, while Dershowitz sees the polls as contradictory and inconclusive.  But Beinart is correct that American-Jewish national organizations, and especially a number of community federations, are unrepresentative in opposing the deal — but not necessarily because most Jews support it, as he contends.  Dershowitz agreed in a back-handed way, saying it’s a fair question as to whether such organizations, especially if they are umbrella groups, should be taking a stand for or against.  Even if Beinart is factually correct that Jews support the agreement by a margin of nearly 60-40, this still leaves the community heavily divided.

A final note: Dershowitz styles himself as an expert on almost everything.  A rich slice of his egotism was illustrated by his claim that every time he goes to Israel he’s invited to meet with defense and security officials to discuss strategy.  Really?  I’d be fascinated to learn what Israel’s military and security establishment have to learn from General Dershowitz.   

[To watch the debate online, click on this web link: IranDealForum.fora.TV]

By | 2015-09-07T07:03:28-04:00 September 7th, 2015|Blog, Iran|5 Comments


  1. Werner Cohn September 11, 2015 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    The Iranians threaten death to America, death to Israel. They make good on their threat by financing Hezbollah and Hamas. None of that seems to bother the self-styled Progressives here. What is it that truly worries these Upper West Side activists ? That Dershowitz, in their expert psychiatric opinion, has an “oversize ego.” It must be comforting to live in a universe all one’s own, one in which there is no Ayatollah., no Hamas, no Hezbollah.

    • Ralph Seliger September 11, 2015 at 4:21 pm - Reply

      Werner Cohn writes as if I’m defending Hezbollah, Hamas or Iran. We’re talking about an agreement intended to derail their nuclear program. I grant that it’s complicated and invites some criticism, and this is what I say about Iran: “Iran’s bad behaviors in the neighborhood, and its hostile rhetoric — especially toward Israel and the United States, and still ongoing after the agreement has been signed — make heated debate inevitable.” But never mind, I’m just another short-sighted “Progressive.” Shana Tova!

      • Werner Cohn September 12, 2015 at 2:29 pm - Reply

        It’s a matter of emphasis. Look at the whole corpus of PPI and allied “progressives,” and for each word of formulaic distancing from Iran you will find a thousand words of harsh, ill-natured condemnation of Netanyahu, of Israel, and of the mainline Zionist project.

        • Ralph Seliger September 12, 2015 at 4:41 pm - Reply

          Aside from not seeing eye to eye with Werner’s characterization of all such “progressive” statements (even though I don’t always agree with every word), his math is widely off. A thousand to one? Really?

          But then Werner loves to argue in hyperbolic terms.

  2. Andres February 13, 2016 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    MJ, these are good points you make. Like the Passover qsuetion why is this night different from all other nights? .Somethings is changing that’s for sure, but it’s not just all you are saying (Lobby for bombing Iran against US interests). There’s something deeper that we knew in our hearts (and some minds) is coming:The great project afoot is The Great israel project andIisrael’s plan for covering up or at least keeping under cover what is happening, and worse what is about to happen.I and many others and just about every Palestinian know what it’s really all about; Israel has every intention of taking over the West Bank, just as it always had, and the first step in that effort is nearly complete. Specifically, the take-over of area C (which is now nearly cleansed of Palestinians) is now moving on to Area B in earnest. Part of that is the final severance of Jerusalem from the West Bank, which is moving along swimmingly, barely under the MSM radar. Area B is where many of the demonstrations are happening now and where the villages are slowly but surely encircled and strangled. But to Israel these demonstrations are just pin pricks. The big qsuetion has always been how to keep the lid on the Grand Plan and that’s where the battle is now.The plan BTW does involve a slow transfer of Palestinians first to Area C then out of the West Bank altogether. Hebron is a model of what’s afoot for Bethlehem too it’s not a qsuetion of if just of when and how fast ? Believe it or not but there are many people in Israel whose job it is to make these plans. And a big part of the plan involves finsding ways of shutting out the world not just the US. Effectively the Jewish establishment has already been drafted into the effort to cover up and keep away from American consciousness what is afoot. In that grand battle, Iran and Syria are just play pieces, partly meant to deflect attention, partly meant to cow into submission. Obama and Romney are another two play pieces. The only qsuetion israel has is whether Obama can be corralled. If the answer is yes, then his election makes little difference. If there’s any doubt about it, watch for signs that point to direct torpedoing of the economy, if that’s what it takes to elect Romney, who’s in the bag already.Israel has apparently come to the conclusion that they must execute on their plan within a few years. Unfortunately for Iran that means bombs, for Egypt it means military rule and for Syria it means instigating a civil war. Only thus will Hezbollah be brought down as a threat. For the US it means shutting down any and all debate that’s visible to ordinary people. For the world, it means bring internet freedom down.The 10 trillion $ qsuetion is what to do about the pesk activists . People like Mr Rosenberg and Mondoweiss, and Anna Balzer and ISM and the JVP and the many excellent people out there. I hope people are not under any illusions that our little rag tag army is going to be allowed to continue its work in peace. Watch for what Israel is doing to the lefty activists and NGOs in their midst, and know what’s coming to the US.In all this MJ’s worries about the blowback are right on the money. Those of us who live in the heartland of America, know things about the people around here that are not so clear in NY, Boston and LA. The day when information about the take-over of America starts trickling out, is the day that some of MJ’s and others’ worries will come to look prescient.It is about 100 years since The protocols. To think that it’d take 100 years to make a forgery become truth? is that a great irony or what*?____________* But then I also happen to believe that out entire little universe runs a bit like a game board. Keep trying to figure out what the lesson is supposed to be (not for us as much as for the players). But that’s hard to do when you can’t get out of the box.

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