‘Is it 1938, again?’ Part 2

‘Is it 1938, again?’ Part 2

The inimitable Alan Dershowitz could not attend in person due to illness, but he did speak over a video hook-up that frequently broke down. Despite several annoying technical interruptions, Dershowitz got across his view that it’s NOT “1938, again,” because Israel exists as a powerful state today and Jews are influential in a way that they were not in 1938. He also was with the consensus in seeing Israel and Jews as being “dehumanized” by left-wing Israel bashers; still, he insisted that he speaks as a liberal and identifies with Walzer as “being on the left.” He urged that, “We cannot abandon moderate left … opinion.”

Dershowitz holds to what he calls a “90 percent case for Israel,” indicating that nobody is 100 percent in the right, that Israel does make mistakes and does bad things sometimes. The example he gave in this connection was of the militant settlers in Hebron.

But Dershowitz is also not the expert that he thinks he is. He wrongly linked the writings of Jimmy Carter and Professors Mearsheimer and Walt with that of Tony Judt in rejecting a two-state solution. Carter’s book, despite its flaws, is a fervent plea for peace between Israel and a new Palestinian state. And unlike Prof. Judt’s view, there is nothing in Mearsheimer and Walt’s work on the “Israel Lobby,” however scurrilous their accusations, that advocates one state in Israel’s stead. Furthermore, Dershowitz lumps together the Barak proposals at Camp David in August 2000 with the Clinton parameters in Dec. 2000 and the aborted negotiations at Taba in Jan. 2001. While not vastly different, these were not identical positions; we’ll never know what might have happened had Barak been prepared to base the Camp David talks on the principles articulated months later by Clinton and what was placed on the table (too late) at Taba.

Nevertheless, it was clear from some in the audience that they were disappointed that Dershowitz came off as liberal as he did. The audience as a whole seemed about equally divided along liberal and conservative lines.

I wasn’t able to attend the second day of the conference and therefore missed hearing such luminaries as writer Hillel Halkin and Prof. Susannah Heschel. I was privileged, however, to kibbitz with them and others at a reception at the end of the first day’s sessions.

Among those I chatted with was the Israeli philosopher-ethicist Moshe Halbertal, reminding him of Meretz USA’s meeting with him some years back at NYU Law School (where he has a seasonal faculty appointment). Regarding his work formulating the IDF’s code of ethics, he remarked upon confronting a spectrum of views ranging from “just bomb them” to just “don’t shoot,” which he regards as equally untenable extremes.

During his presentation, Prof. Halbertal asked for “humility, not silence” of critics in the Diaspora. He fears, above all, a lack of solidarity; “vicarious embarrassment” for Israel’s deeds is actually positive — a sign of solidarity. But he advocated a number of limits on criticism:

  • Be informed: don’t make criticism out of ignorance or superficial knowledge. He mentioned an “asymmetry” in the “war of images”: “Threats to us are invisible [until they materialize in attacks]; our actions are very visible [and broadcast around the world].”
  • Engage in empathy: “If you think that Israel shouldn’t make any targeted killings, place yourself in the shoes of someone in Sderot [subject to almost daily rocket attack].” “When someone is in a time of crisis, extend your hand to help.” Don’t simply criticize.
  • Name your enemy: call it “radical militant Islam” (for example) but don’t blame the entire Arab or Islamic world. And don’t attempt to change the enemy’s political culture; it endangers Israel to try to instantly democratize the Arab world.

The issue is to isolate the extremists; if you identify the enemy with all Arabs or all Muslims, “you play the enemy’s game.” It’s the terrorists who want to create a “war of all against all.” The issue of militant Islam is also internal to the Islamic world. “The last thing Israel needs is a war of Islam versus Judaism.” Syria, some Palestinians, Egyptians and other Arabs are all potential allies against militant Islam.

Halbertal doubts the usefulness of Podhoretz’s metaphor of a world war, but he agrees that Iran cannot be trusted to go nuclear because “Israel would be in the shadow of destruction.” Podhoretz earlier advocated that the US bomb Iran, quoting Sen. John McCain to the effect that “The only thing worse than bombing Iran is for Iran to get the bomb.” Podhoretz had noted that the US does not have the military capacity to invade Iran but does see the US – and only the US, not Israel – as having the capability to attack effectively from the air (in a sustained campaign), and thereby delay Iran’s nuclear development by a decade or more. And Podhoretz sees the extreme theological agenda of Iran’s Islamist regime as precluding the fear of nuclear retaliation that normally would deter a nuclear power from risking nuclear war against Israel or other countries.

I’m not willing to simply dismiss these concerns about Iran; it should not be a surprise that they come not only from a raving neocon like Podhoretz, or a somewhat more reasonable conservative like McCaine, but also a liberal like Halbertal. It may not be 1938, again, but in 2007, one shutters in puzzlement as to how to deal with Iran. Which is worse: the prospective bloody “cure” of war or the potentially fatal disease of a nuclear-armed regime dominated by antisemitic bigots and fanatical mullahs? One prays for a third way.

By | 2007-05-02T04:33:00-04:00 May 2nd, 2007|Blog|7 Comments


  1. merjoem32 May 2, 2007 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    While I believe that bombing Iran is a mistake, I have to admit that the infamous McCain bomb Iran song is correct in some ways. A nuclear capable Iran would be a serious threat to the US and our leaders need to think hard about this issue.

  2. Anonymous May 8, 2007 at 3:03 am - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    So legitimizing Alan Dershowitz, defender of torture and man who proposed systematically bombing Palestinians, is left on what politcal spectrum?

    Readers may remember that after a previous conference, Ralph instructed us that Apartheid was not an appropriate term and Israel not racist because Jews are not a race. Well, good thing, because otherwise I’d be so terribly tempted to label the hundreds of cases like this below of Israeli discrimination against Palestinians Arab citizens in Israel racist.


    Israel Lands Administration accused of discriminating against Arabs

    By Jack Khoury

    A recent tender by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) for the leasing of building lots in the Galilee is generating discontent among Arab rights activists, who claim that the administration is systematically discriminating against Arabs.

    The bone of contention is 13 lots in Karmiel registered to the Jewish National Fund. The ILA has recently issued a tender for the marketing of these lots to potential leasers.

    However, the Jewish National Fund in forbidden from leasing its lands to non-Jews, as stipulated in its treaty cosigned by the state.

    The ILA tried to issue a tender for the marketing of these lands – along with other lots – in 2004, but was ordered by the court to revise the tender so that Arabs may also participate, or to cancel it altogether. The ILA opted for the latter.

    The Arab Center for Alternative Planning (ACAP), a non-profit organization dedicated to representing the interests of Arab Israelis on issues of planning, land, housing, and development, claims the new tender is an attempt to circumvent the court’s ruling.

    The ILA retorted that Arabs are allowed to participate in the tender, that it is available to all Karmiel citizens of at least three years.

    The latter prerequisite, however, effectively bars Arab contenders, as Karmiel is home to few Arabs.

    In case an Arab were to win the tender, the ILA admits that it would cause a legal complication due to the Jewish National Fund’s restrictions. “If this occurs, we’ll find a solution,” the ILA assured Haaretz, adding that the tender will go on as planned.

    What could serve to nix the tender is a petition by ACAP to the High Court of Justice to allow all Israeli citizens to lease lands registered to the Jewish National Fund.

    However, the ILA told Haaretz that it would not delay the tender until the court’s ruling.

  3. Ralph Seliger May 8, 2007 at 4:44 am - Reply

    Dershowitz is “left” by his own definition as a liberal Democrat and by the fact that his support for a two-state solution to the conflict is almost exactly the same as proposed by Noam Chomsky (as I indicated in an article about their televised debate a year ago). I’ve made it clear that some of Dershowitz’s views and most of his posturings are very much not to my taste (although I think that his opinion on torture and the destruction of villages is not as clear as Zack makes them out to be). I’ve also indicated that Israeli land policy is generally discriminatory and in need of change. And one doesn’t have to be an anti-Zionist to work for such change.

  4. Anonymous May 8, 2007 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    Today Israel destroyed 30 structures in an Arab village in the Negev. 500 Arab homes are threatened with demolition in Jaffa. But fortunately, you’ve informed us that this discrimination against Palestinian Arabs in Israel should not be considered apartheid because Jews are not a race.


    30 structures in unrecognized Bedouin village in Negev demolished

    By Mijal Grinberg, Haaretz Correspondent

    30 structures, among them shacks and tents, were demolished on Tuesday in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al-Twayil in the Negev.

    The Council of Unrecognized Villages said the demolitions left 100 people with no roof over their heads.

    The village, north of Be’er Sheva, has been in a struggle with the authorities for many years.

    After the establishment of the State of Israel, when Israel’s Arabs were subject to martial law, the families of the village were moved to the nearby areas of Lahura and Lakiya, but they were unable to remain due to claims on the land by other families, leading many of them to return to their original land over the past 20 years.

    Following the demolitions, the Israel Lands Authority said it evacuated 24 “invasions” in the area and that “these invasions have taken place for the seventh time this year, to the same place.”

    “The invaders have homes in Lakiya,” the authority said, and added that they had “evacuated tents, livestock shelters, and sheds.”

  5. Ralph Seliger May 8, 2007 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    My friend Zack needs me to see things exactly as he does, even agreeing to using the same terminology. He refers to a painful conflict over land in the Negev. I am not certain as to who is absolutely in the right in this dispute, but I am definitely sympathetic with the Bedouins. Zack keeps on grinding his axe against Zionists, including against those of the liberal-left such as myself. It might be more constructive if he tangled with supporters of Hamas or Likud instead.

  6. Anonymous May 9, 2007 at 2:52 am - Reply

    Hi Ralph,

    Don’t worry I don’t spend a lot of my time tangling with you. I only wrote when I saw that you proudly proclaimed your return from a conference focused on attempting to discredit Jimmy Carter and the use of the term apartheid to describe Israel’s discriminatory policies (repeat, because Jews are not a race). I forgot, is Carter in Likud or Hamas? If neither, why waste your time tangling with him?

    Ralph, you are troubled by home demolitions in the Negev. How about in Jaffa, in Jerusalem, in Ramle, anywhere there are Palestinian Arabs in Israel, or anywhere in the Occupied Territories. Because the issue is not about one case of demolition in the Negev or about some problems buying land in the Galilee, it is about a systematic policy of discrimination directed against Palestinians by the state of Israel, wherever those Palestinians live. But since Jews are not a race, the conference Ralph attended wisely concluded that this Israeli discrimination against Palestinians, wherever they live, is not racist nor apartheid.

    Makes perfect sense evidently to the so-called liberal left in Israel.


  7. Ralph Seliger May 9, 2007 at 4:20 am - Reply

    Meretz continues to fight for fair housing policies and equal rights for all citizens of Israel. This is why the Meretz party nominated an Arab member to serve on the board of the Jewish National Fund and why the leader of Meretz, Yossi Beilin, has even suggested that the JNF be disbanded.

    Zack actually is far more critical of Israel than Jimmy Carter is in his book. Carter makes it clear that he’s using the apartheid word as a metaphor for Israeli policy in the West Bank. Pres. Carter also makes it clear that he does not regard the State of Israel proper as an apartheid state.

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