Forward Thinking

Michaelson Answers Dershowitz

By Jay Michaelson

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Here’s a thought: When you start asking lots of rhetorical questions, chances are you’re failing to understand that such questions often have answers.

In Alan Dershowitz’s criticism of B’nai Jeshurun’s recent endorsement of the UN Palestine (non-member) statehood vote, he asks nine such questions. Here are some answers to them.

Q: Did the rabbis realize that, according to the vote, the Western Wall (the holiest site in Judaism) is being illegally occupied by the Israeli government?

A: I am sure they did. However, as Elisheva Goldberg has pointed out [], this fact did not change with the UN statehood vote. So why mention it?

Q: Did they realize that the decision of the government to set aside the area for Jewish prayer could now be deemed a war crime punishable by the International Criminal Court?

A: The ICC has already deemed Israel’s separation wall a violation of international law (in a ludicrously bad opinion), without any need for Palestinian statehood status. Once again, the UN vote changes nothing.

Q: Do the rabbis intend to pray at the Kotel next time they visit Israel? Or are they prepared to advise their congregants not to set foot on this Palestinian land now illegally occupied by Israel?

A: The word “now” is misleading, insofar as the land has always been “illegally occupied.” Ironically, for the mixed-gender rabbis to pray together at the Kotel is now also illegal, per Israeli law.

Q: Do the rabbis realize that under the General Assembly vote the access route to Hebrew University on Mount Scopus is now on illegally occupied Palestinian land and that the Israeli government’s decision to reopen the Mount Scopus campus following the 1967 War may now also be considered a war crime? Do the rabbis intend to advise their congregants not to attend Hebrew University or to boycott the scholars who now illegally traverse Palestinian land to get to their offices and research facilities?

A: Sorry to be repetitive here, but the territory was already “illegally occupied” and that the ICC has already ruled against Israel. So, once again, the UN vote changes nothing.

Now, I can’t speak for the BJ rabbis, but as someone about to receive his Ph.D. from Hebrew University, I obviously would not support such a boycott. However, I have supported [] the statehood bid. The issues have nothing to do with one another.

I’m going to skip the next two questions, which are carbon copies of the last few, except about the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. The real question, of course, is why a world-famous litigator is repeating these inane questions, over and over again. And the obvious answer to that is that he is trying to manipulate the jury – that’s you, reader – by tugging at emotional Jewish heartstrings and creating a sense of outrage that the sacred sites of Judaism (and I’ll count my alma mater as one) are somehow impacted by this vote. Which they are not. How does the saying go: Repeat a lie often enough, and…

Q: But do they know that a large percentage of the governments voting for Palestinian statehood do not recognize Israel’s right to exist and would clearly vote against Israeli statehood if given the opportunity?

A: I’m sure they do know that. The principle here seems to be “if my enemy supports it, I must oppose it.” Of course, that’s no more true here than it is of 9-0 Supreme Court decisions, bipartisan budget deals, or rooting for Boston Red Sox alongside Republicans. The question is, in the instant case, whether there are good reasons for supporting this step, whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. And finally:

Q: Already the Palestinian Authority has threatened to use this resolution to bring charges against Israel for war crimes. Do the rabbis support the bringing of such charges? If they are brought, will the rabbis send out an email declaring the bringing of charges to be “a great moment”?

A: Still badgering the witness, I guess. I’m sure the rabbis would not support such charges. However, there are two important responses. First, if such charges were warranted, the truly sad moment would be not the bringing of charges, but the tragic cause that occasioned them. Second, and more to the point, while there may be some adverse consequences of Palestinian (non-member) statehood, the adverse consequences of stasis are even worse.

To build that out for a moment: in his original Forward post, and in a follow-up on the Daily Beast [], Professor Dershowitz has emphasized that “The Israeli government’s official position is to welcome negotiations with no preconditions.”

That position, however, is a sham. “No preconditions” means tossing out twenty years of prior negotiations, and starting at square one, an unreasonable and unprecedented demand. Moreover, since we now know the Netanyahu government’s position – that “Palestine” should be a collection of disconnected Bantustans on the West Bank, or, worse, that the occupation should continue for another hundred years – we also know that such a negotiation would be fruitless. It would be a show, whose only benefit would be to give political cover to continued Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. It’s a PR move, like the Shamir government’s participation in the Madrid peace talks in 1991. To play along is to be played.

Given the hand Prime Minister Abbas has been dealt — a rejectionist Islamist movement in Gaza, a rejectionist Israeli partner in Jerusalem — what other options does he have? The statehood declaration may be meaningless, but judging from the celebrations in Ramallah, it had meaning to ordinary Palestinians — and I, for one, would much they celebrate a diplomatic victory than a military one.

If Professor Dershowitz truly supports a two-state solution (which I have no reason to doubt) then he, too, should welcome any development that weakens rejectionists and strengthens moderates. The dismal status quo, in which the occupation drags on for decades while Israel’s international standing degenerates still further, is almost as bad for Israel as it is for Palestine. Something had to be done, and while this something isn’t perfect, it is better than the nothing we’ve seen so far.

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