Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, famed for his uncompromising support of Israel, locked horns with a jeering crowd of even more uncompromising supporters of Israel in a Times Square hotel ballroom on Sunday.
Appearing at a day-long seminar on Israeli security, the celebrity scholar was repeatedly heckled and booed as he described his contacts with Palestinian leaders and urged civility in public discourse. Returning fire, Dershowitz told the audience they were “part of the problem, not part of the solution” and “you don’t speak for anybody but yourselves. Fortunately, nobody is listening to you.”
The occasion was the second annual Jerusalem Post Conference, an odd combination of high-level exchanges on security policy and raucous, far-right pep rally. The title was “Fighting for the Zionist Dream,” though it might just as easily have been named “Fighting Over the Zionist Dream.” Most of the day was devoted to thoughtful presentations by senior Israeli defense leaders, analyzing the complexities of Iran and Syria policy and discussing ways of reigniting peace talks with the Palestinians. Speakers included a former prime minister, a ranking Likud cabinet minister, a former army chief of staff, a former Mossad director, a former chief of military intelligence and others, including several Jerusalem Post journalists.
The paying audience, close to 1,000 New Yorkers, received most of the speakers politely, applauding only occasionally when someone saluted Israel’s soldiers or criticized Iran and booing lustily when they disagreed. The most enthusiastic reception was reserved for Post columnist Caroline Glick, a passionate opponent of Israeli-Palestinian compromise known for her slashing attacks on liberals.
The Dershowitz flap was essentially a replay in high-definition of a ruckus that punctuated the first Post conference, held a year ago in the same Marriott Marquis ballroom with many of the same speakers.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s April 23 visit to Israel has yielded some interesting fallout. Not least is the apparent puncturing of the image his opponents tried to paint of a sworn enemy of Israel. Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev does a pretty nifty job of skewering the anti-Hagel crowd, suggesting satirically that the secretary’s effusive embrace of Israel and the huge new arms sale he announced (details of which are here and here) are meant to “lull Israel into a false sense of security,” which “will only make it easier” for Hagel, Obama & Co. “to fulfill their lifelong dream of ‘throwing Israel under a bus.’”
It’s a sinister plot, Shalev writes. Hagel couldn’t have changed his tune in response to the “intimidating” powers of the “Jewish lobby,” since we all know those powers are imaginary. The only other two possibilities are that he’s engaging in psychological warfare, to lower Israel’s guard—or that “Hagel’s critics were wrong.” But that last possibility, he concludes, “can’t possibly be true, because by now Hagel’s critics would have owned up to their mistake and profusely apologized, no?”
Also essential reading is this analysis of the Hagel visit by Bloomberg News columnist (and former Forward staffer) Jeffrey Goldberg (no, for the last time, he’s not me). The new weapons systems Israel is to receive, especially advanced long-distance radar systems, the KC-135 midair refueling tankers and the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft (a combination helicopter and jet plane, never before sold to another country), all make it easier for Israel to attack Iran. But given Hagel’s longstanding opposition to attacking Iran, what does this sale mean? Goldberg makes two key points:
In my most recent weekly column I quoted at some length from Uzi Arad, professor of strategic affairs at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center, who served until a year ago as chairman of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Council. Arad is one of Israel’s most influential strategic thinkers, a former Mossad director of research, founder of the Herzliya Conference and Netanyahu’s closest national security adviser in and out of office from the mid-1990s until March 2011, when Arad resigned amid a messy disagreement over Iran strategy.
The quotes from Arad in my column were extracted from a much longer July 17-18 phone conversation about the connections between Iran strategy, U.S.-Israel relations and Palestinian peace talks. Despite his uber-hawk reputation, which leads some detractors (mostly on the left) to call him “Israel’s Dr. Strangelove,” he’s a subtle and surprising thinker, and what he has to say right now is important. Accordingly, I’m presenting my notes from our full conversation.
An attack on Iran is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The overall strategic objective, the one that the American administration and the Israeli government presumably share, is an expression of determination that Iran will be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The president has also amplified his position by saying that America is not in the mode of discussing containment or deterrence. What he means is that all eyes are fixed on prevention.