The Bintel Brief

Bintel Brief: Alan Dershowitz Says Being a Pro-Israel Liberal Doesn’t Mean Being Lonely

By Alan Dershowitz

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Alan Dershowitz

Dear Prof. Dershowitz,

I am a very politically liberal Jew. However, I find great discomfort with liberal activist organizations when it comes to Israel. Their messages are frequently strident and are often indistinguishable between being anti-Israel and antisemitic. Equally problematic is finding myself in the camp of the neo-cons and other right-wing groups in their support of Israel. Is there no place for a liberal Jew who supports Israel?


Alan Dershowitz replies:

I, too, am a politically liberal Jew who supports Israel, though I am critical of some of its policies (as I am of some policies of every country). You are absolutely right that the hard left has made it politically incorrect to show any support for Israel. Indeed, virulent anti-Israel extremism has become a litmus test for acceptance by the hard left.

I, too, find it impossible to support the neo-cons and other right-wing groups, since I favor the end of the occupation, the two-state solution and Israeli efforts to reach out to pragmatic Palestinians. I also strongly oppose the right on issues of social justice, tikkun olam and separation of church and state.

There is, however, a place for a liberal Jew who supports Israel. We are a proud group that includes Barney Frank, Irwin Cotler, Chuck Schumer, Michael Walzer and many others. The situation you describe is widespread: Liberal Jews who are appalled by the attitude many of their left-wing friends show toward Israel. That is why I am planning to write a memoir entitled “Why I Left the Left But Couldn’t Join the Right.” I suspect I speak for quite a few people on this issue.

Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is the author of numerous books, including “Chutzpah,” “The Vanishing American Jew,” “The Genesis of Justice,” “The Case for Israel,” “The Case for Peace” and, most recently, “Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking the Declaration of Independence.”

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Sephardiman Mon. Jul 23, 2007

Lonely Liberal cal easily find a home and outlet through groups like Brit Tzedeck V'Shalom, American Friends of Peace Now, & Oz VeShalom.

Mordechai Mon. Jul 23, 2007

Please Brit Tzedek is an anti Israel hate group that supports Israels destruction. Same with APN. Sorry Alan but you have no friends on the left. Every democratic presidential candidate has courted the support of the anti semitic Al Sharpton. Every Republican with the exception of Ron Paul (who is marginal and a leftist) opposes anti semitism an supports Israel. You cannot be a liberal and a Jew

Sephardiman Tue. Jul 24, 2007

Mordechai's comments are ridiculous. Anyone who opposes the occupation is a leftist? Allow me to state the following. The Settler Groups, the misguided fools who post on Arutz 7 are the real haters. APN & Brit Tzedeck stand for authentic Jewish and Zionist values. You cannot be a neo-con or Settler advocate and be a Jew!

Anna Thu. Jul 26, 2007

I'm a liberal Jew. Like most of my family and friends (including ones who aren't Jewish), I'm very liberal and also very pro-Israel. We may not be the loudest group out there, but we exist and there are more of us than you think.

Marc Thu. Jul 26, 2007

I'm also in the same boat, but take solace in the fact that every major Democratic candidate has pledged its support for Israel. B Clinton was good, if not great for Israel, as will be Obama, Edwards or Clinton II. We don't have to worry about the liberal candidates whose support is questionable - like Kucinich and Nader - ever getting elected. Notice, too, that the election of isolationists on the right - like Ron Paul - would spell trouble. So, I think this demonstrates that pro vs. anti Israel and left vs. right are orthogonal to each other - this coming from someone living in Oakland and going to Berkeley.

Yechiel Thu. Jul 26, 2007

The two most accessible American scholarly sources on Israeli policies and Jewish issues are probably Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein. Both men are acclaimed by scholars in their fields, and widely admired for their courageous and principled stands in favor of international law. Alan Dershowitz has attacked both men in public on many occasions. He does not favor the use of evidence, however, but rather tends toward the use of defamation and abuse. Liberals and others interested in rationale discourse might wish to take note of this fact. Dershowitz's tactics do not stop, however, with these two men. Note, for example, Dershowitz's reply above: It does not mention the names of the "hard left" individuals or groups Mr. Dershowitz dislikes. This is very convenient, as it renders his arguments untestable and unverifiable. Furthermore, the term "pro-Israel" is left undefined, as well. There is therefore, essentially zero content in Mr. Dershowitz' response in this regard. Dershowitz says at the end of his little statement that he suspects himself to be speaking for "quite a few people on this issue," and he is perhaps correct. If so, he is an articulate spokesman for nothing substantial or little of value.

NYC Girl Thu. Jul 26, 2007

You'd be surprised at just how many of us there are who are very liberal on social issues (I happen to be pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and an atheist, to boot). However, where Israel is concerned, I'm an unabashed Zionist. Not only that, but, unlike the good professor, I've yet to see anything that has convinced me the Palestinians even deserve to have a state of their own...certainly not after the election of Hamas and the ensuing mayhem in Gaza.

julie Thu. Jul 26, 2007

Roll call? count me as one more liberal who is sick of The Left's polemics. Polemicists (count Chomsky & Finkelstein amongst them, Yechiel) never solve anything because they get off on the fight.

DocDoc Thu. Jul 26, 2007

Perhaps it's more a matterof setting priorities. I am liberal on many social issues but cannot find a democratic candidate who reflects my views on national security and Israel. Mr. Guliani comes closest to meeting my priorities and I expect to vote for him. The knee-jerk anti-Israel attitude of the left has effectively driven me to the Republican party. Too bad so many Israel supporters can't come to grips with this situation.

DrO Thu. Jul 26, 2007

I write from the UK. I can't believe you appear to be in the same mess over there as we are over here! I still had hopes for you all and was even considering moving over there to escape how hard, nay impossible, it is to be left and Jewish here, especially as an academic, what with the shameful union boycotts. Is Israel the only place left, I wonder, for us lefties? Of course, the debate rages over there too, but it's more tolerable somehow over there. It certainly feels less hypocritical and is obviously not as exclusionary and chilling. Yechiel #zero content# to your post - yup! all you do is ad hominem attacks which add nothing - you might, however, have added that Finkelstein was recently denied tenure on the basis of unreliable scholarship...

David S Levine Thu. Jul 26, 2007

"Why I left the Left But Couldn't Join the Right." I think that has more to do with the "rights" of the societal scum who are his clients than any love he has for Israel or the Jewish People. Like most liberals of Jewish origin, Jewish issues are secondary to him as they are to the political and academic figures he mentions. In Dershowitz's case the primary issue is having judges on the bench who will rule in favor of his outragous motions and free his clients so that they can, in too many cases, kill and steal again. Schumer recruited the Israel basher Jim Webb to run for the Senate and does not come to the defence of Israel and Jewish interests when they are attacked by Webb. And let's face the fact that Barney Frank has many priorities other than Israel's survival.

BohtaDude Thu. Jul 26, 2007

I feel for you, Lonely Liberal. I was a very liberal South Africa Apartheidist. I can't believe all the people in the world attacking my country and our ways. We were only trying to prevent ourself from being attacked by the savage primates that runs wild all over the our land. Being a race of high moral value, we put them in the most humane of zoos (including actual primate living environments), which were much more humane than any zoos that were out there back then (which still had cages for their beasts). Now we are the ones locked up in cages. All of us that's still in SA are looking for a new homeland where we could love ourselves. I heard America is the home of the free and we are thinking of migrating there. There is a group called triple-K that seems to love their own people too, maybe we could join them and hopefully the animals that they were forced to set free 140 years ago won't come rape our women and eat our children.

Yechiel Thu. Jul 26, 2007

Hi DrO, If you take a look at what I wrote, you'll see that I actually looked at what Dershowitz presented in his short article and analysed the content, such as it is. This easy exercise (you may wish to try it) demonstrates that the content amounts to little more than vacuous statements. This approach is, unfortunately, precisely opposite to what you call "ad hominem" attacks. You may wish to know that an ad hominem argument is one which attacks a person rather than the statements he makes. You say, additionally, that Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure on the basis of what you call "unreliable scholarship." This may be the official rationale provided by DePaul University; to believe the University's claim, however, one would have to believe as well that Raul Hilberg -- author of the three-volume "The Destrution of the European Jews" -- and the man generally regarded as the father of the filed of Holocaust Studies is just as guilty as Finkelstein of "unreliable scholarship." Hilberg expressed his view of the attacks on Finkelstein recently. He said, "I was also struck by the fact that Finkelstein was being attacked over and over. And granted, his style is a little different from mine, but I was saying the same thing, and I had published my results in that three-volume work, published in 2003 by Yale University Press." And so, if, unlike Mr. Derwhowitz, one is interested in facts, they are there to be examined in such places as the Democracy Now website, and Hilberg's writings more generally. We may desire to disregard unpleasant facts, as Alan Dershowitz has so famously done, or we may instead employ compassion and reason to the issues before us. The choice is up to us.

DrO Thu. Jul 26, 2007

I write from the UK. I can't believe you appear to be in the same mess over there as we are over here! I still had hopes for you all and was even considering moving over there to escape how hard, nay impossible, it is to be left and Jewish here, especially as an academic, what with the shameful union boycotts. Is Israel the only place left, I wonder, for us lefties? Of course, the debate rages over there too, but it's more tolerable somehow over there. It certainly feels less hypocritical and is obviously not as exclusionary and chilling. Yechiel #zero content# to your post - yup! all you do is ad hominem attacks which add nothing - you might, however, have added that Finkelstein was recently denied tenure on the basis of unreliable scholarship...

David L Nilsson Fri. Jul 27, 2007

DrO: "Is Israel the only place left, I wonder, for us lefties?" Sure, with Kadima, Likud and YB in the driving seat and Shinon Peres kicked upstairs, you'll really feel at home!

Paul & Carol Bradford Fri. Jul 27, 2007

Dear Dersh: The harm you have done to your fellow Jews, like Prof. Norman Finkeltstein and others has been well noted. Frankly, you should be one of the professionals now being ousted from universities because of their dissent from opinions like yours. You are part of a large group here in the States that would stop Freedom of Speech. This is why you shouldn't be at one of the foremost universities in the world.

DrO Fri. Jul 27, 2007

I write from the UK. I can't believe you appear to be in the same mess over there as we are over here! I still had hopes for you all and was even considering moving over there to escape how hard, nay impossible, it is to be left and Jewish here, especially as an academic, what with the shameful union boycotts. Is Israel the only place left, I wonder, for us lefties? Of course, the debate rages over there too, but it's more tolerable somehow over there. It certainly feels less hypocritical and is obviously not as exclusionary and chilling. Yechiel #zero content# to your post - yup! all you do is ad hominem attacks which add nothing - you might, however, have added that Finkelstein was recently denied tenure on the basis of unreliable scholarship...

DrO Fri. Jul 27, 2007

apologies for multiple posts - gremlin on the system!! @Yechiel - thanks for calling me up on the use of the term ad hominem which I used by way of shorthand but imperfectly! I wish there were a word for someone who astutely avoids ad hominem attacks, and dresses the charge up instead in terms of the statements made by the person being rebuked. The sentiment is the same, the form different and I used the term to highlight the sentiment, which I found rather disappointing in your post. More precisely: that, in using this forum to make these sorts of attacks, you seem to be doing precisely that which you criticize. If you don't like it, don't do it. Or is your justification for doing so your perception that Dersh himself uses these tactics so therefore it's OK to respond like with like? You'll note, of course, that this is can go on and on: if this is the justification you use, then surely Dersh can avail himself of it too, in defence of whatever charge you have against him for his opinions on Fink. He who plays dirty, gets dirty back. Anyway, it's silly and I'd rather discuss the point in issue in the Bintelbrief, not the whole Fink saga. I'll just say though that the difference between Fink and Raul Hilberg IMO is that, while they may have found similar evidence, they use it to very different ends. It's a version of the typical dilemma regarding the scientist who discovers something which can be used for good or evil. Hilberg and Fink's research overlap only in very minimal domains (one piece of research, as I understand it) - Fink's work is primarily addressed at the problem of Israel/Palestine and he uses the Holocaust work in that context. Whereas Hilberg is a Holocaust scholar and only that. I don't want to hike up the heat in this debate by using the following rather drastic example - it is just the simplest way to convey the point: if a university was deciding tenure of a nuclear scientist hell-bent on achieving world domination by the KKK, would you think the uni right to question whether his scholarship adds value to world knowledge and understanding? I don't want to get into a whole debate about Finkelstein. Just to explain why I think Dersh's motivations admirable for disapproving of Fink's scholarship. I think Fink attracted and perhaps even engineered dirty fights by using extreme polemical form to convey his message (which is a big difference between him and Hilberg who I'm not sure has a message in this sense) and he isn’t exactly retiring in how he handles others... I will just say for clarification, since it tends to be elided in this domain: the problem is NOT any and all criticism of Israel - I am a critic myself and value & support the work of virtually all those who are genuinely exposing that which should be criticized on this basis alone. But I am extremely careful about that criticsm, which is unfortunate – I wish things were not so but I don't think we should be in the dark about the existence of antisemitism in criticism of Israel. Just as an Islamophobe can suddenly become the biggest champion of Muslim women's rights, using the oppression of Muslim women simply to further his Islamophobic tendencies, by highlighting that which should be criticized amongst Muslim practices; so too an increasing number of critics of Israel whose real motivations are far uglier and have little to do with the terrible plight of the Palestinians. I don't think Fink has been sufficiently careful about this IMO and his scholarship has therefore suffered, as is right (if one believes in ethical scholarship). If his scholarship were up to the standard, I doubt he’d be in trouble now and would have found tenure (outside Cuba and Iran!). It's a difficult dilemma but in this instance I think we are on the side of right as things stand. @ David L Nilsson But at least I can join with progressive forces in Israel whereas in the UK (and by the sound of it in the US) this is impossible without having to transcend exclusion, chilling etc., while all the while having to fend off the antisemites, ever growing in number in these quarters, sadly. At the same time, I feel under a greater duty to stay - to save this country's left from its present morass! Oy! And, yes, there's lots of work to be done on the left too. Do people feel in similar dilemmas over there or are things still more sane? For how long?

DrO Fri. Jul 27, 2007

Sorry my last post should have said, at the end: And, yes, there's lots of work to be done on the left in Israel too, to get into power and in many other ways...

Woodrow Fri. Jul 27, 2007

The analogies between the US and the UK are completely idiotic. In the US, the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Party is very pro-Israel. Whenever there is a pro-Israel resolution introduced, only about 20 or 30 Democrats (out of a caucus of 200 when the Dems hit rock bottom in the early 2000s) voted against it. In other words, the difference between the Ds and Rs was the difference between a 90% pro-Israel party and a 99% pro-Israel party. So if you define "liberal" the way most Americans define it (i.e. anyone to the left of the Republicans) there is no reason to feel "lonely" on the Left. Concededly, if "liberal" is defined more narrowly (say, as "anyone to the left of Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich") the pro-Israel percentage becomes much smaller. But people to the left of Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich are not particulary numerous or influential.

Lois Berkson Fri. Jul 27, 2007

Right on Professor. You speak for my family and friends. We feel our traditional liberal views and our supportive views of Israel have been hijacked by extremes on left and right.You are a great voice to express our frustrations. Thank you

Stan Fleischman Fri. Jul 27, 2007

Have you all seen this exchange with Dershowitz that mentions BTvS?

John Mason Thu. Aug 2, 2007

You don't have to leave the Left, there's more than ONE left, there's no Central Committee of THE LEFT dictating policy. I am proudly of the Left AND pro-Israel, and I don't think it's an oxymoron.

Jack Garbuz Sat. Jul 28, 2007

Maybe more Jews should examine their liberal "roots" more closely. What good did communism bring for us Jews? Did the kibbutz movement in Israel succeed? As one who was born a "liberal Jew" to holocaust survivors, I thankfully managed to liberate myself from this pernicious leftist prediliction, especially after experiencing life for a decade living in Israel's bureaucrapcy. Liberalism is to the JEw what Nazism was to the German, and the sooner we liberate ourselves from "liberalism," the sooner we will become a normal people. Liberalism has corrupted us to the core.

Sharon Sat. Jul 28, 2007


Jack Wisser Mon. Aug 13, 2007

To those Dershowitz haters I can only say that if we had an Alan Dershowitz and an Israel in 1940 The 9oo Jews who were denied entry into the USA and other countries would have had some place that would have gladly welcomed them and maybe there would have been 900 more survivors of the holocaust. I would like to add that I am a liberal democrat and proud of it. It seems that those who support the Palistinians have forgotten they had their state in 1947 when theUN partitioned Palistine into two states. Israel, that was one third the size of the palistinian state accepted the partiton. The Palistinians and other Arab nations did not. Never again Jack Wisser

Jack Wisser Sun. Aug 12, 2007

I too am a pro-Isreal jewish liberal, who is very upset with all the Isreal bashing.

Cha'nuch Tue. Aug 14, 2007

My question is whether the bintel Brief should be used to answer Dershkowitz's personal rethorical questions with the solution that will be only found in his next in a series of persoanal memoires. The American government is made up of Liberals Moderates and Conservatives who almost all support Isreal in the form of legislation, non-binding referendums and budget allocations. To say that liberals don't support Israel is a myth. The antagonists Dershowitz likes to point his finger at would probably best be described as Radicals. I'm sure the good Professer knows the difference.

hana bloom Tue. Jul 31, 2007

Why are people who are virulently anti-Israel called "liberal"? And they're not "progressive" either.

Rivington Essex Mon. Aug 20, 2007

Ron Paul in not anti-Israel or anti-semetic. He is pro American and opposes preemption. Like Washington, he warns of the US becoming caught in entangling alliances and he favors letting other countries solve their own problems. We need to stop calling anyone who is a non-interventionist anti-semetic; it is false, hurts our credibility and will come back to haunt us.

Mr. Anonymous Mon. Oct 15, 2007

I read that you favor declaring animals "persons" or "non-persons", whatever that ridiculous position means. And not only that, but also favor declaring apes and monkeys "equal" to us humans with the same rights. [?] Now, do you consider monkeys and apes with more rights than Palestinians Arabs? Nice to think about it, kid!

Mr. Anonymous Sun. Oct 14, 2007

Let me put it this way, Mr Dershowitz: you can't be with God and Mammon, or two different feets in opposing situations, at the same time. I can understand your defense of Israel because of you being Jewish. But contradictions and refusal to see some reality is what I find hard to understand.

Mr. Anonymous Sun. Oct 14, 2007

Let me add something I forgot: the days when Israel was universally applauded and defended by wide group of people, except some few leftists and, well obviously, anti-semitic rightwingers like the Nazis, are long gone. We will never again have a "Pablo Casals" or a "Jorge Luis Borges" defending and "loving" Israel. I remember that atmosphere of pro-Israeli tearjerkers acclamations back in the late sixties and early seventies. We have seen the reality of Israel, while I have nothing against its population and nothing against Jews in general, that is abusive, criminal, racist and plain obnoxious against Palestinians. Concede that Palestinians and Muslim Arabs have made mistakes, lots of it, and serious, as you have written on your half-truth, and half-lies, books "The Case for Israel" and "The Case for Peace". Maybe you have some points there. But Israel have done lots of ugly mistakes, too. [Oh, "you admit it"]. But I still see contradictions in your positions. And this coming from a guy who mentioned that the "Morgenthau Plan" was proper to Germans and Austrians after their defeat in 1945 in his book "Chutzpa" [Then Germany and Austria would have been armed with nuclear weapons and seeking revenge, today]. At least Ms. Coulter, repulsive, and Mr. Dick Cheney are more honets.

Grooftengerge Sat. Dec 22, 2007

Hello, i want to note that your question is typical on tour

Ken Sun. Jan 20, 2008

I am a Ron Paul supporter. I don't understand why he is is smeared as anti-semetic. The way I see it, Isreal obviously runs on a higher socially technological plane with regards to morality than it's Arab neigbors. It is logical that the potential interactions between a constitutional American Government and Isreal is tantamount to Isreals long term economic options. By framing the situation in terms of "foriegn aid" I believe the greater diplomatic, spiritual, and civil dimensions are given a short shrift. A strong and long term American existance is what is good for Isreal. The American-Isreali relationship is strong enough to weather a American rejection of Arab barbarism, even if that path proceeds through an isolationist cycle.

Mr. Anonymous Sat. Feb 9, 2008

Any person criticizing, or at least showing doubts on Israel, is called "antisemitic". Welcome to the "antisemitic club", man. Feel real "comfy". Sorry for my sarcasm. HA!

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