Commentary Magazine


Feisty Dershowitz Attacks the Wrong Target

According to Haaretz, the schmoozing is getting a little rough at the AIPAC conference. The Israeli paper says that Harvard Law’s Alan Dershowitz barged into a conversation between one of their reporters and Hadar Susskind, a representative of J Street, and then tore into the left-wing group. The Dersh, a liberal stalwart whose credentials as a partisan Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel cannot be questioned, pulled no punches but rather charged the group with false labeling in calling itself “pro-Israel” and accused it of dividing the Jewish community.

“I reject J Street because it spends more time criticizing Israel than supporting it,” he said. “They shouldn’t call themselves pro-Israel. The combative Harvard law professor said that he too opposed settlements. “But I spend 80 per cent of my time supporting Israel,” he said. … The sort of supporters J Street was attracting to its conferences showed that the group was damaging to Israel, Dershowitz said. “If you invite Zbigniew Brzezinski you are not pro-Israel,” Dershowitz told Susskind. “You should ask yourself why Norman Finkelstein loves you,” he said.

Claus von Bulow’s former appeals attorney is, of course, right on all counts here. J Street isn’t merely an exercise in pro-Israel political diversity, as it claims. It spends more time bashing Israel than backing it because it was created specifically to create a counter-force to AIPAC that would push for pressure on the Jewish state. But the Dersh’s fury at J Street is misplaced. The question pro-Israel activists must ask is why he or they should bother wasting their time swinging away at J Street when the group is now merely a stalking horse for the real problem: the Obama administration.

J Street is, after all, nothing more than a Jewish rump of and the leftist activist wing of the Democratic Party. It came into existence to give Jewish cover to members of Congress who wished to oppose the pro-Israel consensus. But now its main purpose is to give aid and comfort to an Obama administration that is determined to distance itself from Israel and to pressure it into concessions on issues — such as Jerusalem — on which an Israeli and American pro-Israel consensus is firmly behind the Netanyahu government. Dershowitz has expressed misgivings in the past about Obama’s policies but has refused to break with the president. But at this point it’s fair to ask Professor Dershowitz whether it isn’t it a bit unfair to smack J Street around when they’re only loyally carrying the water for the man whom he helped elect president and continues to support?

In 2008, Dershowitz argued that not only were Obama’s pro-Israel credentials impeccable but that it would be a boon to Israel to have a liberal president who backed the Jewish state. That was because he thought that having a liberal icon like Obama who supported Israel in the White House would convince young people and others on the Left that it was okay for them to do the same. But the opposite has happened. The pointless fights that Obama has picked with Israel (while he continues to dither on the threat from Iran) have helped to further discredit Israel among liberals and Democrats while J Street disingenuously stamps his policies “pro-Israel.”

But while he is prepared to get tough with Obama’s J Street spear-carriers, the redoubtable Professor Dershowitz is still unwilling to take on their inspirational leader in the White House. Slashing away at J Street’s stands is nice but if you’re going to keep giving Obama a pass for policies that put the left-wing lobby’s misguided principles into action, you’re wasting everybody’s time. The next time Dershowitz feels the urge to belabor Susskind and the rest of the J Street crowd, he should instead focus his anger on the real offender: Barack Obama.