Commentary Magazine


Topic: Alan Dershowitz

Dershowitz Throws Down the Gauntlet to Obama

Let’s give credit where it’s due. In the past, I’ve written about Alan Dershowitz’s defense of the Obama administration (here and here) as well as about his recent attack on J Street.

Despite Dershowitz’s outstanding pro-Israel record, I’ve taken him to task for his loyalty to Obama and refusal to call the president out for his decision to downgrade the alliance with Israel. But it looks as if the Harvard Law professor is finally starting to lose patience with the man whose candidacy for the presidency he supported so enthusiastically. In today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Dershowitz stops short of condemning the administration, but he delivered as stark a challenge to the president as one could imagine regarding Iran.

Pulling no punches, Dershowitz instructs Obama that no one remembers that Neville Chamberlain was a successful reformer who not only helped restore Great Britain’s financial stability during the Depression but also passed landmark legislation on unemployment and retirement benefits. Instead, all history remembers is Chamberlain’s “failure to confront Hitler.” It is, he writes pointedly, “Chamberlain’s enduring legacy.” And if Obama does not act to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, anything he achieves on health care or the economy will count for nothing when compared to the impact of a failure on Iran.

“History will not treat kindly any leader who allows so much power to be accumulated by the world’s first suicide nation,” Dershowitz writes. Like Chamberlain with Hitler, “Mr. Obama will come to symbolize the failure of the West if Iran acquires nuclear weapons on his watch.”

Dershowitz is right, both about the nature of the threat from Iran and about Obama’s place in history if he allows Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons. But does Obama take the threat as seriously as Dershowitz? Everything the president has done since he took office leads us to believe the answer is no. A year of feckless engagement and weak diplomacy has led the Iranians to believe Obama is a weakling who will do nothing but appease and talk. The threat of force has been taken off the table, and only recently has the administration begun to speak seriously about sanctions on Iran — but even then, the measures considered aren’t tough enough and lack the support of China and Russia. Beyond wrongly blaming Israel for his failure to rally the world to America’s position, Obama has done little to indicate he cares deeply about the threat.

Thus, while we applaud Dershowitz for throwing down the gauntlet to Obama, we have to wonder how long will he wait before he concedes that the man in the White House is more of a Chamberlain than the Winston Churchill that the West needs so badly today.

Let’s give credit where it’s due. In the past, I’ve written about Alan Dershowitz’s defense of the Obama administration (here and here) as well as about his recent attack on J Street.

Despite Dershowitz’s outstanding pro-Israel record, I’ve taken him to task for his loyalty to Obama and refusal to call the president out for his decision to downgrade the alliance with Israel. But it looks as if the Harvard Law professor is finally starting to lose patience with the man whose candidacy for the presidency he supported so enthusiastically. In today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Dershowitz stops short of condemning the administration, but he delivered as stark a challenge to the president as one could imagine regarding Iran.

Pulling no punches, Dershowitz instructs Obama that no one remembers that Neville Chamberlain was a successful reformer who not only helped restore Great Britain’s financial stability during the Depression but also passed landmark legislation on unemployment and retirement benefits. Instead, all history remembers is Chamberlain’s “failure to confront Hitler.” It is, he writes pointedly, “Chamberlain’s enduring legacy.” And if Obama does not act to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, anything he achieves on health care or the economy will count for nothing when compared to the impact of a failure on Iran.

“History will not treat kindly any leader who allows so much power to be accumulated by the world’s first suicide nation,” Dershowitz writes. Like Chamberlain with Hitler, “Mr. Obama will come to symbolize the failure of the West if Iran acquires nuclear weapons on his watch.”

Dershowitz is right, both about the nature of the threat from Iran and about Obama’s place in history if he allows Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons. But does Obama take the threat as seriously as Dershowitz? Everything the president has done since he took office leads us to believe the answer is no. A year of feckless engagement and weak diplomacy has led the Iranians to believe Obama is a weakling who will do nothing but appease and talk. The threat of force has been taken off the table, and only recently has the administration begun to speak seriously about sanctions on Iran — but even then, the measures considered aren’t tough enough and lack the support of China and Russia. Beyond wrongly blaming Israel for his failure to rally the world to America’s position, Obama has done little to indicate he cares deeply about the threat.

Thus, while we applaud Dershowitz for throwing down the gauntlet to Obama, we have to wonder how long will he wait before he concedes that the man in the White House is more of a Chamberlain than the Winston Churchill that the West needs so badly today.

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Bibi’s “Note” to Obama

In a must-read and quite delightful column, Bret Stephens pens a Bibi Netanyahu “note” (not really, but it’s a doozy). The heart of it is this explanation for what’s wrong with Obama’s Middle East gambit:

Mr. President: Most Israelis don’t trust you, the way they trusted George W. Bush or [even] Bill Clinton. And let me tell you why that’s a problem.

When my predecessor Arik Sharon pulled out of Gaza, he didn’t do so through negotiations with the Palestinians. Those negotiations fail time and again, in part because the Palestinians figure they can hold out for more, in part because they’re cutting their own deals with Hamas.

So what Sharon did was negotiate with you, the United States. And what he got was a promise, in writing, that the U.S. would not insist on a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines in any final settlement agreement.

My problem is that Hillary disavowed that promise last year, and you did so again by treating a neighborhood in Jerusalem as a “settlement.” So when you pledge your commitment to Israel’s everlasting security, how can we take your word for it, or know that your successor won’t also renege? We don’t want to wind up like Belgium before World War I, relying on phony guarantees of neutrality.

Stephens/”Bibi” has some advice to Obama: start “building some serious trust with Israelis if you mean to give me the political tools to negotiate with the Palestinians.” No, Obama’s not going to drive Bibi from office, but he will, Stephens/”Bibi” argues, cause the Jewish state to  lose faith in the U.S. president where it matters most — on the Iran nuclear threat. (“Hillary gave a fine speech at AIPAC yesterday, but we all know that you’re already planning on containing a nuclear Iran. That’s not acceptable to me.”) Yes, “acceptable” is the word the Obami toss around like confetti, but it is fast becoming meaningless as the Obami’s actions appear utterly divorced from the preferred intention of depriving the Iranians of a nuclear weapon.

This is an argument of reverse linkage. You recall that the Obami were all about linking progress on the Palestinian issue to a successful effort to block the Iranian nuclear program. Yes, it was a non sequitur, but that’s what they said. In reality, the Obami’s Middle East policy is communicating a different message to Israel: you’re going to have to take care of Iran on your own. The U.S. is so enamored of getting along in the Muslim World and so unwilling to draw a line with the mullahs that Israel will/is faced with a choice: do nothing (which is the same as waiting around for the Obami to act) or take military action themselves.

By his recent verbal assault, Obama meant perhaps to paralyze Israel, creating uncertainty as to whether the U.S. would be with Israel if it came down to a military action against Iran. But Israel cannot be paralyzed into inactivity (for reasons amply stated by Alan Dershowitz on the same newspaper page). The result then of all the Obami carrying on is to create a less secure U.S.-Israel relationship and to spur Israel to act unilaterally. Unfortunately, that part isn’t fictional.

In a must-read and quite delightful column, Bret Stephens pens a Bibi Netanyahu “note” (not really, but it’s a doozy). The heart of it is this explanation for what’s wrong with Obama’s Middle East gambit:

Mr. President: Most Israelis don’t trust you, the way they trusted George W. Bush or [even] Bill Clinton. And let me tell you why that’s a problem.

When my predecessor Arik Sharon pulled out of Gaza, he didn’t do so through negotiations with the Palestinians. Those negotiations fail time and again, in part because the Palestinians figure they can hold out for more, in part because they’re cutting their own deals with Hamas.

So what Sharon did was negotiate with you, the United States. And what he got was a promise, in writing, that the U.S. would not insist on a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines in any final settlement agreement.

My problem is that Hillary disavowed that promise last year, and you did so again by treating a neighborhood in Jerusalem as a “settlement.” So when you pledge your commitment to Israel’s everlasting security, how can we take your word for it, or know that your successor won’t also renege? We don’t want to wind up like Belgium before World War I, relying on phony guarantees of neutrality.

Stephens/”Bibi” has some advice to Obama: start “building some serious trust with Israelis if you mean to give me the political tools to negotiate with the Palestinians.” No, Obama’s not going to drive Bibi from office, but he will, Stephens/”Bibi” argues, cause the Jewish state to  lose faith in the U.S. president where it matters most — on the Iran nuclear threat. (“Hillary gave a fine speech at AIPAC yesterday, but we all know that you’re already planning on containing a nuclear Iran. That’s not acceptable to me.”) Yes, “acceptable” is the word the Obami toss around like confetti, but it is fast becoming meaningless as the Obami’s actions appear utterly divorced from the preferred intention of depriving the Iranians of a nuclear weapon.

This is an argument of reverse linkage. You recall that the Obami were all about linking progress on the Palestinian issue to a successful effort to block the Iranian nuclear program. Yes, it was a non sequitur, but that’s what they said. In reality, the Obami’s Middle East policy is communicating a different message to Israel: you’re going to have to take care of Iran on your own. The U.S. is so enamored of getting along in the Muslim World and so unwilling to draw a line with the mullahs that Israel will/is faced with a choice: do nothing (which is the same as waiting around for the Obami to act) or take military action themselves.

By his recent verbal assault, Obama meant perhaps to paralyze Israel, creating uncertainty as to whether the U.S. would be with Israel if it came down to a military action against Iran. But Israel cannot be paralyzed into inactivity (for reasons amply stated by Alan Dershowitz on the same newspaper page). The result then of all the Obami carrying on is to create a less secure U.S.-Israel relationship and to spur Israel to act unilaterally. Unfortunately, that part isn’t fictional.

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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 MoveOn.org 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.

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 MoveOn.org 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.

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Will They Still Stick with Obama?

Last summer, Alan Dershowitz wrote a defense of Barack Obama’s policy toward Israel and, by extension, of the numerous Jewish Democrats who had supported the president’s election and stuck by him despite a rocky first few months in office. Reacting to what he acknowledged was a “harsher approach toward Israel” than had been displayed during his campaign, Dershowitz insisted that despite disputes over settlements and engagement with Iran, the new administration was still solid on what was really important: safeguarding Israel’s security.

But as I wrote at the time, rather than encouraging the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world to finally make peace with Israel, Obama’s decision to distance  himself from Israel and downgrade America’s alliance with the Jewish state encouraged its foes to dig in their heels and to wait for more American pressure. By picking a needless fight with Israel over settlements and expanding a longstanding disagreement over Jewish settlement in the West Bank into one about the right of Jews to build in Jerusalem, Obama changed the dynamic of the relationship with Israel into one characterized by distrust rather than friendship.

Yet by the start of Obama’s second year in office, the situation appeared brighter. The contempt with which Iran had treated his outstretched hand had appeared to sober Obama up about engagement. Having failed in an effort to topple the newly elected government of Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 and been disappointed by the Palestinians’ refusal to talk peace, the president seemed to have finally grasped the limitations on his power to remake Middle East.

But such optimism was dashed this past week as Washington seized on a poorly timed announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden to set off a major confrontation with the Netanyahu government. By choosing to turn a minor gaffe into a major incident while ignoring far worse Palestinian provocations, and specifically attempting to muscle Israel into a pledge to stop building in East Jerusalem — something no previous administration had ever done — Obama showed that brutal pressure on Israel remained high on his agenda. Having already reneged on previous pledges of American support for Israel’s holding on to parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem, the president is doubling down on his drive to bludgeon the Jewish state into further concessions without any hope of reciprocation from the Palestinians. Washington has placed the onus for the certain failure of peace talks on Netanyahu rather than on a Palestinian leadership that has no intention of signing any agreement no matter what it says. And by responding more forcefully to a minor dispute with its ally Israel than to the endless atrocities and provocations committed by the Islamist regime in Tehran, Obama has sent a clear signal that no one need take his pledge to stop Iran’s nuclear program seriously.

That raises the question of what Obama’s Jewish supporters have to say now. While Dershowitz and other Jewish Democrats may still claim that statements by Secretary of State Clinton and other officials of America’s resolve to stand by Israel reflect the real nature of the relationship, the latest round of bitter and pointless controversy over Jerusalem orchestrated by Obama must leave even the most ardent fans of the president wondering.

Some on the Jewish Left, like the J Street lobby, are happy to see the administration bashing Netanyahu, because they hope American pressure can reverse the outcome of the last election, in which Israel’s left-wing parties crashed and burned. But while the majority of American Jews may not be particularly fond of Netanyahu or supportive of West Bank settlers, they, like the vast majority of Israelis, do not wish to see Jerusalem divided. Nor do they believe that Israel needs to be saved from itself. Like most Americans, they understand that the Palestinians, both the moderates of Fatah and the extremists of Hamas who rule Gaza, are the real obstacles to peace, not a democratically elected government of Israel.

Two years ago, Obama wooed American Jews at an AIPAC conference by pledging his devotion to the alliance with Israel. As AIPAC begins its annual conference this week, the distance that Obama’s administration has traveled from those pledges will be hard to ignore.

Last summer, Alan Dershowitz wrote a defense of Barack Obama’s policy toward Israel and, by extension, of the numerous Jewish Democrats who had supported the president’s election and stuck by him despite a rocky first few months in office. Reacting to what he acknowledged was a “harsher approach toward Israel” than had been displayed during his campaign, Dershowitz insisted that despite disputes over settlements and engagement with Iran, the new administration was still solid on what was really important: safeguarding Israel’s security.

But as I wrote at the time, rather than encouraging the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world to finally make peace with Israel, Obama’s decision to distance  himself from Israel and downgrade America’s alliance with the Jewish state encouraged its foes to dig in their heels and to wait for more American pressure. By picking a needless fight with Israel over settlements and expanding a longstanding disagreement over Jewish settlement in the West Bank into one about the right of Jews to build in Jerusalem, Obama changed the dynamic of the relationship with Israel into one characterized by distrust rather than friendship.

Yet by the start of Obama’s second year in office, the situation appeared brighter. The contempt with which Iran had treated his outstretched hand had appeared to sober Obama up about engagement. Having failed in an effort to topple the newly elected government of Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 and been disappointed by the Palestinians’ refusal to talk peace, the president seemed to have finally grasped the limitations on his power to remake Middle East.

But such optimism was dashed this past week as Washington seized on a poorly timed announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden to set off a major confrontation with the Netanyahu government. By choosing to turn a minor gaffe into a major incident while ignoring far worse Palestinian provocations, and specifically attempting to muscle Israel into a pledge to stop building in East Jerusalem — something no previous administration had ever done — Obama showed that brutal pressure on Israel remained high on his agenda. Having already reneged on previous pledges of American support for Israel’s holding on to parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem, the president is doubling down on his drive to bludgeon the Jewish state into further concessions without any hope of reciprocation from the Palestinians. Washington has placed the onus for the certain failure of peace talks on Netanyahu rather than on a Palestinian leadership that has no intention of signing any agreement no matter what it says. And by responding more forcefully to a minor dispute with its ally Israel than to the endless atrocities and provocations committed by the Islamist regime in Tehran, Obama has sent a clear signal that no one need take his pledge to stop Iran’s nuclear program seriously.

That raises the question of what Obama’s Jewish supporters have to say now. While Dershowitz and other Jewish Democrats may still claim that statements by Secretary of State Clinton and other officials of America’s resolve to stand by Israel reflect the real nature of the relationship, the latest round of bitter and pointless controversy over Jerusalem orchestrated by Obama must leave even the most ardent fans of the president wondering.

Some on the Jewish Left, like the J Street lobby, are happy to see the administration bashing Netanyahu, because they hope American pressure can reverse the outcome of the last election, in which Israel’s left-wing parties crashed and burned. But while the majority of American Jews may not be particularly fond of Netanyahu or supportive of West Bank settlers, they, like the vast majority of Israelis, do not wish to see Jerusalem divided. Nor do they believe that Israel needs to be saved from itself. Like most Americans, they understand that the Palestinians, both the moderates of Fatah and the extremists of Hamas who rule Gaza, are the real obstacles to peace, not a democratically elected government of Israel.

Two years ago, Obama wooed American Jews at an AIPAC conference by pledging his devotion to the alliance with Israel. As AIPAC begins its annual conference this week, the distance that Obama’s administration has traveled from those pledges will be hard to ignore.

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More Like This Please

I can understand why Dubai authorities aren’t happy about the killing of Hamas senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, presumably by Israeli Mossad agents, in one of the city-state’s hotel rooms last month. More than most countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has stayed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and would rather it not wash up on the beach.

Even as European Union officials perfunctorily squawk about the use of forged passports by the assassins, few others have grounds to complain. Al-Mabhouh was a terrorist commander on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game. He would have been fair game for even an air strike if he were in Gaza. As he was, instead, in Dubai, he was taken out quietly without even alerting, let alone harming, any of the civilians around him.

If only Israel could fight all its battles this way. It would be the cleanest and least-deadly war in the history of warfare. Even some of Israel’s harshest critics should understand that.

“The Goldstone Report,” Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.”

Hamas and Hezbollah use civilians as human shields. Hezbollah uses an entire country as a vast human shield. Some critics, for various reasons, are more interested in lambasting Israel than the terrorist organizations it’s fighting. That’s easy when you live in New York or Brussels. People in the Middle East have to live with (or die because of) what happens. How Middle Easterners fight wars isn’t political or academic to me. I’ve never been inside Gaza, but I once lived in Lebanon, I travel there regularly, and there’s a real chance I’ll be there when the next war pops off. I’d rather not be used as a human shield if that’s OK with those who give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass. And I’d much rather read about Hezbollah leaders getting whacked by mysterious assassins with forged passports than dive into a Beirut bomb shelter during Israeli air raids.

But I’m not particularly concerned about my own skin here. Nobody forces me to travel to war zones. I don’t have to visit the Middle East ever again if I don’t want to. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been voluntary, and I can leave whenever I’ve had enough.

A lot of people I care about live in Lebanon, and some of them can’t leave. They never volunteered to be used as human shields by Hezbollah, and in fact had their neighborhood — my old neighborhood — shot up and blown up by Hezbollah gunmen recently. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t consult them or their elected officials on his foreign policy and would sooner shoot them than be relieved of his ability to declare war unilaterally or on the orders of Tehran.

It’s unlikely that Israel can avert the next war by assassinating its enemy’s leadership, but it’s always better to take out a high-level target in person whenever possible than with a blockbuster bomb from a distance. I can’t help but wonder if those griping about the recent hit in Dubai — assuming the Mossad actually did it — care less about the lives of real human beings than the latest excuse to bash Israel. If the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue — and it will continue — civilians on both sides should prefer combatants be taken off the board quietly while everyone else goes about their daily business in peace.

I can understand why Dubai authorities aren’t happy about the killing of Hamas senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, presumably by Israeli Mossad agents, in one of the city-state’s hotel rooms last month. More than most countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has stayed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and would rather it not wash up on the beach.

Even as European Union officials perfunctorily squawk about the use of forged passports by the assassins, few others have grounds to complain. Al-Mabhouh was a terrorist commander on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game. He would have been fair game for even an air strike if he were in Gaza. As he was, instead, in Dubai, he was taken out quietly without even alerting, let alone harming, any of the civilians around him.

If only Israel could fight all its battles this way. It would be the cleanest and least-deadly war in the history of warfare. Even some of Israel’s harshest critics should understand that.

“The Goldstone Report,” Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.”

Hamas and Hezbollah use civilians as human shields. Hezbollah uses an entire country as a vast human shield. Some critics, for various reasons, are more interested in lambasting Israel than the terrorist organizations it’s fighting. That’s easy when you live in New York or Brussels. People in the Middle East have to live with (or die because of) what happens. How Middle Easterners fight wars isn’t political or academic to me. I’ve never been inside Gaza, but I once lived in Lebanon, I travel there regularly, and there’s a real chance I’ll be there when the next war pops off. I’d rather not be used as a human shield if that’s OK with those who give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass. And I’d much rather read about Hezbollah leaders getting whacked by mysterious assassins with forged passports than dive into a Beirut bomb shelter during Israeli air raids.

But I’m not particularly concerned about my own skin here. Nobody forces me to travel to war zones. I don’t have to visit the Middle East ever again if I don’t want to. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been voluntary, and I can leave whenever I’ve had enough.

A lot of people I care about live in Lebanon, and some of them can’t leave. They never volunteered to be used as human shields by Hezbollah, and in fact had their neighborhood — my old neighborhood — shot up and blown up by Hezbollah gunmen recently. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t consult them or their elected officials on his foreign policy and would sooner shoot them than be relieved of his ability to declare war unilaterally or on the orders of Tehran.

It’s unlikely that Israel can avert the next war by assassinating its enemy’s leadership, but it’s always better to take out a high-level target in person whenever possible than with a blockbuster bomb from a distance. I can’t help but wonder if those griping about the recent hit in Dubai — assuming the Mossad actually did it — care less about the lives of real human beings than the latest excuse to bash Israel. If the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue — and it will continue — civilians on both sides should prefer combatants be taken off the board quietly while everyone else goes about their daily business in peace.

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Dershowitz, for the Opposition

A week and a half ago, Alan Dershowitz took the stage in a packed auditorium at Fordham Law School in Manhattan. He was supposed to debate Richard Goldstone, the author of the Goldstone Report. But the august international jurist refused, telling the organizers that Dershowitz had “demeaned” him. So Dershowitz stood a copy of the Goldstone Report on the table in the author’s place. And then he demolished the report and eviscerated its author with remarkable clarity, passion, and brilliance. A truly memorable performance.

And finally, the video is up. Click here to watch it. It’s listed as 93 minutes long, but a great deal of that is Q&A at the end. The presentation itself takes only 45 minutes.

A week and a half ago, Alan Dershowitz took the stage in a packed auditorium at Fordham Law School in Manhattan. He was supposed to debate Richard Goldstone, the author of the Goldstone Report. But the august international jurist refused, telling the organizers that Dershowitz had “demeaned” him. So Dershowitz stood a copy of the Goldstone Report on the table in the author’s place. And then he demolished the report and eviscerated its author with remarkable clarity, passion, and brilliance. A truly memorable performance.

And finally, the video is up. Click here to watch it. It’s listed as 93 minutes long, but a great deal of that is Q&A at the end. The presentation itself takes only 45 minutes.

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Streisand in Jerusalem

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

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Out of the Box, or Off the Wall?

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

Over the past few months, I’ve written a few posts that raised questions about the arrangement of the marbles inside the brain of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit and now a widely cited “expert” on counterterrorism. In his new book, The Road to Hell, Scheuer has turned around and accused me and some of his other critics of being “Israel Firsters,” Americans who put the interests of the state of Israel ahead of those of the United States, and therefore bent on discrediting him because he is exposing our “dual loyalty.”

Never mind that the allegation of treason he levels at me and others, including James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen is offered without a shred of evidence to back it up. And never mind that some of his targets, like Carroll, are themselves harsh critics of Israel.

Here is James Carroll writing about Israeli settlements in a recent column:

Among the factors that derailed the so-called peace process across the years was the ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements, despite agreements to stop. The integrity of Israel’s word was compromised, and its goodwill was questioned. Settlement construction, especially in the environs of Jerusalem, amounted to a radical prejudicing of any conceivable end-game agreement.

I have no idea why Carroll has ended up on Scheuer’s list of “Israel Firsters.” But it is amusing that even some sharp critics of Israel in the mainstream media are now wondering about the arrangement of Scheuer’s marbles, too.

On Bloomberg news, Scheuer’s new book has been reviewed by George Walden, a British member of parliament. When Scheuer argues that the United States is too closely allied to Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes Walden, he is being perfectly “sane.” But “[m]ixed in with his more reasonable opinions,” Walden continues, “we find some thinking that’s not so much out-of-the-box as off-the-wall”:

outrage is his steady state, and he pummels the reader with phrases such as “Hogwash!” and “A pox on them all!” Cool argument isn’t his forte, and he abhors complexity. Nuance is what the elites use to evade decisions, he shrieks.

The title of the Bloomberg news review is Eggheads, Mavericks, Nut Cases: Why the CIA Missed Bin Laden. One of the most marvelous things about the British is their penchant for understatement. Walden’s final assessment, that Scheuer is “mildly touched,” is a classic example of the genre.

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The Scheuer Charade

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Osama bin Laden desk and now a leading media “expert” on counterterrorism, has two faces.

When he is talking to or writing for the non-mainstream media, he heads for zany territory. One only has to read his diatribes on antiwar.com or listen to him on antiwar radio talking about Israel’s covert-action programs in this country to get a good sense of what kind of crackpot he is.

But when Scheuer talks to the mainstream media, he strives to make sense. Even though he incessantly punctuates his speech with the word “sir,” — giving himself a military patina, although he has no military service in his background — he seldom dives off into cloud-cuckoo land. One exception was when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and accused Israel of mounting a clandestine operation in the United States through the Holocaust museum on the Washington mall. But mostly he sticks to more defensible themes, usually hammering away on his principal point: that al Qaeda hates us because of what we do, not who we are.

Scheuer has a new book out, Marching Toward Hell. In it, he seems to have allowed his two sides to converge, freely mixing up his more reasonable (if arguable) themes with his whacko ones. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but my favorite point so far is Scheuer’s disquisition on free speech in the United States.

Scheuer begins by ticking off  a long and eclectic list of people whom he deems “reliable Israel-firsters.” In addition to me, he names James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen. “These are all dangerous men,” he writes, “who, in my judgment, are seeking to place de facto limitations on the First Amendment to protect the nation of their primary attachment.”

What Scheuer is referring to is not an attempt by me or any of these individuals to amend the Constitution, or to silence him through the courts, or to repeal his right to spout nonsense. Rather, he is merely talking about our criticism of him. To which one can only answer: Sir, criticism of you for your nuttiness and your anti-Semitism is our right under the First Amendment. To quote your writings to demonstrate that you are a crackpot, sir, is not to deny you your First Amendment right to speak or scribble as you please.

A particularly amusing aspect of all this is the way certain individuals in the mainstream media continue to take Scheuer seriously. Today’s interview with Scheuer in Newsweek, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, is a case in point. John Barry conducted that interview, and his journalistic laziness should win him a Pulitzer. Either Barry did not crack open Scheuer’s book, or he cracked it and is affecting not to notice what was staring him in the face.

My question of the day is: how long will this charade last?

For previous posts about Michael Scheuer, click here.

Michael Scheuer, the former head of the Osama bin Laden desk and now a leading media “expert” on counterterrorism, has two faces.

When he is talking to or writing for the non-mainstream media, he heads for zany territory. One only has to read his diatribes on antiwar.com or listen to him on antiwar radio talking about Israel’s covert-action programs in this country to get a good sense of what kind of crackpot he is.

But when Scheuer talks to the mainstream media, he strives to make sense. Even though he incessantly punctuates his speech with the word “sir,” — giving himself a military patina, although he has no military service in his background — he seldom dives off into cloud-cuckoo land. One exception was when he spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations and accused Israel of mounting a clandestine operation in the United States through the Holocaust museum on the Washington mall. But mostly he sticks to more defensible themes, usually hammering away on his principal point: that al Qaeda hates us because of what we do, not who we are.

Scheuer has a new book out, Marching Toward Hell. In it, he seems to have allowed his two sides to converge, freely mixing up his more reasonable (if arguable) themes with his whacko ones. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but my favorite point so far is Scheuer’s disquisition on free speech in the United States.

Scheuer begins by ticking off  a long and eclectic list of people whom he deems “reliable Israel-firsters.” In addition to me, he names James Carroll, Max Boot, Steven Simon, Alan Dershowitz, David Gergen, Christopher Hitchens, Marvin Kalb, and Eliot Cohen. “These are all dangerous men,” he writes, “who, in my judgment, are seeking to place de facto limitations on the First Amendment to protect the nation of their primary attachment.”

What Scheuer is referring to is not an attempt by me or any of these individuals to amend the Constitution, or to silence him through the courts, or to repeal his right to spout nonsense. Rather, he is merely talking about our criticism of him. To which one can only answer: Sir, criticism of you for your nuttiness and your anti-Semitism is our right under the First Amendment. To quote your writings to demonstrate that you are a crackpot, sir, is not to deny you your First Amendment right to speak or scribble as you please.

A particularly amusing aspect of all this is the way certain individuals in the mainstream media continue to take Scheuer seriously. Today’s interview with Scheuer in Newsweek, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, is a case in point. John Barry conducted that interview, and his journalistic laziness should win him a Pulitzer. Either Barry did not crack open Scheuer’s book, or he cracked it and is affecting not to notice what was staring him in the face.

My question of the day is: how long will this charade last?

For previous posts about Michael Scheuer, click here.

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Muzzling Free Speech

What is the meaning of freedom of speech? You might think it means simply the right to say what you want, constrained only by a few common-sense barriers against injuring others. There is, however, another definition of free speech propounded by the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, and other Israel-bashers. By this definition, freedom of speech consists of their right to say what they want without having to suffer demurral or criticism. They complain that supporters of Israel “stifle debate” by, well, debating with them.

This audacious polemical stratagem now has been elevated to the status of a full-fledged campaign. On the web page of the New Israel Fund, I found MuzzleWatch, its logo a mouth taped shut. This is a blog sponsored by something called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group led by such luminaries of the hard left as Ed Asner and Adrienne Rich.

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What is the meaning of freedom of speech? You might think it means simply the right to say what you want, constrained only by a few common-sense barriers against injuring others. There is, however, another definition of free speech propounded by the likes of Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, and other Israel-bashers. By this definition, freedom of speech consists of their right to say what they want without having to suffer demurral or criticism. They complain that supporters of Israel “stifle debate” by, well, debating with them.

This audacious polemical stratagem now has been elevated to the status of a full-fledged campaign. On the web page of the New Israel Fund, I found MuzzleWatch, its logo a mouth taped shut. This is a blog sponsored by something called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group led by such luminaries of the hard left as Ed Asner and Adrienne Rich.

According to its statement of purpose, “MuzzleWatch is dedicated to creating an open atmosphere for debate about U.S.-Israeli foreign policy by shining a light on incidents that involve pressure, intimidation, and outright censorship of critics of U.S.-Israeli policy.” Among the repressive incidents exposed on the website were a critique of Jimmy Carter by Alan Dershowitz, a jibe at George Soros by the New Republic, and a report on Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International by the group NGO Monitor*. Seen through this warped looking glass, criticism of these individuals or groups amounts to a threat to civil liberties.

Most blogs, like contentions, allow readers to post comments. MuzzleWatch did too—during its first four months of operation. Then it announced that it had “decided to change course and shut down the comments capability of this blog.” This explanation followed:

It seemed clear that there was a need for a space where people could freely debate challenging political issues related to Israel, Palestine, and U.S .foreign policy. Over time, however, the comment boards seem to have drawn in those who communicate in a more polarized fashion, and have chased away people seeking more thoughtful dialogue. . . . Clearly, this experiment in unfettered free speech hasn’t worked.

Now MuzzleWatch posts its opinions without any risk that a reader might attempt to “stifle” or “muzzle” it by expressing a different opinion.

*Originally misidentified.

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