An Afternoon with Alan Dershowitz

The national convention of the Jewish Law Students Association came to town, and I had the opportunity to speak several times, both at the opening banquet at the Museum of Tolerance, and later at the Sunday sessions at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Arguably, the high point of the gathering was the magisterial presentation over lunch by Alan Dershowitz. It was both an updated Case For Israel, and an unmasking of the evil of Goldstone. It is slated to go online soon as a YouTube; I would urge anyone who is sometimes called upon to state Israel’s case to see it. In the interim, I will simply share a few of his vignettes and choicer turns-of-a-phrase.

Explaining why at one point he thought that a Jewish association for law students was needed only in the days of blatant bias in hiring Jews, Dershowitz shared that when he graduated, he was turned down by 32 Wall Street firms who would not hire Jews. Only the Jewish ones took him, and one withdrew when they learned he was shomer Shabbos. (I am pained when I hear of any Jew estranged from his or her Torah birthright; listening to Dershowitz’s brilliance intensified the pain, realizing that he had distanced himself from the shemiras mitzvos with which he grew up.)

Why should there have to be a “Case For Israel”, he asked? No one writes a Case For Canada. Only Israel is called upon to defend her very existence.

The infamous Noam Chomsky of MIT, formerly of Shomer Hatzair, was his camp counselor.

Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s President, tried to impose quotas on Jews. “Jews cheat.” Judge Learned Hand wrote to him: But Christians cheat too! Lowell: Don’t change the subject. We’re talking about Jews! Dershowitz: This is what happens in the UN whenever Israel tries to defend itself. The argument about what the Palestinians are doing is rebuffed. We’re only talking about Israel and her crimes!

He had told Goldstone before the infamous report that he, Goldstone, had an obligation to state what Israel should have done in the face of 8000 rockets. Goldstone had no satisfactory response.

Elie Wiesel “It there is one lesson of the Holocaust it is to take the threats of your enemies more seriously than the promises of your friends.”

Dean Acheson: No country has ever had to have its survival depend on international law.

The International Court of Justice (unlike the International Criminal Courtt) is not a real court. The head judge when Israel’s security fence was considered was from China (which has over 800 such fences in Tibet). He was the figure in charge of China’s handling of Tienanmen Square.

Knows from personal knowledge that Sharon went to W and urged him not to attack Iraq, and focus instead on Iran. So much for Jews leading the US into the war.

Speaking at Irvine, saw among 1000 attendees, including two groups of obviously pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian attendees. Called on the crowd. “Who here is pro-Israel?” One group of 100 hands went up. “OK, how many of you would accept a Palestinian state?” Almost all the same hands stayed up. “OK, how many are pro-Palestinian?” A different group of 100 went up. “How many of you would accept a Jewish State?” No hands went up. Dershowitz: “With that, I won the debate. The Dean came over and said, ‘I never knew that.’ Always target the 800 in the middle, not the people at the extremes.”

“I am effective because I don’t make the 100% case for Israel, but the 80% case. Like any patriot, I am critical of the country I love, and so I disagree some of the time. I oppose J-Street because the only case they make is the 20% case.”

“The Germany responsible for the Holocaust began in the universities.”

He had to duck out as soon as he finished, to catch a plane to the East Coast, there to do some back-door lobbying against the scheduled execution r”l of Martin Grossman.

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19 Responses

  1. Nathan says:

    Maybe we should pray for Alan Dershowitz, Noam Chomsky and Goldstone, that they all return to mitzvah observance.

  2. Phil says:

    I’m looking forward to the video!

    “Who here is pro-Israel?” One group of 100 hands went up. “OK, how many of you would accept a Palestinian state?” Almost all the same hands stayed up. … Dershowitz: “With that, I won the debate. ”

    Why do I have a feeling that the ones who put their hands down were probably Orthodox? (Had I been there, I probably would’ve been one of them.) It’s as if he won the debate despite the Orthodox.

  3. aron feldman says:

    The infamous Noam Chomsky of MIT, formerly of Shomer Hatzair, was his camp counselor

    Wasn’t Meir Kahane his Bnei Akiva counselor?

  4. aron feldman says:

    While it is very high and mighty that Alan Dershowitz will defend Israel against it’s detractors personally the difference between him and Goldstone is minuscule.They both seem to share an insatiable desire to be accepted by the Gentile world and are willing to jettison all principals to achieve that goal. Dershowitz has shown that his brand of Judaism is completely unsustainable,as it is well known that his son got married in a Church.He is not somebody that a frum jew should look up to or promote

    [YA – As it turns out, the story about his son getting married in a church is a shtetl myth. It isn’t true. Another myth making the rounds is that Prof. Dershowitz’s wife is noth Jewish. Carolyn Cohen, his wife, is decidedly a member of the tribe.]

  5. Ori says:

    Aron Feldman, do you see any difference between somebody who jettisons their principles to be accepted, and somebody who ignores principles in which you believe and they don’t?

  6. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Aron Feldman — I agree that we should not look up to Dershowitz as a person. I don’t believe that this was R. Adlerstein’s position. IMHO he was merely showing an example of effective hasbara/communication. What do you do? You take notes and use what works, if and only if, it does not deviate from truth. I also agree with Nathan’s idea that we should pray for these and other misguided Jews. But working at improving Jewish education and kiruv is at least as important in insuring that it doesn’t happen again in the generation we are raising today.

  7. mb says:

    Aron Feldman,

    Hands up all those who agree with Alan Dershowitz.

    Hands up all those agree with Neturai Karta.

    I just won the debate.

  8. L. Oberstein says:

    We are a sophisticated blog,right. Let’s not degenerate into simplicity.
    To me, the tragedy of Deshowitz is that his own son married a Catholic girl and his reaction was to write a book about how secularism can save the Jews. He didn’t withstand the difficulties of being sabbath observant and one thing led to another. None of us is so holy and blameless that we can point fingers at another person who went off the derech. What I do know is that Deshowitz is more involved in Jewish issues than almost any other person in his social and academic class.
    The State of Israel needs hasbara and it needs even more to win the hearts and minds of the younger generation of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora that a Jewish State is worth having. Many Jews are tiring of the struggle, including the children of Israel’s leaders who have left the country. Israel will survive if it is strong militarily and internally, nobody really cares about any other country when push comes to shove. Tibet and the Dalai lama are the perfect example that good hasbara doesn’t mean a thing, if you are weak and helpless.

  9. Miriam says:

    Why do I have a feeling that the ones who put their hands down were probably Orthodox?

    Well that’s just because Orthodox are taught all that heavy analysis of day-to-day life, which means most who put their hands down likely did so because from a practical standpoint a Palestinian state is no longer realistic.

  10. Mark says:

    Whatever my feelings regarding Mr. Dershowitz’s level of observance, there is no question that he is a very effective advocate on behalf of the State of Israel, a position that has not earned him many friends and demands courage. For that, I am very grateful to him. He’s articulate and makes an excellent case when he does his presentations and there is much to be learned from him in this regard. For those uncomfortable with his level of religiosity, simply don’t venerate him for his actions/beliefs/philosophies in that regard.

  11. Jewish Observer says:

    “Maybe we should pray for Alan Dershowitz, Noam Chomsky and Goldstone, that they all return to mitzvah observance”

    – what does that have to do with this?

  12. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Like many others here, I disapprove of Professor Dershowitz’s secular lifestyle. His book, “The Vanishing American Jew” makes a poor case for Jewish secularism; it turns out only observant homes such as the one he grew up in can produce the type of secular Jews Dershowitz thinks will save Judaism. At the same time, I have always admired Dershowitz’s determination to defend Israel to his colleagues on the left. It has been a difficult and lonely job, and he has shown much courage and perseverance.

    All that having been said, I find a bit difficult to believe his assertion that “when he graduated [law school] he was turned down by 32 Wall Street firms who would not hire Jews. Only the Jewish ones took him. As early as the 1920s, all the leading gentile law firms took in Jewish associates. With few notable exceptions, none of them ever became partners, but they did get their starts in the best firms. Of course, if the gentile firms of 50 years ago turned him down because he was shomer shabbos, that would be believable. The barriers to shomer shabbos lawyers at big gentile law firms did not fall until 1970s, by which time all of them were admitting Jewish partners.

  13. aron feldman says:

    Hands up all those who agree with Alan Dershowitz.

    Hands up all those agree with Neturai Karta.

    I just won the debate.

    Comment by mb — February 16, 2010

    You are being way too simplistic,a thinking Jew can be concerned about the welfare of his fellow Jews in Israel and disagree with the Israeli government and abhor Hamas there is no contradiction!

    L. Oberstein underscores my point! While Dershowitz should be commended for his defense of Israel,his ideas on Jewish continuity should be condemned! The other day I was privileged to observe a group of 11 yr olds learning Gemara,that will be far more effective to ensure continuity than will any of Dershowitz’s artificial solutions.

    I am sure L. Oberstein will agree with me on that point

  14. Michoel Halberstam says:

    I for one am old enough to have earned the right to protest at the absolutely unjustifiable tactic of asking for the religious bona fides of everyone who says or does something LeTovas the Jewish People. Historically this was almost never done. The question is meaningless and stems from feelings that our parents and grandparents in their times did not appear to have. I should feel comfortable in my skin regardless of whether or not someone I admire is frum or not. If I don’t it’s my problem.

  15. Mike M. says:

    1) Alan Dershowitz is arguing the case for Israel from a secular-center point of view which is a difficult position for anyone to argue from. He does a fine job of using the tactic of holding up secular legal and moral claims and asking “why don’t these apply fairly to Israel ?” This is a compelling argument and a neccessary one to make.

    2) Mitzvot Observance: Dr. Dershowitz is invited to my place anytime he wants for Shabbat, we would be honored to have him.

  16. alan dershowitz says:

    It may be well known that my son got married in a church, but is absolutely false.

  17. L. Oberstein says:

    The fact that Alan Dershowitz cared enough to respond to the mistake about his son shows how deeply he feels his Jewishness. Two things: If you happen to have 100% nachas from all your children and they do exactly what you want them to do, mazal tov! Most parents do the best they can and learn to accept that neither we nor our children are exactly what our parents planned for us to become. Secondly, the deep tribal bond that Alan Deshowitz and I and ,hopefully, all of you feel for every Jew is hard to pass on in a purely secular or,to be frantk, overly religious context. If we start excluding less than 100% frum (by our standards) Jews, we are lacking in Ahavas Yisrael. There is a battle for the souls of our people and the ethnic identity is hard to pass on without the religious belief. It does happen and maybe even for a few generations but eventually, it becomes almost dormant. Finding the right mix of religion and ethnicity to fit modern Westernized acculturated Jews is something that our religious leaders have been trying to do for years. There was a time when Reform was triumphant, then Conservative believed it was the answer. Now, the frummies believe that only we will make it. Time will tell. Meanwhile, yasher koach to Alan Deshowitz for doing all he does for humanity and for decency and for fairness for Israel.

  18. Sarah Shapiro says:

    As an Orthodox Jew, I thank Alan Dershowitz for the good he does to Israel and to our people.

  19. lawrence kaplan says:

    Alan Dershowitz: “I am effective because I don’t make the 100% case for Israel but only the 80% case.”

    Now if only certain frequent apologists learned this lesson, and would not seek to make the 100% case for Haredi Orthodoxy, but only the 80% case, perhaps they would be moe effective. .

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