Tag Archives: Alan Dershowitz

On Blocking Comments (Again!)

7 Oct

On Blocking Comments (Again!)

 

Ever since I started this blog I have wrestled with the question of whether unrestricted free expression should be favored over a preferred atmosphere of civility. My inclination is to allow diverse views to be expressed in harsh ways, provided interactions among those submitting comments do not degenerate into a toxic blend of insult and propaganda.

 

What I have experienced is that those most dogmatically insistent on defending Israel regardless of its behavior as viewed from the perspectives of international law and international morality rely on a discourse that is quick to call critics Jew haters or anti-Semites, or to demean the professional competence of their opponents. This puts those who seek serious dialogue and responsible conversation in an awkward position. Either we withdraw to the sidelines and let the hostile comments slip through with out silent disapproval, or we respond and face repetitive cycles of further insult, which includes a questioning of motives.

 

It is fair to acknowledge that these determined apologists for Israel, despite the evidence, contend that they are doing nothing more than turning the tables on the critics. They claim that we are as insulting as they are, or more so, and that they are merely meeting fire with fire, and in the end expressing a more objective and correct view of the situation arising from Israel’s security challenges. They contend, to give just one example, that my refusal to debate with Alan Dershowitz is based on my fear of being exposed or humbled, when in reality it is a lack of respect for his demeanor and unscrupulous behavior in using his status to harm those he believes go over a line drawn by him in exposing Israel’s wrongdoing.

 

I have throughout my teaching and writing career found it useful to listen carefully to those with whom I disagree so long as they do not set forth views that echo the propaganda of governments engaged in unacceptable behavior and mix their espousal of such positions with insulting responses to their opponent. Many years ago I had such an experience in a public debate with a South African apologist for the apartheid regime that was then in control of the country. The gap in morality and civility between us was too great, and I felt degraded by my participation, which seemed to produce a kind of moral equivalence in a situation where I was convinced that there was no justification whatsoever for hiding the cruelty of apartheid as it operated in South Africa, and even less for claiming that it was an enlightened manner of addressing racial diversity. The debate degenerated into vehement denunciations of one another, which some in the audience might have found entertaining, but no one could learned anything or changed their views on iota.. In contrast I had a long debate in Wisconsin with Samuel Huntington of ‘clash of civilizations’ fame in which we deeply disagreed, but spoke with mutual respect and the audience after this event that lasted the whole day seemed grateful for the experience.

 

During the life of this blog, which began in 2010, civility has prevailed except in the context of Israel/Palestine. I would not overstate this assertion. Sometimes, comments are tasteless, irrelevant, foolish, including my own.

And I have no doubt that some subscribers or readers find my posts either too opinionated or not balanced and fair. I welcome feedback that would enable me to do better. My goal is to communicate effectively within a framework of

reasoned discourse that is also respectful of the relevance of emotion and belief. It is in this space of controversy and disagreement that the ethos of civility is most needed if communication is to be fruitful.

 

One of the liabilities of incivility is its contagious effect on those who are normally and naturally civil. Of course, it is part of the polemical atmosphere to allege that it was the other side that first breached the boundaries of civility. I admit that my sympathies are with the Palestinian struggle for their basic rights. I reject both the ultra-nationalism of Israeli apologists and the ideology and tactics of Zionist extremists. At the same time, my abiding wish is for a sustainable and just peace that benefits both peoples and is guided by the spirit and substance of equality, and welcome all those that share in some way these sentiments.

 

I suppose I am at this moment also responding to the dismal outcome of the just concluded Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. I was dismayed that party discipline and white male privilege prevailed over truth and accountability in such circumstance. One result is the further weakening of the highest judicial body in America while inflicting pain on women who have endured sexual abuse or fear it. Such a development confirms the Trumpist poisoning of the democratic process and the subversion of republican principles that depend for their vitality on conscience and trust more than party affiliation and demagogic leadership. I cannot hope to control civility and truthfulness in public space, but I am able to exert some influence in private space.

 

This may be a pompous way of communicating my frustration with the recent wave of comments, some of which I have blocked in recent days. I began re-re-blocking those most illustrative of extreme incivility. For the present, I will again become more vigilant in monitoring comments, blocking those that abandon the ethos of civility. I keep hoping that my task will become easier over time either as a result of futility by those angry propagandists or by a recognition that a civil tone is a more effective way of engaging the other unless the substantive position being defended is so weak.

 

I have noticed for some time that the rise of smear tactics aimed at activists and critics who deplore Israel’s policies and practices is directly proportional

to the weakening of Israel’s explanations as to legality, moreality, and political intention. There was a time defenders of Israel welcomed the give and take of serious discussion but no longer. With Trump in the White House it is a time for a victory dance not for diplomacy, and certainly not for dialogue.

 

As I have in the past, I invite those at odds with my views to devote their attention to some among many websites dedicated to promoting Israel’s priorities. Among these, the most influential these days may be the Middle East Forum, a vehicle for the views of Daniel Pipes, and the Gatestone Institute that was formerly a mouthpiece for John Bolton, and all along a friendly venue for Dershowitz. To avoid voices such as mine, these websites do  not pretend an openness to dialogue. There is no comments section.

 

I suppose that closing down the comments section is an alternative. I resist such an alternative as I welcome interaction and communication with likeminded and with adversaries ready to listen and reluctant to denounce and impugn. As my disposition is toward openness, I will probably become again soon permissive, and so disappoint, and even antagonize, both sides.

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Clashing Views of Political Reality: Chomsky versus Dershowitz

2 Dec

 

 

            My friend and former collaborator, Howard Friel, has written an intriguing book contrasting the worldviews and polemical styles of two Jewish American intellectuals with world class reputations, Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz (Friel, Chomsky and Dershowitz: On Endless War and the End of Civil Liberties, Olive Branch Press, 2014). The book is much more than a comparison of two influential voices, one critical the other apologetic, with respect to the Israel/Palestine struggle and the subordination of private liberties to the purveyors of state-led security at home and abroad . Friel convincingly favors Chomsky’s approach both with respect to the substance of their fundamental disagreements and in relation to sharply contrasting styles of argument.

 

            Chomsky is depicted, accurately I believe, as someone consistently dedicated to evidenced based reasoning reinforced by an abiding respect for the relevance and authority of international law and morality. Chomsky has also been a tireless opponent of American imperialism and military intervention, and of oppressive regimes anywhere on the planet. He is also shown by Friel to be strongly supportive of endowing individuals whether citizens or not with maximal freedom from interference by the state. From such perspectives, the behavior of Israel and the United States are assessed by Chomsky to be betrayals of humane values and of the virtues of a constitutional democracy.

 

            In contrast, Dershowitz is presented, again accurately and on the basis of abundant documentation, as a dirty fighter with a readiness to twist the truth to serve his Zionist predilections, which include support for the post-9/11 drift toward authoritarian governance, and an outrageous willingness to play the anti-Semitic card even against someone of Chomsky’s extraordinary academic achievements in the field of linguistics and of global stature as the world’s leading public intellectual, who has an impeccable lifelong record of moral courage and fidelity to the truth. Dershowitz has devoted his destructive energies to derailing tenure appointments for critics of Israel and for using his leverage to badger publishers to refrain from taking on books, however meritorious, if they present either himself or Israel in what he views to be a negative light. 

 

            Friel illustrates the contrast between these talented and titanic antagonists by reference to the much publicized debate about Robert Faurisson, the French Holocaust denier. Chomsky signed a petition in 1979 that defended Faurisson’s freedom of expression, an act consistent with his overall long record of support for unrestricted academic freedom. Dershowitz abandons his own earlier allegiance to a similar approach, not only refusing to allow free speech to protect Faurisson, but lashing out to condemn Chomsky for his supposed show of support for Holocaust denial because he had the temerity to defend Faurisson’s right to say what he said. This is a typical tactic employed by Dershowitz, deliberately confusing a principled support for the right to hold and espouse ethically unacceptable views with an alleged identification and sympathy with the substance of the views being expressed. To contend that Chomsky is tacitly embracing Holocaust denial by supporting Faurisson was, as Friel conclusively shows, clearly defamatory, ignoring numerous occasions on which Chomsky has denounced the Nazi experience culminating in the Holocaust as a predominant historical instance of pure evil.  For Dershowitz to overlook such plain facts in relation to Chomsky on such an inflammatory matter is to show his true colors as a dirty fighter who has no inhibitions about smearing his opponents, however distinguished and honorable they happen to be, and no matter how clearly he must know better. Dershowitz must be assumed to realize that Chomsky’s entire life displays an abiding concern for the ethical treatment of ‘the other,’ and to allege that somehow Chomsky is himself flirting with Holocaust denial is the most irresponsible slander and ironically, an unforgiveable abuse by Dershowitz of the freedom of expression, which transgresses civility if not the law. Civil discourse and public reason in a democratic society depend on the overall willingness of individuals to show self-discipline, and avoid exploiting the opportunities for defamation that the law allows in commentary on so-called public figures.

 

            Dershowitz is primarily known, aside from his controversial notoriety as a trial lawyer in high profile criminal cases, as an unconditional defender of Israel against a wide range of responsible critics. He wrote a number of books and numerous articles with vicious attacks on such moral authority figures as Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, including his notorious tract The Case Against Israel’s Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand in the Way of Peace (2008). Even such mainstream and widely respected experts on world affairs as Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer become targets of Dershowitz’s calumny because of their daring to write critically and persuasively about the destructive influence of the Israeli Lobby in relation to the prudent and rational pursuit of American national interests in the conduct of foreign policy in their book, The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007).

 

            At this point, I should acknowledge that I am far from being a neutral observer. I have been accused on several occasions of being an ‘anti-Semite’ and ‘bigot’ by Dershowitz, primarily in relation to my role as UN Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine, but even in response to my endorsing blurb of Gilad Atzmon’s seminal challenge directed at liberal Zionist and Jewish thought in The Wandering Who? (2011). Similar insults were directed by Dershowitz at my predecessor as Special Rapporteur, John Dugard, a distinguished jurist from South Africa and as unbiased and balanced a champion of human rights and international law as I have ever known. Attacking the critics of Israel, especially those possessing strong academic and ethical credentials, is a nasty illustration of what I have called ‘the politics of deflection,’ that is, avoiding the substance of criticisms by denouncing the critics and their auspices with the intention of shifting the conversation. Such attacks are clearly intended to shut down criticism of Israel by subjecting to withering abuse anyone who dares to violate the Zionist taboo.

 

            Perhaps, the most important part of Friel’s engaging book is his depiction of Dershowitz’s advocacy of the ‘preventive state’ as overcoming an earlier essential postulate of liberal democracy, the presumption of innocence. In the preventive state that Dershowitz posits as necessary and hence desirable, we all become for the government legitimate objects of suspicion, and the higher goals of counter-terrorism. Such a line of analysis mandates the state to act preventively rather than reactively, and hence to employ the full coercive apparatus of the state to identify potential enemies of the state before they have the opportunity to act. For a more challenging rendition of this argument than offered by Dershowitz I strongly recommend reading Philip Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-first Century (2008). This reinterpretation of the balance between security and freedom reverses the traditional emphasis of the rule of law upon reactive forms of security, its logic being used to rationalize torture, as well as preventive detention of individuals and preventive warfare against states, non-state actors, and even individuals, perceived to pose future threats. Such rationalizations undermine the unconditional criminalization of torture and completely upend the UN Charter effort to confine the role of force in international relations by limiting its legal invocation to situations of self-defense against a prior armed attack by a state. The launching of the disastrous war against Iraq in 2003 was a clear international example of the preventive state in action as are the kill lists compiled weekly for drone attacks on individuals resident in foreign countries. Another facet of such a posture is embodied in the indefinite detention of numerous individuals in Guantanamo for years without charges and absent credible incriminating evidence.

 

            Of course, rigid legalism is not the alternative to a rejection of the preventive state, but an exaggeration of the terrorist threat is tantamount to willing the end of political democracy as it has evolved over the centuries. We have seen that even a supposedly liberal president, Barack Obama, has endorsed an authoritarian approach in numerous areas of governance including reliance on drone warfare and support for virtually limitless global networks of surveillance. The treatment of such whistleblowers as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden is also emblematic of the preventive state, directing public attention to the unlawful release of information while declining to acknowledge or remedy the crimes of state being exposed. Needless to say, Chomsky is acutely alert to these dangers, and has long stood for the maintenance, even the enhancement, of traditional liberties of the individual despite alleged security claims to the contrary.

 

            Friel has given us a brilliantly analyzed comparison of two vivid engaged and intelligent activists who personify the alternative scenarios available to the United States, the choice of which is of great consequence for the rest of the world. Only a determined advocate of unfreedom and injustice could fail to side with Chomsky in this debate about the political future of the planet. In this larger view, the Dershowitz defense of Israel against the most responsible of critics, is but an illustration of his broader alignment with repressive tendencies at home and abroad despite his feeble pretensions to the contrary.  Clearly Chomsky is the winner in this contest if fairly umpired, both in terms of coherence and acceptability of worldview, as well as the ethics of public discourse. Dershowitz, apparently propelled by the awkwardness of his convictions, seems always ready to adopt the Darth Vader tactics that Dick Cheney unabashedly favored, coyly acknowledging that it meant going to ‘the dark side.’

 

            Let me observe finally, and with due allowance made for my own stake in this effort to assess the comparative merits of style and substance on the part of these antagonistic titans, that Howard Friel has once again contributed a necessary book for all those dedicated to the pursuit of justice in relation to Israel/Palestine and more generally in international life.* A cardinal virtue of Friel’s approach is to recognize and explain the role of international law with respect to sustaining world peace and attaining global justice.  

 

* In this spirit I highly recommend Friel’s earlier expose of the Danish climate skeptic, Bjorn Lomborg, in his book The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight about Global Warming (2010) and of the mighty New York Times in The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misrepresents U.S. Foreign Policy (2004), of which I was the proud co-author.

Saying No to Alan Dershowitz

10 Nov

On declining Alan Dershowitz’s challenge to debate my endorsement of Gilad Atzmon’s autobiographical The Wandering Who? (my few lines are an echo of a poem by ee cummings that I recall reading many years ago). Dershowitz’s defamatory polemic can be found in the Huffington Post, but why it was considered publishable remains for me a dark mystery. Gilad Atzmon’s response can be found on his blog for those sufficiently interested.

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A SHITSLINGER’S LAMENT

 

 

 

There is

 

                        some

 

                                                                        SHIT

 

I

 

            will not

 

            sling

 

 

 

 

 

 

XI..9..2011