Monday, August 25, 2014

Alan Dershowitz is Historically Illiterate

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
As diplomats scramble for a ceasefire, the Israel Defence Force and Hamas continue to exchange fire around and across the border separating Israel from its colony.  By the metric of brute force, the IDF has been wildly successful, the savagery of its attack displacing a quarter of the residents of its colony.

Where the IDF and the colonial regime have struggled is in winning the hearts and minds of the world.  Perhaps because of the duration of the conflict—rendered all the more visible and shocking thanks to the readier flow of information across the internet—Israel is facing perhaps the most widespread and sustained backlash internationally in recent history.
And so its supporters—capitalizing on the presence of a small and deplorable strain amongst the regime’s critics—are resorting to the most pathetic of defenses of deliberate, calculated, and sustained violence: the accusation of anti-Semitism.
He starts with an acknowledgement that “criticizing specific Israei policies is certainly not anti-Semitic”, but then proceeds to argue that “support for Hamas is anti-Semitic, because Hamas’ policies and actions are based, at their core, on Jew-hatred”.
This is a vapidly ahistorical piece and a deliberately ignorant argument, all the more wretched coming from an academic who should at least enjoin people to think rigorously.  By all means be critical of Hamas’ rhetoric and actions, and by all means ask those who “support” the organization—and the article’s definition of “support” is pitifully elastic, designed to sweep up all of Israel’s critics in the kind of drag-net colonial governments employ as a part of their collective punishment regime—to think critically about their decision.  But to suggest that all of the diverse reasons why people might support Hamas can be summed up as anti-Semitism is to make a woefully cynical decision to willfully misunderstand a) the historical roots of the conflict; and b) the circumstances which give rise to anti-colonial movements, which in turn can beget racism—and are often responding towards a better-masked racism.
Dershowitz claims that the likes of Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Mary Robinson “support” Hamas, presumably referring to their calls for its recognition as a critical part of bringing an end to colonialism in the region.  The unhappy reality is that many an ugly conflict has been brought to an end by acknowledging that some ugly people occasionally represent the interests of a great many people—in this case because Israel’s brutal colonialism undercut the possibility of alternative Palestinian leadership out of its need to maintain a bogey against which to wage its vicious colonial campaigns.  
And Dershowitz should know that most Palestinians support Hamas because of historic grievances about land and liberty, not because of its anti-Semitism.  Hatred is a byproduct of the colonial relationship which has persisted over decades, and it is flourishing as much in Israeli culture—manifested as racism and in calls for ethnic cleansing—as in the regime’s colonies.
Dershowitz and the regime he defends are afflicted by an historical illiteracy that Desmond Tutu, for one, transcends.  Tutu remembers the days when Nelson Mandela was labeled a terrorist not only by the apartheid government, but its backers in Washington and London (in those days, Israel provided moral and material support to the apartheid regime).  And it is true that Mandela believed for many years in the need to wage a guerrilla war against the government in Pretoria which pulverized non-white South Africans and sought to make their abhorrent vision of racial difference a reality by forcing black South Africans into townships and “homelands”, national slums which they then pretended were independent countries. 
In South Africa, thanks to the pressure applied by civil unrest, international sanctions, and the presence of an armed force at the door of the government’s colony in Namibia (Cuban forces inflicted two comprehensive military defeats on the apartheid regime), the ANC won power by negotiating with the people who spent years hunting its members, murdering them at home and abroad, attacking its neighbours, and instilling terror in its population. 
Dershowitz is old enough to remember the days before 1967 when Israel was known as an inspiration to other young nations seeking to shake off the colonial yoke.  And he is intelligent enough to know that Israel won its own independence through a dual strategy.  On the one hand, it waged a successful propaganda campaign abroad.  On the other, its armed wings set bombs, kidnapped, and booby-trapped the bodies of its abductees before being formally integrated with the IDF after independence.
Unable to match the armed might of the British Empire, it waged what its own generals would today demonize as a “terrorist” campaign against the colonial power in the Palestinian Mandate.  But historical illiteracy makes the reality of Israel’s own independence war somehow irrelevant to its defenders today. 
War is full of atrocities.  Strong moral institutions and state mechanisms for accountability can offer some check on brutality.  Hamas lacks the state apparatus to exert such checks, and the Israeli colonial state, like most colonial states throughout history, has elevated unchecked violence into an indispensible art form. 
In this case, war is the outcome of a colonial relationship, in which one party governs another without its consent, using structural and physical violence.  Ending that colonial relationship would not guarantee peace.  But it is a precondition for peace.
So if Dershowitz has any real interest in the welfare of Israeli citizens, he would recognize that his mud-slinging is counter-productive.  He is advocating ignorance, he is promoting historical illiteracy, and he is encouraging people to dig into the positions from which they will continue to obliterate their colonial subjects which guaranteeing their own chronic insecurity.  His ridiculous efforts to brand Israel’s critics as anti-Semites—whatever disclaimers he offers and then promptly revokes—are of no service to the country he seeks to shield. 

His claim would be akin to saying that because some Israeli politicians advocate ethnic cleansing, anyone who argues for the legitimacy of the Israeli state is a genocidaire.  That would be stupid, offensive, and ignorant—just like the things Dershowitz is saying.  It would also miss the point—namely, the untenable and illegal colonial relationship, the endurance of which ensures that violence will persist, claiming the homes and lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike. 


  1. Is it just me or is Alan Dershowitz looking a lot like Desmond Tutu these days....

    I often see in articles of this type (or rambling online chats with the Brahmin) the rhetorical device of 'In general we can criticism Hamas' actions and motives' but 'I am going to in detail and in particular give excuses for their actions.' Don't know if you have any thoughts.

    Also, most of the polling i've seen suggests that the majority of palestinians do not actually support Hamas:

    (In case you need another image:

    1. Is it a question of "excusing" their actions, or asking that they be understood if we want to bring an end to them? If everyone spends all of their time harping on how dreadful Hamas is, then we lose sight of the conditions that created them. Their actions and those of Israel are both products of a specific situation. My biggest problem with Dershowitz' argument is that it's designed to shut down discussion about cause and effect.

  2. Maybe 'excuse' is the wrong word, though i'm not sure understanding is really right either....

    Here's my thought: The violence on both sides is deplorable, and I can't see how Hamas' actions are leading to material benefits for the people of Gaza. Maybe I'm wrong, and armed resistance and struggle is the only way to bring about change, but I haven't heard anyone make that argument, or at least I don't recall.

    You say, 'cause and effect' like it is a law of nature that people are oppressed and they react violently. I'm not sure I accept that, and it takes agency away from the Palestinian people. They could (and for the most part I think they have) reject violence and work towards a just and acceptable peace. Despite the Brahmin's best efforts, nothing so far has made me believe that any of Hamas' actions or strategies has made life better for the people of Gaza. (excluding services on the ground, like medical and such)

    Unless I'm wrong, and Hamas has improved lives, then saying as much, I feel, is probably as productive as any other opinion piece. I think you feel and imply in your posts that by actually seriously critiquing Hamas you are letting Israel off the hook, and that is a false choice.

    As for wild accusations of anti-semitism, I haven't read Dershowitz' piece, but in general they have little place. Except of course to be thrown against the Brahmin when he goes off on one of his rants about how the Jews are fixing all the cricket matches by spiking the tea with de-cafe.

    1. I by and large agree with you. But my whole point is that for Dershowitz and his ilk it's not about critiquing Hamas. Rather, it's about getting Israel off the hook by saying that anyone who criticizes them is an anti-Semite.
      I certainly hope that violence isn't the only way to end colonialism. The South African case suggests that international sanctions on a regime that is in violation of international law can help.
      I also think that focussing on hammering Hamas suggests that--since what we're presumably interested in most is ending oppression--if they were to cease their violence, somehow that would lead to independence. But there's no indication that a cessation of violence would lead to a change of heart on the part of the Israeli regime, which I think really thrives on the presence of Hamas (that's not to say that we shouldn't hope that Hamas gives up violence for other, basic, moral reasons).
      But I don't think the onus should be on Palestinians...I think it should always be on the party with the monopoly on 'legitimate' force who is perverting the law to maintain colonial power.
      Sorry if those thoughts are a bit incoherent...I'm in office hours, abusing my time...