Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz is that rare individual who is both a highly respected academic and well known to the general population.
But in another regard he is even rarer. He regards himself as a man of the left, yet on one of the defining moral issues of our time, attitudes toward Israel, he has nothing in common with the left. He is not only one of Israel’s staunchest supporters, he spends much of his time defending Israel. He has written innumerable articles and four books defending Israel: “The Case against Israel's Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand in the Way of Peace,” “The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved,” “The Case for Israel,” and “What Israel Means to Me: By 80 Prominent Writers, Performers, Scholars, Politicians, and Journalists.”
This past week, Dershowitz wrote two eloquent columns defending Israel’s attack on Hamas in Gaza. One was titled “Israel, Hamas, and Moral Idiocy,” published in the Christian Science Monitor and the other, “Israel's Policy Is Perfectly ‘Proportionate,’” was published in the Wall Street Journal.
In his Monitor column, Dershowitz describes “three types of international response to the Israeli military actions against the Hamas rockets” -- “Iran, Hamas, and other knee-jerk Israeli-bashers,” “the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and others who, at least when it comes to Israel, see a moral and legal equivalence between terrorists who target civilians and a democracy that responds by targeting the terrorists,” and “the United States and a few other nations that place the blame squarely on Hamas.”
It is relevant to the question I will pose that he omits any mention of the world’s left, even when mentioning the European Union. Who exactly in the European Union is condemning Israel? Its conservatives? Who in America is condemning Israel? Conservatives? Who in Australia or Canada? Conservatives? Of course not. As regards Israel (and America and much else), the Western world’s moral idiots, to use the term in the title of the Dershowitz column, are virtually all on the left, including and especially many of his colleagues in academia.
So, I have a question for my friend Dershowitz. (I say ‘friend’ because we’ve known each other for years and debated and dialogued together.)
Given that Israel’s security is so important to you, given that you believe that the ability to morally distinguish between Israel and its enemies is tantamount to the ability to distinguish between good and evil, and given that those who condemn Israel for its “disproportionate” response to Hamas terror-rockets are almost all on the left in America and Europe, why do you continue to identify yourself as a man of the left?
Everyone who thinks sometimes differs with one’s ideological compatriots. But when one’s ideological compatriots are morally wrong on the greatest moral issue of the moment and perhaps the very clearest as well, don’t you at least suffer from cognitive dissonance?
It seems that to avoid this cognitive dissonance, Dershowitz engages in some intellectual denial. Just as he avoids any mention of the left in his column on the world’s moral idiots at the present moment, he does criticize the right for having its anti-Israel moral fools. In his book “The Case against Israel's Enemies,” he has a chapter on the far left and a chapter on the far right, as if there is any equivalence of impact. And as if the existence of anti-Israel voices on that insignificant “far right” somehow balances the staggering number of anti-Israel voices on the huge left, whether far or not so far.
Dershowitz himself repeatedly acknowledges how inverted moral thinking reigns on American campuses.
To cite just two examples: In 2005 Dershowitz wrote, “It’s no coincidence that so many of the professors leading the campaign against Harvard President Lawrence Summers for his recent comments about women in science also were in the vanguard of the campaign to divest from Israel and boycott Israeli academics.” And in 2007: “The only people who tremble on campuses are students at Columbia and Berkeley who are worried that they'll be graded down for being pro-Israel.”
Now which part of the American political spectrum dominates the universities, the left or the right? The former, of course. But Dershowitz won't put two and two together, at least publicly, and conclude that there is something fundamentally and morally flawed about the left and its values.
Dershowitz undoubtedly reads the New York Times and Boston Globe editorials as well as those of the Wall Street Journal. So he knows that only the conservative editorials of the Wall Street Journal routinely defend Israel.
He knows that with few exceptions, there are no pro-Israel left-wing journals as there are right-wing pro-Israel journals, such as the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, and National Review.
He knows that Israel is routinely bashed on left-wing talk radio (including, though more subtly, on NPR) and that Israel is constantly defended on right-wing talk radio.
He knows that on the Internet, the most virulent attacks on Israel are on the left, while the most pro-Israel websites are nearly all conservative and right wing, from Townhall.com to LittleGreenFootballs to NationalReviewOnline.
But none of this matters. Dershowitz still morally equates left and right and considers himself a man of the left.
I welcome Dershowitz’s response. Here is mine.
One reason, I believe, is that to acknowledge the moral failure of the left, especially the secular left, on most of the great moral issues of the post-World War II era -- the Cold War, the Middle East, confronting (or even acknowledging the existence of) the Islamist threat -- is very difficult for a person on the left, even one as analytical as Dershowitz. Secular leftism is analogous to Arthur Koestler’s “god that failed.” And few people want to confront the fact that the ideal, the god they bet their lives on, is a false god.
Second, to acknowledge the broken moral compass that guides the left is to implicitly endorse the right, especially the religious right. But that is very difficult for anyone on the left to do because the essence of the secular left is a rejection of the Christian right. That it is conservatives, especially religious conservatives, who are the most stalwart supporters of Israel, must greatly disturb Dershowitz.
And, it is precisely among those who most reject Judeo-Christian values that anti-Israel moral idiocy prevails. How does Dershowitz explain that? That’s my question.