Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz ripped into Jimmy Carter last night with all his hallmark bluster, excoriating the former President for refusing to engage in a debate and calling his latest book an “ahistorical” work.
In a 90-minute solo appearance at Emerson Hall, Dershowitz extended his public assault on Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid,” which was released in November.
He criticized the book’s argument and called Carter’s writing irresponsible, saying that the situation in Israel could not be compared with state-sponsored racism in South Africa, and that blame for instability in the region rested squarely with the Palestinians.
“Jimmy Carter was warned in advance that this would be misunderstood,” Dershowitz said, holding up the book to the crowd packed into the Emerson lecture hall. “He’s not at fault for the hate sites that use his writings? Yes he is. You are judged by the company you keep and the company that keeps you.”
Carter has publicly criticized Dershowitz, telling the Boston Globe in December that he would not debate someone who “knows nothing about the situation in Palestine.”
Carter has defended the controversial title of his book, saying in a statement on the Carter Foundation Web site that the “apartheid” refers to conditions in the Palestinian territories and not in Israel.
The leader of the Harvard Progressive Jewish Alliance, which generally opposes Dershowitz’s hawkish views on Israel, said in an interview after the event that she was impressed by the law professor’s rhetoric. But she took issue with some of Dershowitz’s arguments.
“I felt that he made a lot of generalizations and some inappropriate analogies,” Jackie B. Granick ’08, the chair of the alliance, said. “Dershowitz sort of simplified the argument and blamed the Palestinian people for the irresponsibility of their political leaders.”
Dershowitz opened the talk with a brief history of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, remarking that Carter was “responsible in part” for convincing the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to walk away from a deal that would have created two separate states in the region.
“He’s the reason Palestine isn’t today a state,” Dershowitz said.
Some of his harshest words came in response to a passage from Carter’s book that detailed his dealings with Arafat.
“This is a murderer,” Dershowitz said of Arafat. “And [Carter is] bouncing Yasser Arafat’s child on his knees and talking about how wonderful of a man he is.”
After calling for “hostile questions” at the beginning of the question-and-answer session, Dershowitz was grilled on a range of issues—including an alleged lack of sympathy for Palestinians and a lack of respect for the former President.
Dana A. Stern ’09, president of Harvard Students for Israel, said she was happy with Dershowitz’s style.
“He welcomed and solicited challenges from students,” Stern said. “That is much more productive for the ultimate goal of achieving peace, rather than writing a one-sided book.”
Perhaps anticipating the tension that would arise during the Q-and-A, Dershowitz prefaced it with a plug for an upcoming debate with Johnson Family Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker about two traditional Jewish foods, latkes and hamentashen.
“I am going to devastate the latke,” Dershowitz quipped.
—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.