Dershowitz’s Biggest Client to Date: Israel

Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz is so confident about his latest book that he has publicly offered to write a personal check for $10,000 to the Palestine Liberation Organization should it find any factual errors in it.

“The book is absolutely accurate,” Dershowitz says.

The Case For Israel is aimed at students hoping to defend the Jewish state in the debate surrounding the Middle East.

In the book and during his Science Center appearance last week to promote it, Dershowitz said that he has been dismayed by the tone of debate about Israel on college campuses, where he says there is a clear lack of “balanced historical representation” on the issue.

“The people I’m most upset about are the pro-Israel faculty who won’t speak out,” he said during a recent interview in his office on the law school campus. “Most faculty members don’t have an ounce of courage.”

Dershowitz structures The Case for Israel by addressing thirty-two questions he says have maligned Israel in recent years, including accusations that it is a civil rights violator and racist state. Dershowitz begins each chapter by quoting several sources that have made the relevant accusation, then proceeds to offer facts that demonstrate the contrary. When possible he cites figures who oppose his own views, including well-known critics of Israel like MIT Linguistics Professor Noam Chomsky and Columbia Literature Professor Edward Said.

“The case for Israel is made by the facts,” Dershowitz says. He blames biased research and intentional misrepresentation for twisting campus discussion of Israel. He says the problem was summarized well by a book reviewer he quoted at his Sept. 18 speech: “Israel is the only place where even the past in unpredictable.”

Dershowitz also takes issue with critics of Israel who say nothing about non-democratic human rights abusers around the world, including many of Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East.

“A single standard is essential to the rule of law,” he says. “No country in the modern world has behaved with more consideration for the civilian lives of its enemies.”

Dershowitz leans forward when he speaks, clasping his hands together and fixing an unwavering gaze on his audience. He exhibits the same steady attention when listening, despite the fact that his office, even on a Friday afternoon, swarms with activity. The room is filled with boxes of books, phones constantly ringing and assistants continually typing.

Dershowitz says that the book is not one that he had planned to write. “I have a list of books I want to write in my life, and this was not one of them. I just felt like I had to do it.” He says he worried that the first book written specifically to defend Israel would be “a right-wing religious [one].” He preferred that such a book come “from a civil liberties point of view.”

Dershowitz is aware that his book will in all likelihood spark further controversy. “I am who I am, and I am a contentious person,” he says.

On the other hand, he does not advocate his aggressive rhetorical style for everyone. “The goal of the book is to clear the air,” he says, “so that more conversations can take place. Let the students who read it speak with different voices.”

With some Israel critics, however, Dershowitz says he feels that conversation is not an available option. After then-Winthrop House Master Paul D. Hanson signed a petition calling for divestment from Israel last year, Dershowitz challenged him to a debate. “The divestment petition treats Israel as the Jew among nations,” he says. “You can criticize Israel all you want, but don’t deny its right to exist, and don’t deny its right to defend itself.”

The fact that Hanson did not agree to a debate did not faze Dershowitz, who debated an empty chair in Hanson’s place. He continues to challenge anyone who signed the petition to debate him.

In the book, as well as to last week’s standing room-only audience in the science center, Dershowitz urges students to take the reins of the debate. “Students are far more willing to speak their minds,” he says, adding that he wants to make the book as accessible to them as possible.