Alan Dershowitz and the Politics of Desperation

By Rabbi Brant Rosen

I've noticed an interesting pattern in Alan Dershowitz's recent HuffPo columns.

On April 21 he smeared Jeremy Ben Ami and the pro-peace, pro-Israel lobbying group J Street, putting words in Ben Ami's mouth and saying that J Street has "gone over to the dark side."

On May 4 it was Rabbi Michael Lerner, a leading figure of the American Jewish left, and editor of Tikkun Magazine. Dershowitz accused Tikkun of "McCarthyism," disregarded the recent attack on Lerner's home, and characterized Lerner's criticism of Israeli policy as "blood libel."

In between the two, Dershowitz lambasted Judge Richard Goldstone, the highly regarded international jurist who prepared a UN report on Israel's Gaza War. He labeled the report as "evil" and attacked me and a group of American rabbis for having the temerity to find merit in Goldstone's work - we are "bigoted," apparently, and "ignorant," and are - yes - leveling a "blood libel" against the Israeli government. Most recently, Dershowitz hit a new low when he went on Israeli television and compared Judge Goldstone to Dr. Joseph Mengele.

When a Jew starts to accuse rabbis of blood libel; when an American shouts "McCarthyism" at an American magazine editor whose life is dedicated to dialogue; when a professional, highly experienced lawyer accuses a world-renown jurist of "evil," equating him with the Nazi "Angel of Death," and uses Star Wars terminology against a legitimate, widely-supported political lobbying group - well, it adds up, and it indicates one thing: Desperation.

Alan Dershowitz, and many of Jewish America's leading conservative lights, have seen the writing on the wall, and it frightens them. Their brand of Jewish chauvinism is fading from the world, and they are justifiably frightened that a different approach to both Israel and Jewish life is taking hold among American Jews.

The vicious personal attacks on Judge Goldstone, and what is by now a long list of centrist and liberal American Jews, are profoundly disturbing, and represent an attempt to escape the critical self examination that both the Goldstone Report and our own religion demand - what is perhaps more interesting, however, is the fact that so many in the American Jewish community are refusing to join the chorus.

Rather than unquestioningly follow the kind of conservative groupthink that Dershowitz exemplifies, American Jews - like the 37 rabbis who signed that recent letter in support of Judge Goldstone - are working to hold Israel to a set of Jewish values that are more important than any political ideology. Rather than accept that there can only one way to express solidarity with the Jewish people and only one line of thinking on the subject of Israel, American Jews are beginning to give true expression to the tradition of pluralism in both our faith community, and our nation.

Recent polling, alongside articles in both the New York Times and the Israeli paper of record, Ha'aretz, indicate that the American Jewish community no longer feels represented by our so-called representatives - if we ever did. Nearly two-thirds of the Jewish community feel that the War in Gaza in no way improved Israel's security, and 69 percent support Israeli negotiation with a joint Hamas-Fatah government. Perhaps most critically, younger Jews are increasingly frustrated at being labeled anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic for voicing their opposition to Israel's treatment of Palestinians. As a community, we are clearly beginning to step out from the shadow of those who still believe that the status quo is maintainable - or acceptable.

Judge Goldstone has upheld the principles of justice, compassion and truth that are the very heart of the Jewish religion. As rabbis, we are proud of the work he has done as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, as a judge on the Constitutional Court in post-Apartheid South Africa - and on the Fact Finding Mission in Gaza.

We applaud his courage in upholding his belief in international human rights even when called to do so in a report on the Israeli government's behavior. International human rights apply to all, with no exceptions - and if the Israeli government and conservative American Jews like Alan Dershowitz are so confident that the report's findings are false, they should support the establishment by Israel of an independent, credible and transparent investigation to disprove them.

The sage Shimon Ben Gamliel said "the world stands on three things: justice, truth, and peace. As it says [in Scripture] 'Execute the judgment of truth, and justice and peace will be established in your gates'."

It's time for Jewish leaders in Israel, America, and around the world to grapple with the difficult truths of Israel's occupation and its treatment of the Palestinian people - rather than launching personal attacks against the messengers with whom they don't happen to agree.