Harvard Prof. Alan Dershowitz, if memory serves me correctly, once said that the purpose of an attorney is to win a case, or if you wish, to present the best possible case for his client. His purpose is not to seek the truth, or even to render a judgment according to the law; let the historian take care of the first, and the judge the second. The American system requires that the defendant gets the best possible representation.
So when Dershowitz the lawyer lies, distorts, omits, and assassinates somebody's character, we should first assume, for his benefit, that he is doing what a defense lawyer should do – win the case.
I am also prepared to believe that Prof. Dershowitz is not just out to sell his books – even though he has written one on Gaza -- make headlines, or to spend his time on books outside of his area of specialization, you know, the sorts of books and articles for which one is judged in the academy. I am prepared to believe that his motives are pure, and that he thinks that he is arguing vigorously on behalf of his client, the beleagured, tiny State of Israel.
And so, in addition to preparing a "lawyerly" brief against the Goldstone Report, and submitting to the UN, he is now trying to "play the media," as defense lawyers often do, i.e., by performing a character assassination on his opponent, Judge Goldstone. The Goldstone report is not just wrong, we are told. It is akin to the protocols of the Elders of Zion written by a Jew. Richard Goldstone is an "evil, evil man", motivated by personal ambition to rise high in the UN Human Rights world (?), a traitor to the Jewish people, yada, yada, yada.
In a sense, I am happy that Alan Dershowitz is leading the charge, not just because on these issues he has little standing or credibility, having been dismissed long ago as a Jewish zealot who is entirely clueless about what is happening in Israel, a tinhorn patriot, and a defender of torture – but also because his metamorphosis from lawyer to consiglieri further delegitimizes the legal case of Israel. I mean, who else is stepping up to the plate on Israel's behalf except the usual suspects? Would Dershowitz's Serbian counterpart do any less?
Contrast Dershowitz's behavior with that of a respected jurist, former Chief Justice Aharon Barak. When the Goldstone report came out, Defense Minister Ehud Barak contacted both Aharon Barak and Dershowitz to help in the hasbarah fight against Goldstone. Dershowitz readily agreed; Aharon Barak pointedly refused. According to Haaretz, Aharon Barak told Meni Mazuz two weeks ago that Israel had to appoint either a state commission of inquiry or a governmental commission of inquiry. I am sure that he does not agree with parts of the Goldstone Report, but he has not vilified Goldstone, nor has he rushed to publish op-eds assasinating his character. Besides, Aharon Barak accepts a fundamental conclusion of the report; that Israel's military is not capable of investigating itself on these matters. Of course, Ehud Barak has ruled out any board of investigation, much less one with subpoena powers. Now Dershowitz – over a year after the Gaza Operation – calls for an Israeli board of inquiry headed by Aharon Barak – knowing full well that such a board will not come into being.
Here is why these intemperate outposts are the source of some comfort: It is important that Israel is supported by – and only by – the Zionists on the right. Dershowitz's voice is occasionally that of a liberal hawk, but his hands are those of the Front Page zealots with whom he associates. And that's fine, it's a free country; it is even very Jewish. There is an important tradition of Jewish zealotry against Jews from the Biblical Times (Simeon and Levy), the Second Temple Period (the Sicarii and other Zealots who caused the destruction of the Temple, including the Masada terrorists), Jews who assassinated other Jews throughout history, and most recently, Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, whose spiritual leaders used the same phrase that Dershowitz uses against Judge Goldstone, malshin and moser
What is sad, though, is that I remember when liberals throughout the world used to defend Israel. Even Moshe Halbertal, whose criticism of the Goldstone Report, I and others have criticized, did not sink to the character assassination of Goldstone, or to impugn his motives.
This is not to say that Prof. Dershowitz's arguments shouldn't be answered by more than ad hominem screeds. I plan to do that when he actually posts his brief on his website. (I just followed a link to it and he has taken it down. If any of my readers have a copy, please point me in the right direction.)
It is time that the liberal critics of the Goldstone report, as well as the center left folks in Israel and the US, stand up and condemn Dershowitz's outrageous rhetoric and slander in no uncertain terms. I don't expect the reaction to come just from the left or the progressive side, the usual suspects this time.
Ah, but how convenient it is to shoot the messenger.