Friday, March 30, 2012

Israel as Refuge for the Jews

Peter Beinart is the most recent of those who have claimed that  a Jewish state is necessary as a refuge for Jews fleeing anti-Semitism. “I am old enough to remember the plight of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews,” he recently said. As long as there is anti-Semitism, there is a need to ensure that Jewish lives will be safe. But not just physically safe – for Jewish culture to flourish, indeed, for Jews around the world to feel proud to be Jewish, there must be a Jewish state that provides these things. After a look at the revival of Hebrew culture, for which, he claims, the state is responsible.

That the Jewish state serves as a necessary refuge for Jews fleeing anti-Semitism and a guarantor of the survival of Jewish culture  is a deeply-held belief by many. So is the conviction that the Jews were exiled from Palestine by the Romans over two thousand years ago. Both convictions have been fostered by Zionism itself. But as the latter belief is a myth, so is the former.

Let’s begin by repeating the obvious fact that the revival of Hebrew language and literature and its being placed on a sure footing long antedated the founding of Israel. I am not referring merely to the literary achievements of the nineteenth and early twentieth century maskilim, though they are proof enough. No, what was responsible for the great institutions and spread of Hebrew language, literature, and culture, was the Zionist and the Hebraist movements, not the State of Israel, and most of the chief institutions of Hebrew culture were established well-before  the State.  The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Hebrew Language Committee (later, renamed the Israeli Academy of Hebrew Language), Hebrew novelists like Brenner and Agnon, Hebrew cultural institutions like the Palestine Orchestra (later the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra), the Bezalel Art School, the Habimah theater, and more and more – all these were the products of Jewish nationalism and their existence was neither due to nor ultimately guaranteed by  the State founded in 1948. True, the state has supported such endeavors (and recently has threatened to cut support from those institutions that would not perform in what Beinart calls “non-democratic Israel.”)

One may wish to argue that Israel provides a cultural center that has inspired a flourishing of Jewish culture outside of its borders. But that involves a Zionist reading of center and periphery that may not be even true. There was more of a Hebrew literary culture in the United States before the establishment of the state of Israel than afterwards, and while it would be wrong to blame territorial Zionism for that culture’s demise, it and the State of Israel bear some responsibility – just as the State of Israel has to bear some responsibility for the demise of Jewish communities in Arab lands, especially since it did everything within its power to bring those communities to Israel, and when they arrived, to melt them in the Israeli melting pot. To this day, official Israel looks askance at the growth of Jewish communities outside its because according to mainstream Zionism, one can only be fully Jewish in the Jewish State.

Which  brings me to the “place of refuge” dogma:  If Israel exists as a physical refuge to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, then it has failed miserably in that respect.  We are told by Israel’s leaders that the Jewish state is, or soon will be, under an existential threat from Iran, or from terrorism. If this is true, then will some one please tell me how Israel is a safer refuge for the Jews than, say, the United States, or even, Europe? More Jews have died because of the Israel-Arab conflict since 1945 than as a result of all other anti-Jewish behavior combined since 1945. And since much of the new anti-Semitism is correlated to Israel’s actions, not only is Israel a dangerous place for Jews living within its borders, it isn’t so good for the physical safety of Jews outside it either.

Beinart mentions the Jews of the Soviet Union and the Ethiopians. Those Soviet Jews who emigrated to Israel did so either because they were Zionist and wanted to live in Israel, or because they wished to live outside the Soviet Union,  and Israel was the only place available.  There was discrimination against Jews in the Soviet Union, and certainly it was difficult for Zionist Jews to live there after Israel had defeated Arab armies supplied with Soviet weaponry. But we are not talking about Jews who fled Russia, or were expelled from it,  because of persecution, and who were forced to seek refuge in Israel. Especially in the 1970s we are talking about mostly Jews who already were Zionist-inclined, and who wanted to emigrate to Israel. In the 1990s fewer were Zionistically inclined; they were mostly taking advantage of the Gorbachev’s liberal policy.

As for the Ethiopian Beta Israel community, they only began to immigrate to Israel as refugees after Israel decided that they were Jewish and encouraged them. Had the decision gone the other way – and it is important to remember that it could have, since there was opposition to Ethiopian aliyah – many would have remained in Africa or made their way elsewhere. For them to come to Israel, there had to be Zionists initially convincing them that this was where they should be; there was no consciousness among them of the State of Israel as their homeland (unless they were Zionists.)

Having written the above, the Ethiopian aliyah still strikes me as closer to the intent of those who use the “refuge” argument to justify Israel’s existence. But that argument seems to say that unless there is a Jewish state of refuge, some Jews may die or suffer anti-Semitism. But with a Jewish state some Jews may die or suffer anti-Semitism. The real question is or should be, “Can Judaism and the Jewish people survive without a Jewish state.” And the answer is, so far, yes. In fact several thousand years of Jewish survival teaches us that.

The answer to the fate of Jewish refugees is not to insist that there be an ethnic state to which they can return, but to insist on an international policy that is concerned the rights of all refugees, regardless of race, gender, color, religion, etc. Neither solution is fail-safe, but so what?.

All of the above is valid had the State of Israel been located on the North Pole or the Moon. But even I am completely wrong, and a Jewish state is necessary to ensure the survival and thriving of the Jews and Judaism, that is not an argument for making room for that state in somebody else’s country. And let’s face it – the Zionists decided that in order to accept Jewish refugees in Palestine, they had to expel and denaturalize natives of Palestine. No country or people has that right.

How many times have the same people who say,  “If there was no Jewish state, where would the Jewish refugees of Hitler go?” also say, “The world should force the Arab states to accept the Palestinian refugees?”  Let me say this here loud and clear – the Postwar states had a responsibility to receive the World War II refugees, and that responsibility was first and foremost that of their native countries. But where repatriation was not possible, the refugees should have been allowed to go to countries where there settlement would not adversely affect the rights of the native population. The settlement of Jewish refugees in Palestine – of which they were not native – was not morally justified insofar as that settlement furthered the designs of Jewish statehood, since the majority of the Palestinians were opposed to Jewish statehood, and Jewish statehood would have adversely affected their rights. As it turns out, it adversely affected their rights in ways in which they would not have dreamed, since that settlement was coupled with the effective expulsion of the majority of the Palestinians.

But where would the Jews have gone? Many of them didn’t go to Palestine anyway, and many of those who did left Palestine when they could, much to the dismay of the Zionists.

I repeat – there is a moral distinction between settling refugees in lands in which they desire to live, and repatriating refugees to their own land. In the case of the Palestinian refugees, they have a right to return to their homeland, even if it adversely affects the rights of the Israeli Jews, because they were barred from returning to their homes – despite the calls of the UN. Had the Zionists said, prior to the founding of the state, that the only way a Jewish State can survive is through the forced transfer of most of its native Palestinians, nobody would have recognized the legitimacy of the state. And if somebody had, then that person, or state, would be wrong.

My position is that of the Zionist Ichud Association, which said that the Palestinians refugees should be given the choice where they wish to live, and that ways should be found to accommodate those choices, balancing the needs and rights of all concerned – but with the clear recognition that their return to their native surroundings carries great weight, even when what they are returning to is an imagined landscape, because of the crime done against them.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Are Extra-judicial Killings a Form of Tikkun Olam?

In an op-ed published today by Rabbi Donniel Hartman, we learn that killing “known terrorist leaders” who have “blood on their hands,” and who have expressed a desire to continue their killing, is not only permitted under Jewish law, is not only commanded as a form of self-defense, but should be  praised as an act of tikkun olam, of repairing the world.

Before I criticize this position, I would like to go on record that I know Rabbi Hartman, and I admire his leadership of the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, where I have been invited annually to be part of  a “philosophers’ group.” So I am glad that his op-ed gives me the opportunity to commend his work, as well as to disagree vehemently with his position. Our dispute is “for the sake of heaven.” I also want to acknowledge that the point of the op-ed was actually to restrain the natural feelings of hatred and demonization for the other that people feel when under attack.

Let me start by saying that, contrary to what Rabbi Hartman writes,  the morality of extra-judicial killings is highly debated and not at all clear. On just war theory, as I wrote below, a pre-emptive strike against an enemy is permissible only when a) the enemy’s attack is imminent; b) the response is proportionate to the threat, and c) no other recourse is possible. I mention, as an aside, that it is possible to find parallels for these three conditions in the Jewish law of self-defense. In initially justifying Israel’s decision to assassinate Zuhir al-Qaisi, Rabbi Hartman assumes that all these conditions obtained. This in itself is a good sign. (Note that American’s assassination of Osama Bin Laden was not justified through an appeal to knowledge of an imminent attack he was planning. So if an attack wasn’t imminent, Rabbi Hartman could not consistently approve even Osama bin Laden’s assassination.) By declaring the necessity of the “imminence” requirement Rabbi Hartman distances himself from many of his fellow Israelis, to judge from the press reports.

But later on in the op-ed, Rabbi Hartman drops the “imminent attack” requirement

Targeted killings of known terrorist leaders, those with blood on their hands and the self-expressed desire and capacity to spill more blood, are not morally ambiguous

On the contrary, as is well known, there is a great deal of moral ambiguity here. Substitute, for example, “serial murderer” for “terrorist leaders”. Would Rabbi Hartman consider extra-judicial killings of such people “not morally ambiguous”? Remember, we are not talking about a ticking bomb, or somebody on the way to commit a heinous act, but rather somebody with the self-expressed desire and capacity to spill more blood. There are Israeli generals with blood on their hands who have the desire to bomb Gaza. Would Rabbi Hartman think it legitimate for Palestinian drones to take out those IDF generals?

Classical just war theory  may be wrong in assuming the equality of combatants. But it does. And if al-Qaisi is judged as a combatant, then he has the same rights, on just war theory, that an Israeli general has, with or without the uniform. There are many like Dick Cheney who claim that al-Qaisi doesn’t have the rights of a serial killer OR the rights of an SS army officer. But this claim is disputed, which makes his killing hardly “not morally ambiguous.”

But what is most disturbing to me – before I get to the ‘Jewish angle” – is the complete faith placed by Rabbi Hartman in the IDF army spokesman. After all, how does he know that al-Qaisi was preparing an imminent attack and that other recourses were not available? This is one of the problems of appealing to just war theory to provide you with moral cover. The slippery slope of moral righteousness is that it becomes self-righteousness:  each side accepts the version of events prepared by its side as Torah min ha-shamayim, the word of God. One side’s  legitimate army is another side’s terrorist gang, to paraphrase Michael Walzer. Where certain conventions have been observed by both sides – and in the case of Israel and Hamas, for example, cease-fires and conventions have held up over time, until one side (usually Israel) unilaterally breaks them – both sides assume the rights and responsibilities of legal combatants. Now it is true that al-Qaisi is not a member of Hamas, and so may not benefit from that consideration. But Rabbi Hartman seems to make his principle a universal one that would justify taking out all  legal enemies of Israel, from Ismail Haniyeh, to Nasrallah, to Ahmadinejad,

In short, Rabbi Hartman slides pretty quickly down the slippery slope that he himself cautions against – contra the dictates of international convention and just war morality.

So far I have been assuming a philosophy-class scenario in which killing a ticking-bomb ends the story. But it never ends the story. Is the assassination of al-Qaisi justified if it leads, inevitably, to the cycle of violence that we have seen? For consequentialists, at least, that is relevant to the morality of the issue. But if not to its morality, then at least to its prudentiality, and to its supposed lack of moral ambiguity. When I read

I hate to see 20% of Israel living under the threat of missiles. I am pained by the fact that they must bear the brunt of our actions. I am thankful that the Iron Dome missile defense system is able to mitigate somewhat the price that is demanded of them.

I ask myself, “What of the 25 Palestinians who lost their lives because of the cycle of violence?” What of the humiliating nature of all targeted killings of a people held under the control of the occupier for over forty years? After all, only one side, the occupier, has the power and control over the other side. I know this matters to Rabbi Hartman, since I know the man. My fear is that he doesn’t mention in his op-ed the Palestinians killed because he knows that most of his audience don’t really care about them, and that his “moderate” message will be rejected as too “bleeding-heart liberal” if he mentions them.

As for the “Jewish angle” of tikkun olam and extrajudicial killings. Even had I agreed with his analysis, which I do not, I would have preferred that Rabbi Hartman appeal to the principle of wiping out the seed of Amalek, which Maimonides sees as wiping out evil. Seeing extrajudicial killings within the framework of tikkun olam is wrong for two reasons. First, the phrase nowadays is used by many liberal Jews to denote social action in the service of liberal causes, often outside the Jewish community. So these Jews cannot but be offended by extending it to morally controversial issues such as extra judicial killing.  Second, in its original intent in the Jewish code of law, the Mishnah, the phrase tikkun olam was used to justify new edicts that provide for harmonious social relations where existing rabbinic law failed to do so. States that engage in practices that violate conventions and norms such as the law of war do not repair society but rip it apart. They provide justification for other states, and non-state actors, to do the same. Such practices place a state outside of the olam, the “world” it is purporting to repair – and, lowers it to the status of an outlaw state, a rogue state, a terrorist-state.

Finally, I appreciate Rabbi Hartman’s desire to restrain the all-too-human impulse for revenge and destruction and demonization of the enemy that Israelis – like all peoples –feel when they are threatened. Rabbi Hartman is following in the footsteps of Aaron, “who loved peace and pursued peace” among Jews. But we should also remember that Aaron desired Jewish peace so much that he was willing to help the Jews forge the Golden Calf. In doing so, he channeled their destructive impulses into something less destructive and bought time until Moses could return.  But that well-intentioned move also led to their rejection of God’s messenger for the sake of an idol. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Is Israel A Rational Actor?

In a seminal 2004 article in Philosophy and Public Affairs, David Luban argued that a state can justifiably launch a preventive war against a rogue state, provided that there is a high probability  for that state being attacked by the rogue state. This was a departure from classical just war theory, which only justifies preemptive war, that is, war to preempt an attack that is not only probable but imminent.

What constitutes a ‘rogue state’?

For purposes of preventive war doctrine, the most important characteristics are militarism, an ideology favoring violence, a track-record of violence to back it up, and a buildup in capacity to pose a genuine threat.

One could argue that, if Prof. Luban is correct,  Iran would be justified in launching a preventive war against Israel, since the latter is considered by many to be a militaristic society, refuses to engage with Iran in even indirect diplomacy, and has threatened repeatedly to attack Iran if it achieves nuclear weapons break-out capacity. It certainly has a track-record of unilateral violence to back up its threats. And Israel cooperates with the inspectors of the IAEE even less than does Iran.

Note that Prof. Luban does not allow preventive (or, for that matter, preemptive) war when a state merely feels threatened; on the contrary, he requires that the threat is probable (preventive war) or imminent (preemptive). Since Iran has never threatened to launch an unprovoked war against Israel, nor is it clear that it would take steps to act aggressively against Israel (If you don’t believe me, read here), I see no grounds for a preventive war against Iran. Moreover, it doesn’t fit the above definition of a rogue state. (For the record,  I hope that Iran won’t launch a preventive war against Israel.)

Is it so outlandish to consider Israel a rogue state, according to the above definition? Consider the recent Gaza violence. It began when Israel broke the cease-fire by assassinating Zuhair al-Qaissi, the commander of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committee. Israel alleged that al-Qaissi was planning a strike against civilians; but given the IDF’s track record of telling the truth, you will pardon my skepticism. Or to put it another way – if Israel saw the opportunity to kill al-Qaissi as revenge for, say, the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, wouldn’t it make better sense for the IDF to lie about its motives. After all, it all boil downs to whether you accept the IDF at its word. And, from Israel’s perspective, why shouldn’t it take revenge for the sake of deterrence and be disingenuous about the motive?

Now, I ask you: Is Israel a rational actor? After all, it knowingly plunged the southern half of the country into chaos, disrupted and risked the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis, sent many of them into bomb shelters, spent millions of shekels, etc., engaged in a “pissing match” with an armed group of insurgents – and for what? Not to stop a cell of terrorists on the way to carry out an attack, which would have been a preemptive strike, but to take out a military leader who may or may not have been “plotting” an attack.

Is this rational? Under some scenarios, it would be.

First, suppose that the real motive of the Israelis was not to stop the planning of a terrorist mission, but to test the effectiveness of the Iron Dome missile defense. What better way to gauge the success of that defense than to provoke rocket retaliations? What better way to judge the military capability of the insurgent groups? What better way to draw Hamas into a cycle of violence, so it could point fingers at Hamas? (Unfortunately, the Israelis failed; Hamas didn’t take up the bait.)

Under this scenario, the Israelis did not continue the drone attacks as reprisals for the missiles but, on the contrary, in order to provoke more missile attacks to test the strengths and weaknesses of the system. After all, Israel knows that its drone attacks inevitably will call forth retaliation, just as drone attacks against Tel-Avivans would also call forth retaliations. Assuming Israel is a rational actor, one has to ask what would Israel stand to gain by placing so many of its citizens in harm wa? The only answer I can think of is that it was vital for them to test and to improve the Iron Dome. The “unintended consequences” were the death of over two dozen Palestinians, from the very young to the very old, But while I am sure Israel will say that it sincerely regrets the loss of life, is it not justified to prolong the fighting in order to make a thorough test of the strengths and weaknesses of the lives its missile system certainly saved? Given the value of Gazan life for the Israelis, doesn’t it make sense that they are used as guinea pigs for such testing?

Of course, it may just be that Israel is not a rational actor.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Selling Purim to Progressives Again

It has been my custom to reproduce this “Selling Purim to Progressives” Purim post occasionally, with some modifications.  The last time was in 2012. But when I read yesterday what I wrote then, I realized that little had changed in the last three years.  There was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu with his annual Purim message: present-day Iran is Persia, its leader is the wicked Haman, they want to destroy us; if the US doesn’t come through, “there will be salvation from another place,” in other words, Israel will get the job done, i.e., unilaterally attack Iran without provocation (and no, tweeting that Israel should disappear is not a provocation, much less a casus belli). In 2015 Bibi told the US congress  “I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.” Now that’s a provocation, although not as explicit as the constant threats Israel has issued against Iran.

So without further ado, here is what I wrote in 2012:

This year [I present my post]  a day after Prime Minister Netanyahu gave  a megillah/Scroll of Esther to President Obama.The scroll, read twice on the holiday of Purim, relates the victory of the Jews over Haman the Agagite, his sons, and a whole bunch of people inside and outside the Persian capital of Shushan who had it in for the Jews. Jeffrey Goldberg explains the point of Bibi’s gift:

The prime minister of Israel is many things, but subtle is not one of them. The message of Purim is: When the Jews see a murderous conspiracy forming against them, they will act to disrupt the plot. A further refinement of the message is: When the Jews see a plot forming against them in Persia, they will act to disrupt the plot, even if Barack Obama wishes that they would wait for permission.

Goldberg reads Bibi right, but Bibi reads the megillah wrong.  In the story, the Jews are saved only because the Jewish Queen Esther convinces the Persian king to execute the wicked Haman, after which the king  authorizes the Jews to defend themselves against their attackers.

The real message of the megillah for Bibi should be:  Diplomacy works; self-defense is the last resort; and one should act  only with the consent of the legitimate authority. In other words, Jewish unilateralism and aggression are dumb and counterproductive.

Why don’t progressives like Purim? Oh, that’s easy.  It's not just the Scroll of Esther; it's the Amalek thing; it's the Barukh Goldstein thing (Goldstein was the settler who on Purim murdered Palestinians in prayer); it's the Hanan Porat "Purim Sameah" ("Happy Purim") thing (That's what the Gush Emunim leader allegedly said when he heard about the Goldstein massacre, though he claims that he was not celebrating Goldstein, but urging people to continue with the holiday, despite the horrible thing that had happened.) And mature adults don’t like the primitive customs associated with reading the megillah and Purim, like making deafening noise when the villain Haman's name is mentioned, or getting stone drunk. “A holiday for little children and idiots,” one person recently summed up Purim for me.

Well, that’s true to an extent. But Purim doesn’t have to be that way.  And the Scroll of Esther can be read to teach an important moral lesson. But we’ll get to that.

Consider the following:

As Marsha B. Cohen points out in her excellent post here, the Scroll of Esther is not history. I mean, there probably never was an Esther or a Mordecai or Haman. The story of Purim is part of the Jewish collective memory, which means that it never happened. So don't worry about innocents being killed, because according to the story, no innocents were killed. According to the story, the victims were guilty, or the offspring of those who were guilty, and in the ancient world, the offspring are generally considered extensions of their parent.  Is that a primitive, tribalistic morality? Of course! But it helps a bit to realize that we are in the realm of fantasy. I can't shed tears over the death of Orcs either. 

Once the book is understood as a fable written two thousand years ago, there are two possible ways of responding to it: by reading it literally as representing a morality that gets a B-(after all, Haman is indeed a villain that turns a personal slight into a call for genocide, and the Jews are indeed set upon), or by reading into it, against the grain of the story, our own moral imperatives.

I adopt both responses, but I prefer the latter. For one thing, I am doing what my medieval Jewish culture heroes, the rationalist philosophers like Maimonides, always did -- providing non-literal interpretations of scripture that were in tune with their own views.

James Kugel has argued persuasively that if you detach the Bible from its classical interpreters -- which is what Protestant Christianity and modern Biblical criticism attempts to do -- then the book you are left with is mediocre as literature, and only partly agreeable as ethics. The Bible has always undergone a process of interpretation, of mediation, even in its very text, because none of the classic readers could relate to it as a document produced in a certain time and place, but as timeless. 

So for me to relate to the Scroll of Esther, and to the Purim holiday in general, I emphasize (and distort) those points that are congenial to my ethics and worldview, and just dismiss the rest as pap for members of the family with a tribal morality.   I read the story of Esther as a fictional fantasy about how my people, through political wisdom and without religious fanaticism, or the help of a Deus ex machina, triumphed over the enemies who wished to destroy them because they were different.  

And that is a message which I will apply not only to my people, but to all beleaguered peoples who are in danger of having their identity and culture -- and physical welfare-- destroyed by forced assimilation, in the name of a superior culture and/or ethnic homogeneity. Because if what Haman wanted to do the Jews was wrong, then it is also wrong when anybody wishes to do this to any group.

After all, think of a contemporary leader who, because of slights to his national honor, and unwillingness to genuflect to his country’s power, punishes an entire people by  withholding their tax revenues, or turning off their electricity.

Pretty scary guy – and not just on Twitter.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spinoza and the Heresy Hunter from Harvard

Theater J, which operates out of the DC Jewish Community Center, is currently producing David Ives’ play,  New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza. This is a reimagining and dramatization of Spinoza’s interrogation for which there are no records. Over four hundred years later, we still don’t know why Spinoza was “excommunicated,” or to be precise, ostracized by the Spanish-Portuguese community of Amsterdam. We do have the writ of excommunication, which speaks of  “wrong opinions,” “horrible heresies,” and “monstrous actions.”  Scholars have speculated that some of the more controversial doctrines taught in his Theological-Political Treatise, written years after the event, may have been responsible. They include the denial of the Mosaic origin of the Torah, the naturalistic interpretation of miracles, and the claim that scripture is not a repository of philosophical wisdom.

Spinoza was not the only person to be excommunicated by the Spanish-Portuguese community of Amsterdam but he may have been one of only a handful ostracized for his heterodoxical opinions .

Whenever I teach Spinoza, I  call his excommunication a  win for both sides. The Jewish community got rid of a heretic; and the heretic, free of  communal pressures, flourished as a philosopher. But it would not have been a win for Spinoza had he wanted to remain a Jew. Fortunately for him, he did not. There is no indication that Spinoza was terribly stung by his excommunication. Before he was booted out he was little more than a perfunctory member of the community; in fact, he was in arrears in paying his dues.  Nothing in his subsequent writings and correspondence suggest that he still considered himself a Jew after he left the community  (The notion that Spinoza was “the first secular Jew” is an offense against Spinoza and secular Jews.)

We are told by his early biographers that he prepared a defense. Why, if he didn’t care about his standing in the community, did he do that? I think that he believed  that what he taught was not harmful for religion per se, but only for a certain kind of religion,  the religion of the theologians, who had subordinated philosophy and rational inquiry to religion.  I can imagine that he wished to convince the Amsterdam rabbis, who were well-versed in philosophy, that what he taught was actually good for promoting piety among the non-philosophical.

How far we have come since then! When once rabbis pronounced the ban of excommunication, now we have Prof. Alan Dershowitz, the heresy hunter from Harvard, who not only decides what is admissible and what is beyond the pale in discourse about Israel, but also quite literally hounds his Jewish opponents with the zeal of a Torquemada.  Look at the man’s attacks on Norman Finkelstein, Rachel Giora, Anat Matar, Shlomo Sand, and Richard Goldstone (and these are only the Jews I know about; readers are invited to remind me of others.) Finkelstein, to be sure, had accused Dershowitz of plagiarism, which would naturally arouse the anger of any professor. But instead of merely rebutting the charges,  Dershowitz went after Finkelstein at every opportunity, threatening Finkelstein’s publisher, University of California Press, not to publish his book,  and then attempting to influence Finkelstein’s tenure decision. In the case of Giora, Matar, and Sand, none of whom had gone after him, Dershowitz “accused them of hurting students and harming the resilience of the State of Israel,” according to a letter of protest signed by Tel-Aviv university faculty members.

As for Judge Richard Goldstone --  well, read what I  have written here and here, and weep for Harvard.

I want to make something absolutely clear. Alan Dershowitz is not only allowed his free speech and academic freedom; he has the moral obligation to speak the truth as he sees it. But whereas others speak truth to power, Dershowitz seems to go after  people who lack real power and standing in the organized Jewish community. He doesn’t just speak out against his weaker opponents; he tries to destroy them – especially if he feels personally affronted.

His latest target is M. J. Rosenberg of Media Matters. Dershowitz was offended by M. J.’s use of the term “Israel-Firster,” and by some of his tweets. So he had the right to make his views known in the public domain, even in a forceful manner. But that is not the way of Prof. Dershowitz:

Not only will [the Media Matters controversy] be an election matter, I will personally make it an election matter…I will speak to every Jewish group that invites me, and I think it’s fair to say I speak to more Jewish groups than probably any other person in the world. I spoke to over a million Jews over the years,,,You know, just last Thursday I spoke to 1,200;  just in the next weeks alone I’ll be speaking — and in the past weeks — to thousands of American Jews. And believe me, I will not let them ignore this issue.

And lest you think Rosenberg will escape his ire, Dershowitz says

I don’t know whether President Obama has any idea that Media Matters has turned the corner against Israel in this way…I can tell you this, he will know very shortly because I am beginning a serious campaign on this issue and I will not let it drop until and unless Rosenberg is fired from Media Matters, or Media Matters changes its policy or the White House disassociates itself from Media Matters.

For years I have been waiting for Alan Dershowitz to meet his Edward R. Murrow, and I believe that he has met him in M. J. Let me tell you something about M. J. Rosenberg – to call him “anti-Israel” is as absurd as calling the New Israel Fund, J Street, the Meretz party, B’Tselem, anti-Israel – which, of course, is done everyday by the New Zealots, those self-appointed guardians of the Jewish state.  M. J has is a life-long liberal Zionist and supporter of the State of Israel, even when – especially when -- he has criticized its government.

M. J. accused AIPAC of being an Israel-firster organization, and that aroused the ire of Dershowitz? M. J. worked for AIPAC for years, and he knows whereof he speaks. I can tell you that many  AIPAC people I know, including relatives and friends, not only place Israel’s interests above American’s interest, they delude themselves into thinking that Israel’s interests are by definition identical with America’s interests.

M J allegedly tweeted in response to Dershowitz’s threats that he can go to hell. Dershowitz has responded by going nuclear.  Because of his fury at Rosenberg, he is willing to attempt to cost Obama the election if the White House doesn’t publicly distance itself from Media Matters, or if Media Matters doesn’t fire Rosenberg, such is his fervor of the heresy hunter scorned. This time he has set the bar high, and, optimist that I am, I trust that he will fail.

Liberal Zionists, I am talking to you! Stand up for M. J. and you are standing up for your own against the like of those who delude themselves into thinking they are liberal Zionists. Otherwise you will end up by saying

I was silent when Dershowitz went after Norman Finkelstein because I am not Norman Finkelstein. I was silent when he came for Matar, Giora, and Sand because, well, I had never heard of them. I was silent when he came for a liberal Zionist like M. J. Rosenberg because I don’t tweet. Then when he went after me, nobody was there to help me….

[Update, March 8:  Perhaps the Forward’s J. J. Goldberg’s heard this call, but whether he did or not, he has written a beautiful defense of M. J. here.]

Perhaps there is a ray of light in all this. The Israeli Reut Institute last year outlined an Israel advocacy  strategy of driving a wedge between the liberal Zionist and the extreme left in Israel and abroad. For the most part, it hasn’t worked.  There is indeed a gap, but it is between the real liberal Zionists like M.J., Peter Beinart, Naomi Hazan, Larry Derfner, Michael Lerner, Leibel Fein, David Grossman, Amos Oz, as well as the activist groups in Israel like B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Breaking the Silence, on the one hand, and the faux liberal Zionists like Dershowitz, Abe Foxman, Benny Morris, Ari Shavit, and all those members of the so-called “disappointed left” in Israel, on the other.

How do you distinguish between the genuine and the fake liberal Zionist? After all, both kinds say that they are for two states, oppose settlements and settlers, support  territorial compromise, etc. It’s very simple: if they publicly criticize Israel’s human rights violations; if they support groups that expose such violations; if they call out Israel’s elected leaders on matters of policy and morality --  in short, if they adopt the stance of moral critic because that is deep in their Jewish and mentshlich soul – then they are true liberal Zionists. All the others are deluded into thinking they are.

And no one is more deluded into thinking he is a liberal Zionist than Alan Dershowitz, who never ceases to remind his readers that  he opposes the settlements and supports the two-state solution. Sorry, Professor, that is not enough to qualify. You also have to support harsh measures against the state if the settlements continue. You can’t be a liberal Zionist and support Binyamin Netanyahu, the arch-enemy of liberal Zionists.If you care about Israel as Jewish and democratic, to borrow the language of the liberal Zionists, you will – like M. J. and the others – have to fight against those Israeli government policies that are destroying the democratic nature of the state. You will join hands with human right activists, Jewish and Palestinian, who are fighting for justice. You will support, like M.J., Peter Beinart, David Grossman, and Amos Oz, boycotts against the settlers and the settlements. You will support pressure from the Americans and the European states to stop Israel’s slide into a Putin-style democracy,

If, Prof. Dershowitz, you are all about carrots but refuse to use  sticks – no, even twigs – in dealings with Israel, then your “liberal Zionism” is humbug and self-delusion that is designed for one thing – to allow you to face yourself in the mirror next time you read of some outrage in Haaretz, and say,

‘Hey, I’m a liberal Zionist. I am against the Occupation.”

The bullying has to stop.