In light of the recent peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, I found myself perusing some of the older literature on the subject. This led me to a re-reading of Alan Dershowitz’s The Case For Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved.
While Dershowitz used to have my respect for his skills as a debater and his commitment to the Jewish people, I have come to find his work on Israel simply nauseating.
Allow me to give you a case in point. In his chapter entitled “More Palestinians than the Palestinians”, Dershowitz takes on, among others, the late Edward Said (1935-2003). Dershowitz claims that Said was an extremist who “was not only a believer in violence and bloodshed, he was himself a practitioner of violence.” p.124 Dershowitz also says that Said can be rightly compared to the right-wing Jewish extremist leader Meir Kahane (1932-1990).
He writes: “Like Kahane, Said opposed the two-state solution. Like Kahane, Said believed that those seeking peace were too soft on their enemies. And like Kahane, Said refused to condemn terrorism and himself demonstrated symbolic support for terrorist.” p.124
Not suprisingly, Dershowitz did not back up his claims with any sort of proof or context. It is therefore, up to the engaged and responsible reader (me) to check the veracity of his claims.
Let us unpack some of Dershowitz’s statements.
Claim #1: Edward Said was a believer in violence and bloodshed.
While Said believed in resistance to the occupation, he did not endorse violence and bloodshed as a means to end the occupation. In fact, he considered such actions counterproductive and “wantonly barbaric.” ( See “Emerging Alternatives in Palestine) In an article published in Al-Ahram and Al-Hayat, Said wrote: “If there is one thing that has done us more harm as a cause than Arafat’s ruinous regime, it is this calamitous policy of killing civilians, which further proves to the world that we are indeed terrorists and an immoral movement. For what gains, no one has been able to say.” ( See “Palestinian Elections Now”) Instead of violence as a form of resistance, Said believed that the models of mass nonviolent civil-disobediance used by Gandhi, King, and Mandella were the correct approach to ending the occupation. (See “The Tragedy Deepens”).
Claim #2: Said was a practitioner of violence.
This statement is of course in reference to the famous rock throwing incident. On July 3 2000, while on a family visit to Lebanon, Said joined a number of people who were throwing rocks across the Lebanese/Israeli border to celebrate Israel’s withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. According to the NY Times, who published a picture of the professor in the act, Said was throwing a stone at Israeli border soldiers. According to Said, he threw a “pebble” with no target in sight. (See NY Times article, “A Stone’s Throw in Lebanon Is a Freudian Slip in Vienna.” For Said’s rebuttle see “Freud, Zionism, and Vienna”) Either way, it is this incident that is the case for Dershowitz’s claim that Said was a practitioner of violence.
Claim #3: Like Kahane, Said opposed the two-state solution.
Yes, Said at a certain point in his life gave up on the idea of a two-state solution (he did support it throughout the 1980’s). And yes, Meir Kahane was also against the two-state solution. But that is as far the comparison can go. The question is not what they were against, but rather, what were they for.
Let’s compare their visions: Kahane wanted a single Jewish/religious state (comprised of Israel plus the West Bank and Gaza) with no Arab presence. He advocated the forced transfer of the Arab populations inside Israel and in the territories. Said, on the other hand, wanted to create a secular bi-national state whereby Jews and Arabs coexist as equals. Contrasting his vision with the likes of Kahane (or Hamas for that matter), Said wrote, “A concept of citizenship whereby every individual has the same citizen’s rights, based not on race or religion, but on equal justice for each person guaranteed by a constitution, must replace all our outmoded notions of how Palestine will be cleansed of the others’ enemies. Ethnic cleansing is ethnic cleansing whether it is done by serbians, Zionist, or Hamas.” (See “A Desolation, and they Called It Peace.”) The rest of Dershowitz claims about the similarities between Kahane and Said are also grossly misleading.
As the above illustrates, Dershowitz’s false charges and hollow comparisons are intellectually irresponsible. It is this type of scholarship that makes my brain want to vomit. Dershowitz’s book is a call to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, he can start by avoiding such mendacious writings.