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Jewish Journal

Alan Dershowitz’s secret weapon

by Jared Sichel

May 7, 2014 | 12:32 pm

Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz

World-famous lawyer, best-selling author, Harvard professor — Alan Dershowitz’s list of accomplishments is very, very long. And the number of controversial topics that he feels comfortable weighing in on — J Street, George Zimmerman, Jonathan Pollard, Donald Sterling — has made him a regular face on nightly news shows.

While sitting down with the Journal on a recent visit to Los Angeles, Dershowitz added another item to the list of things that make him such an interesting public figure: He’s considering becoming an Israeli citizen.

It’s not necessarily because he and his wife, Carolyn Cohen, have any intention of making aliyah; it’s because the outspoken Dershowitz wants to send a message to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is gaining steam in Europe and on many American college campuses.

The following is an edited excerpt of an interview with Dershowitz in which he  touched on everything from European anti-Semitism to South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

Jewish Journal: You say you are considering applying for Israeli citizenship and becoming a dual American-Israeli citizen. Why?

Alan Dershowitz: For one purpose alone. I would become a dual citizen only so that I can do what Evgeny Kissin, the great [Jewish-Russian] pianist, has done. No one who believes in the BDS movement can ever come and watch him play the piano because they would have to be boycotting him. If you believe in the BDS movement, then you have to boycott me. 

JJ: Meaning what?

AD: Don’t ask me to speak at your university. Don’t ask me to represent you. Whatever you do in relation to Israelis, I want to be included among that. Whatever you boycott Israelis for, I want to be boycotted for.

JJ: Is BDS really that big a threat?

AD: About a year ago I remember speaking to some people from the Jewish leadership in the U.S. who said to me that BDS should be ignored. I was focusing very hard on it. They were wrong. It’s a very important weapon. It’s one that is increasing in its effectiveness.

JJ: Where is it strongest? BDS is still trying to go mainstream in America.

AD: I don’t think that BDS will succeed in the United States. I think it will be an utter failure in the United States. America overwhelmingly supports Israel. No president of any university will support it, and any president who does support it will lose his job.

JJ: Then where will it succeed in trying to choke off parts of Israel’s economy?

AD: It will succeed in Europe because Europe has a long, long history of anti-Semitism. Who is promoting the BDS movement [in Europe]? It’s the grandchildren of the people who promoted the boycott of Jewish goods in the 1930s. We’ve only seen a short-term stop in a long-term history of anti-Semitism in Europe. 

JJ: Which European nations, in particular, do you have in mind?

AD: It will succeed in England and in France, particularly. Probably not in Germany, interestingly enough.

JJ: How would you advise pro-Israel Americans to ensure that BDS does not become here what you think it will become in Europe?

AD: It has to be exposed. It seems like it’s Gandhi-esque, and it’s not. The vast majority of people who support BDS think that they are supporting a tactical effort simply to put pressure on Israel to end civilian settlements and the occupation of the West Bank. But the leaders of the BDS movement have made it very clear they challenge Israel’s legitimacy to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

JJ: Are there any concrete steps you recommend in addition to exposure?

AD: Counter boycotts. If co-ops and stores are boycotting Israeli products, people who oppose that boycott should engage in a counter-boycott. If universities divest from Israel, alumni should divest from those universities. You do fight economic fire with economic fire. Fight back — very, very vigorously.

JJ: You were on Nelson Mandela’s international legal defense team. Mandela resisted pressure to label Israel as an apartheid state. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, though, embraces the comparison. Is there any element of truth in comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa?

AD: He [Mandela] was a decent man. Bishop Tutu is not a decent man. He’s an old-fashioned Jew hater. Everything Jewish he despises. He’s the villain. He should know better than anybody, even if you take the worst-case approach to Israel and assume all the worst about it, it doesn’t come close to what South African apartheid was. A small group of white people dominated a vast majority of black people. It [Israel] would be more like American control over Puerto Rico than South African apartheid.

JJ: Secretary of State John Kerry recently said, and then took back, that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state absent the creation of a Palestinian state. What’s your take?

AD: It was wrong, but as I understand it, J Street, before he even took it back, J Street supported it.

JJ: For years, you have spoken out strongly against J Street. Why?

AD: J Street is not a friend of Israel. J Street almost never says anything positive or constructive about Israel. J Street almost always takes positions that are against the consensus in Israel. Almost no one in Israel believes that Israel will ever be an apartheid state, and J Street does. Almost everybody believes that America should keep the military option on the table in relation to Iran, but J Street does not. Truth in labeling requires that J Street not call itself pro-Israel.

JJ: Moving on to the legal aspect of Palestinians seeking world recognition of a state, where do you see the Palestinian Authority (PA) going, especially if negotiations with Israel remain on hiatus?

AD: They will try to get recognized by the United Nations, and they probably will succeed. That won’t give them an inch of land back.

JJ: What about Palestinian pressure on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to try Israeli leaders, generals and soldiers for what they say are war crimes?

AD: If the ICC takes jurisdiction, it will mark the end of the ICC because the U.S. will never join it.

JJ: Now that the PA and Hamas have signed a reconciliation agreement, what are Israel’s options for negotiations?

AD: I think [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas overplayed his hand. This will mark his end as a leader of the PA. We’ll see a lot of turmoil within the PA and within Hamas, and the dust has to settle.

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