January 28, 2009
My Answer to Prager: Why I Refuse to Join
My old friend Dennis Prager can’t understand why I don’t leave the left to join him on the right. Let me explain.
I am a civil libertarian, centrist liberal who supports most of the policies of mainstream Democrats and opposes many of the policies of the Republican Party and of conservatives. I support progressive taxation. I oppose tax breaks to the rich, even though I am relatively affluent. I support the right of working people and unions, though I oppose efforts by some unions to deny their members anonymous voting rights. I strongly support the separation of church and state. Indeed, I would build a wall of separation even higher than it is now, consistent with the principles of Jefferson and Madison. I strongly oppose efforts by many Republicans and conservatives to lower the wall, to Christianize America and to argue that atheists and agnostics are less moral than believers in traditional religion. I strongly favor stem cell research and complete equality for homosexuals. I support a woman’s right to choose, under most circumstances. I favor a broad reading of the constitutional rights of those accused of crime, even terrorism, and oppose efforts, whether by Republicans or Democrats, to circumvent the Constitution or to operate beneath the radar screen of accountability. I strongly favor our system of checks and balances and oppose the Republican concept of the “unitary executive.” I favor a maximalist view of freedom of speech and oppose efforts to censor pornography, blasphemy or other “objectionable” forms of speech. I favor strict regulation of gun ownership, consistent with the Second Amendment. I favor universal health care consistent with maintaining the high quality of medicine. I support the kind of free college education afforded me at the New York City college system.
I spend much of my life fighting against the bigotry of the hard left when it comes to Israel and American foreign policy. My staunchest enemies in the world include Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judd, Elon Pappe, Alexander Cockburn, Jimmy Carter and others on the hard left who are obsessed with Israel’s imperfections, while ignoring genocides and real abuses of human rights in other parts of the world. As a centrist liberal and Democrat, I believe I have a special obligation to attack the hard left, because my attacks receive somewhat more credibility than the attacks coming from the right. (I also believe that conservative supporters of Israel have a special obligation to attack those on the hard right, such as Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak, who are virulently anti-Israel.)
Moreover, I base my defense of Israel on liberal values. I support Israel precisely because it is a secular democracy (I wish it had more of the separation between synagogue and state), because of its commitment to human rights and civil liberties, because of its adherence to the concept of holiness of arms (in the secular sense), because it fights defensive rather than aggressive wars. I support Israel because of its generally progressive views on women, gays, the environment and civil liberties. I am an admirer of Israel’s Supreme Court.
Nor am I alone in being a centrist liberal Democrat who supports Israel. I work closely with Irwin Cotler, a member of the Canadian Liberal Party and former Minister of Justice; with Elie Wiesel; with Anthony Julius of London; with Sam Pisar in Paris; with Amos Oz and Aaron Bharak in Israel; and with many others in academia and politics. My views are close to those of Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Al Gore, Barney Frank — and I hope Barack Obama.
It is extraordinarily important for Israel to be supported by the left and the right. Support for Israel should never become a conservative cause alone, a mission of only the religious right and a plank of only the Republican Party. It must remain a bipartisan issue. On college campuses, as well, there must be liberal supporters of Israel to counteract the many hard-left Israel bashers.
It is the hard left that has left the left over Israel. My goal is to increase support for Israel within the mainstream of Democrats and liberals. I will not be kicked out of the left by its anti-Israel extremist fringe. I will instead continue to support Israel to attack those on the hard left who demonize Israel, and to support centrist liberal principles that are good for America, for Jews and for the entire world.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is the author of 27 fiction and non-fiction works and has also published more than 100 articles in magazines and journals.