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Toward a More Productive Discourse

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My blogger friends have counseled me against engaging the comments section. They point me to an instructive episode of The West Wing ("The people on these sites: they're the cast of 'One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest.'") and tell me that acknowledgment of your attacks is the equivalent of dropping blood into shark-infested waters.

But I disagree. If I wanted silent, passive audiences, I wouldn't be contributing to this site, just as I wouldn't encourage my students and lecture audiences to ask me only their most confounding questions.

I specifically write about the Arab-Israeli conflict on this site because of the near-uniformity of negative opinion about Israel that I have found here. I believe that it is important, especially for a teacher, to provoke people to think creatively about seemingly-intractable problems (such as the persistence of torture) and to question their own dogmas. But since I started writing here, virtually none of the comments under the posts have addressed the merits of my arguments. Rather, they dismiss my arguments by repeating silly and long-ago-discredited lies about the views I hold. They attack me personally instead of arguing the substantive facts of the issues. Whenever I write about the Arab-Israeli conflict, several lies have appeared with regularity in response to my posts.

In the interests of truth and civil discourse, let me correct and disprove these lies once and for all.

Lie #1: Dershowitz supports the torture of terrorists.

"Odd, Dershowitz supports torture by the US against muslims. he supports torture by Isreal against muslims. But he doesn't support torture by muslims of israelis."

"Alan Ilovetorture Dershowitz [sic]"

"...i'm STILL confused why Dershowitz fully supports Israel and the US using torture, but whines 'unfair' when Hamas does it."

Nothing can be further from the truth. I oppose torture as a normative matter, but I believe that it is taking place as an empirical matter. Here is what I have written about this complex issue:

I am against torture as a normative matter, and I would like to see its use minimized. I believe that at least moderate forms of nonlethal torture are in fact being used by the United States and some of its allies today. I think that if we ever confronted an actual case of imminent mass terrorism that could be prevented by the infliction of torture, we would use torture (even lethal torture) and the public would favor its use....

I pose the issue as follows. If torture is, in fact, being used and/or would, in fact, be used in an actual ticking bomb terrorist case, would it be normatively better or worse to have such torture regulated by some kind of warrant, with accountability, recordkeeping, standards and limitations? This is an important debate, and a different one from the old, abstract Benthamite debate over whether torture can ever be justified. It is not so much about the substantive issue of torture as it is about accountability, visibility, and candor in a democracy that is confronting a choice of evils.

My critics on this issue are divided into three groups.

1) Those not intelligent enough to understand the difference between a normative view and an empirical observation. I will give this group a pass, since nature has not.
2) Those who understand the distinction but willfully distort my view for ideological, personal, political, or tactical advantage. Exposure is the best response to this dishonest group.
3) Those who understand my argument and respond to it on its merits. I admire this group since my approach is controversial and reasonable people can and do disagree with it for a variety of compelling reasons. I am disappointed that this category of reasonable critics do not seem to comment on my blog.

Lie #2: Dershowitz believes that all criticism of Israel or Israeli policies is anti-Semitic or motivated by a hatred of Jews.

This is a particularly pernicious lie. There is even a poster on this site named RJ Eskow who apparently feels the need to accuse me of accusing everyone else of anti-Semitism in nearly every one of his own posts. (See here, for example.)

Again, nothing could be further from the truth. I welcome reasoned criticism of Israel and its policies. I frequently engage in it myself. I have long been opposed to Israel's settlement policies and its occupation of the Palestinian population centers. And I spent a considerable part of my career fighting against the use of coercive interrogation methods in Israel (thereby dispelling both lies #1 and #2).

I have suggested these criteria for distinguishing legitimate criticism of Israel from ant-Semitism.

Lie #3: Dershowitz Didn't Write, or in the Alternative, Plagiarized The Case for Israel

It debases readers to parrot Norman Finkelstein's conspiratorial fantasies about Jewish authors. I've answered his utterly false charges here and elsewhere. I'll leave it at that.

Lie #4: Dershowitz is a Neocon.

I feel almost silly having to defend my liberal bona fides.

First of all, I think that posters often misuse this label by applying it to anyone whom they don't like. (It reminds me of Orwell's quip that "[t]he word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.'") Neoconservatism refers to a group of former Trotskyites who, discouraged by what they perceived to be the Democrat Party's acquiescence to Communist expansion, abandoned the Democrats in favor of the more muscular foreign policy of the Republicans. Some retained their progressive social and economic views; some didn't.

I never made that jump. In fact, back in 1987, I debated Norman Podhoretz, one of the permier neocons, on precisely this point. The resolution under discussion was whether liberalism or conservatism is better for Jews. I argued the former position, and I continue, after 40 years of political activism, to support Democratic candidates almost exclusively.

And no, despite what many of you believe, I do not and did not ever support the war in Iraq.

Lie #5: I support the killing of innocent civilians.

"Killing tens if not hundreds of thousands civilians may be your way of combating terror but it is not the American way."

I have never endorsed the killing of civilians. Unlike the terrorist killers who use Arab women and children as human shields, I mourn the loss of all human life in combat. I do believe it is important to assign culpability--a culpability which falls disproportionately on the shoulders of Hezbollah. For a few recent examples, see here , here, here, and here.

Lie #6: I Defended OJ Simpson. / I Defend Despicable Rich Clients.

I was part of the Simpson defense team. That part is true. In addition to teaching and writing, I devote a small amount of time to my law practice (half of which is pro bono). I am a criminal defense lawyer, and I'm proud of that fact. Sometimes my clients are guilty of the crimes for which they have been accused. Often they are not. But as an appellate attorney, I rarely argue the facts of a case; rather, I usually argue the law. My work consists primarily of ensuring that my clients' constitutional rights have not been violated. In other words, I--and almost all other criminal defense lawyers--do not condone crime; rather, we see our jobs as keeping the government honest and holding it to its burden of proof and to the rule of law. As I make clear in my book, The Best Defense, everyone loses when the government can decide for itself who is guilty and who is not.

At any rate, I would hope that the readers of this site would have the intelligence and decency to separate my legal advocacy from my public policy advocacy. Every project I support is not the moral equivalent of a murderer, simply because I have defended accused murderers in the past. In addition to my work for democratic, civil liberty, and Jewish causes, I am vocal about gay rights, women's equality, and whole host of other causes. None of these causes are any less worthwhile because I happened to be part of the Simpson team.

In the end, I want this to be interactive and enjoyable, but I also want it to be fair and honest. I hope that from here on out, those who choose to comment on my posts--and I hope many continue to do so--will agree or disagree on the merits and not based on misconceptions (or misrepresentations) about who I am or what I think.

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