Huffpost WorldPost
Jeremy Ben-Ami Headshot

A Final Letter to Alan Dershowitz (for Now)

Posted: Updated:

Alan,

I appreciate your acknowledgment that there is an American national interest in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I find it amusing that you casually say "of course" there is such an interest since that is what Obama administration officials have been saying and J Street has been arguing, as well. What must account for the diatribe you launched against me and against J Street is the use, in my letter to the New York Times, of the single word "critical" to modify that "interest."

You and I have, it appears, a policy-based disagreement over the depth of the American interest in resolving the conflict, not over the existence of that interest. That's fine - and represents something worthy of further discussion not only between us but in the public policy journals, halls of academia and in government. But I hope you'll acknowledge that it's not worthy of the kind of invective you engaged in, and I would be open to an apology for that.

Not wanting to leave a question unanswered - while still aiming to bring this dialogue to a close - I note that in your most recent post, you ask whether J Street believes that Israel should "have the right to decide" whether to attack Iran should all else fail to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and whether the United States should "seek to prevent Israel from acting on that decision as an absolute last resort."

Interestingly, I think you're expecting this to be difficult in some way for J Street to answer, when in reality it's quite easy.

Both Israel and the United States are independent, sovereign nations - and do therefore have every right to make decisions that their governments determine to be in their national interest. Of course, Israel has the "right" to make such a decision. What J Street is concerned about is whether a decision that it has the "right to make" is in fact the right one. Similarly the United States should act in its own self-interest. If those responsible for making U.S. foreign policy determine that American interests would be damaged by an Israeli military strike, then of course, the US should attempt to prevent Israel from taking such action.

I might not agree with Israel's decision and you might not agree with the U.S.'s - but that doesn't change the fact that both are in the end sovereign nations - democratically run - and fully entitled to, and capable of, making independent policy judgments on such a critical issue.

The questions that deserve a thorough airing regarding Iran are what the nature of the threat really is, what is the best strategy for responding, and how can Israel and the United States along with allies in the region and around the world achieve an outcome that maximizes all of our interests while minimizing the risks to those interests.

This isn't a simple yes/no question - and, again, too often traditional advocates for Israel try to oversimplify the questions before us to whether you're "with us or against us." To demand blanket support for an Israeli military strike against Iran should Israel's government decide to undertake one is to my mind an unproductive litmus test for whether one supports Israel with all or even part of one's heart and soul.

The right approach to building the broadest possible base of support for Israel (and to make the strongest case for it) is to step back from the combative my-way-or-the-highway approach that can characterize such discussions and to accept that there are legitimate disagreements on policy and strategy across a broad spectrum of political views in the community of Israel supporters. The more welcome we all feel in this community, the more open and robust the discussion and debate we allow - the stronger the U.S.-Israel relationship will be in the long run.

There has never been - and there certainly never will be - only one opinion and voice in the American Jewish community on these or any other issues. Voices carrying differing opinions may not have had the megaphone in the past that they do today, and the simpler media environment in prior generations may have made it easier to keep voices of dissent muzzled.

But the days when our community could act as if disagreements don't exist and could muscle those with competing views off the stage are long over. We live in an era now and a generation is rising to the forefront of our community that is wired for far freer debate and interchange on complex issues than any that has come before.

We don't need or await an invitation to join any other "mainstream" organization. We will define our positions for ourselves and when we agree or disagree, we'll be more than happy to engage in a robust, public and clearly feisty debate based on the merits of our views where we disagree or to sign joint statements with others when we agree.

I look forward to continuing the conversation in the future - perhaps at further in-person debates and discussions.