Sometimes it is instructive to listen to what Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz says because his way of seeing the Israel-Palestinian conflict is typical of the thinking of both the Netanyahu government and its lobby here. I say "sometimes" because most of Dershowitz's opinions can be found in a dozen other places -- from AIPAC, the "major Jewish organizations," neocon websites like Commentary and in statements and tweets from the Israeli government itself.
But sometimes Dershowitz inadvertently provides solid insight into the mentality that continues to enable a 45-year occupation that, even Dershowitz admits, has proven so destructive to Israel.
In a debate last week with Peter Beinart, the Daily Beast columnist and author of the bestseller, The Crisis of Zionism, Dershowitz said that, for Jews, Israel is now "an embarrassment."
In 1967 Jews were able to beat their chest and say 'wow, we're proud to be Israel [sic], look how tough Israelis are. It was a source of pride. Today it's a source of embarrassment.
And Dershowitz knows why too, as evidenced by his reference to 1967, the year the occupation began.
But when Beinart pointed that out, Dershowitz responded that Israel's evolution into "an embarrassment" has nothing to do with the occupation.
No, it's not about the occupation. If the occupation ended tomorrow, you would find the same.... It is not an embarrassment because of what Israel is doing but because of what Israel is.
In other words, it's just about hating the Jewish state.
Dershowitz's thesis is demonstrably false. If it's the existence of Israel, rather than the occupation, that fuels the critics' animosity, then why is it that the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Israeli fanatic in 1995 was the occasion for more universal grief than the death of any world leader since President Kennedy? Was Israel less a Jewish state in 1995? Was Rabin anything other than an Israeli general, war hero and patriot?
Yet leaders from virtually every nation came to pay homage to Rabin: President Clinton, Prince Charles, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, every European president or prime minister, top officials from most of Africa and Asia (including India and China), Latin America, Turkey, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia. Yasser Arafat himself went to Leah Rabin's Tel Aviv apartment to grieve with her.
Two years earlier, following Rabin's recognition of the Palestinians' right to a state, nine non-Arab Muslim states and 32 of the 43 sub-Saharan African states established relations with Israel. India and China, the two largest markets in the world, opened trade relations. Jordan signed a peace treaty and several of the Arab emirates began quiet dealings with Israel.
So eager was the world to embrace an Israel that rejected occupation that Rabin ended Israel's isolation by merely announcing his intention to withdraw from the territories, an intention that died with him. If animus toward Israel was permanent and immutable, there was no sign of it when Yitzhak Rabin (or when his immediate successor, Shimon Peres was prime minister). Obviously, it isn't. It is caused by Israel's behavior toward the Palestinians.
But this is what Dershowitz and those who think like him refuse to accept because it demonstrates that the one sure way Israel can achieve peace, security and normalization of relations with most countries in the world is by ending the occupation. Thus Dershowitz claims to find it inconceivable that anyone really cares about Palestinians:
Let me put it this way, I have never met anybody except perhaps Palestinians who really gives one good goddamn about the Palestinian people. The love of the Palestinian people is largely a function of the hatred of the nation state of the Jewish people.
Think about that for a minute. In contrast to every other people on the planet, no one gives "one good goddamn" about the Palestinian people. What an ugly statement -- the kind of statement people like Dershowitz often say about how the world viewed the Jewish people prior to the Holocaust.
In that case, however, the fact that nobody gave "one good goddamn" about the Jews is offered as a justification for the creation of Israel. After all, who but themselves will defend a people to which the world is indifferent? The unique aspect of Dershowitz's statement is not so much his assertion that nobody cares about Palestinians but his view that indifference to the suffering of millions of people is a justification for continued indifference.
Fortunately, Dershowitz is wrong. Millions of people do care about the Palestinian people, infinitely more today than ever before. Dershowitz knows that, which is why he devotes so much energy to fighting those who champion their cause.
Dershowitz also knows that the Jewish angle that is relevant in discussing opposition to the occupation is not that it is driven by anti-Semitism but that so much of it is driven by concern for Israel.
In fact, in the United States it is from within the pro-Israel community that much of the anti-occupation fervor resides.
People like Peter Beinart do not oppose the occupation and the policies of the Israeli government that preserve it because they hate Israel but because they love it, and see the occupation as being the #1 threat to Israel's security and, ultimately, to its existence.
I, myself, was initially drawn to the Palestinian cause because of my view that the occupation is deadly for Israel. It was only later that I came to understand that although Israel itself is threatened by the occupation, it is more significant that millions of Palestinians are suffering its effects now.
Still, to be honest, it was love for Israel not concern for the Palestinians that drew me to their cause. In that, I am far from alone. In fact, many Israelis put their bodies on the line fighting the occupation every weekend when they travel to the West Bank to defend Palestinians against the settlers and the army that backs them.
I do not argue that Dershowitz is completely wrong. For some, not many but some, the Palestinian cause is just a cover for old-fashioned anti-Semitism. (Similarly, just as many pro-Israel advocates are motivated by Islamophobia). But, most concern for the Palestinians is motivated by genuine compassion for a suffering people. And, believe it or not, Professor Dershowitz, much of it is also driven not by hatred of Israel but by the very opposite.
After all, if you care about the survival of Israel, how can you not care about what is happening to the Palestinians?