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Dershowitz Revisited: Drawing the Line in Israel Criticisms

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Amy Fried, Ph.D.     Permalink

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In April of 2008, I submitted a quick link to opednews, in which Alan Dershowitz delineates a guide for distinguishing between legitimate criticism of Israel's policies, and veering into the realm of anti-semitism.

In the wake of the flotilla incident, as well as Helen Thomas' comments on that incident, many of these issues are again coming to the fore on opednews. As a result, I think his guidelines merit revisiting.

Dershowitz's list gives examples of arguments against Israel that go beyond legitimate criticism into the possible realm of anti-semitism, and those that appear to legitimately engage on issues of policy. Among the arguments that Dershowitz finds suspect is:

"Falsely claiming that all legitimate criticism of Israeli policies is immediately and widely condemned by Jewish leaders as anti-Semitic, despite any evidence to support this accusation."

This claim - that defenders of Israel can be counted on to reject all criticism of Israel as anti-semitism - has been made repeatedly on opednews. One illustrative example came from an article by Paul Craig Roberts, in reference to criticism of Israel by the Presbyterian Church:

"The Rabbis in every American community will buttonhole the Presbyterian ministers and ask them to explain why they are anti-semites and beat their wives."

(Clearly, Rabbi Michael Lerner defies this stereotype of American rabbis!)

This claim also forms the premise for Peter Ewart's "Who Says We Can't Criticize Israel?".

Of course, the corollary of this assertion, is that the writer's criticisms of Israel have thus been innoculated from the cry of "anti-semitism."

Clearly, not all criticism of Israel is anti-semitism. But neither are all criticisms legitimate, nor all allegations of anti-semitism bogus. Oversimplifying the issue by creating this false dichotomy, thwarts constructive dialogue. The importance of Dershowitz's article, is that there are objective criteria that can distinguish the two.

Another red flag for Dershowitz is the the leap from criticism of Israel's policies to its right to exist. Among his signs of legitimate criticism of Israel is:

"The criticism is directed at specific policies of Israel, rather than at the very legitimacy of the state."

This is another theme that I have seen here, as rhetoric over the flotilla incident has heated up. While criticisms over the recent flotilla incident are certainly understandable, they are sometimes followed up by calls for Israel to cease to exist as a sovereign entity. Again, Roberts provide an example, declaring Israel "an unnatural state" which should become subsumed under the United States.

Many of us were outraged by the actions of the George W. Bush administration, over issues of torture, cherry-picked intelligence, and extraordinary rendition. Yet we directed our anger at the current leaders of the U.S., rather than the very existence of the country. The question is: what is different about the discussion of Israel's policies?

The charge of antisemitism is a serious one, which should not be hurled lightly - or dismissed reflexively. I believe Dershowitz's guidelines help us to more constructively consider the actions of Israel's current leaders.

Hopefully, it goes without saying, that I make these comments as a committed and enthusiastic member of the opednews writer community. I bring up these guidelines - not to accuse any writer of anti-semitism - but to challenge some of the assumptions being made in these recent, rather heated, criticisms of Israel.


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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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