The Case for Israel
by Alan Dershowitz
Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2003. 264 pp. $19.95 ($19.95, e-book, Adobe Reader).
Reviewed by Max Abrahms
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Middle East Quarterly
In his conclusion to The Case for Israel, renowned Harvard Law School professor Dershowitz asks his readers to imagine the following fictitious scenario: An extraterrestrial messenger has been dispatched to earth to assess Israel's compliance with the rule of law. Based on the number and frequency of anti-Israel United Nations (U.N.) resolutions and the unparalleled complaints registered internationally and within academia against the Jewish state, the Martian would conclude that Israel is the world's worst outlaw nation. The point is that Israel elicits a disproportionate, unfair amount of criticism.
Dershowitz takes aim at the countless double standards applied to Israel that rely not only on distorting the empirical record but on ignoring far more egregious violations committed by other countries. His central proposition is that Israel's efforts to protect its civilian population against terrorists and invading Arab armies have been no worse morally and legally "and in many respects considerably better than protective efforts taken by other democracies that have faced far less virulent threats." Yet, Israel is singled out, particularly since Yasir Arafat walked away from Ehud Barak's peace offers at Camp David and Taba, Egypt, in 2000-2001.
Reflecting Dershowitz's legal background, The Case For Israel consists of thirty-two rebuttals to common allegations leveled against the Jewish state, an approach that strengthens the book. For example, Dershowitz points out that a full 27 percent of the U.N.'s country-specific resolutions critical of a state have been directed against it. In contrast, no resolution in the history of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights has condemned Syria, China, Saudi Arabia, or Zimbabwe, all of which are self-evidently far worse violators of human rights. Israel, asserts Dershowitz, has a "far better record on human rights than any other nation in the Middle East and most other nations in the world." As evidence, he notes that "Israel is the only nation in the world whose judiciary actively enforces the rule of law against its military during wartime" and that "Israel has killed fewer innocent civilians in proportion to the number of its own civilians killed than any country engaged in a comparable war."
Dershowitz makes more contentious claims, too, including a defense of Israel's policy of targeted assassination and destroying the homes of terrorists' family members. But, in general, his case for Israel is a mainstream one. He does not reflexively justify every Israeli policy. In fact, he repeatedly expresses his belief in the desirability of a Palestinian state and hints that the Israel Defense Forces have occasionally been "prone to overreaction."
The one major flaw is a too narrow focus on countering the claims of Noam Chomsky, as if Chomsky were at the forefront of Middle East analysis. Dershowitz could have broadened the appeal of his book, especially among academics, by paying more attention to more informed critics such as Israel's so-called New Historians.
Related Topics: Arab-Israel conflict & diplomacy, Israel & Zionism | Max Abrahms | Winter 2004 MEQ
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