|Man Without Qualities|
Monday, May 13, 2002
InstaPundit notes some anti-Chomsky statements by Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz. I agree with Mr. Dershowitz conclusions, and frankly cannot understand why anyone listens to anything Noam Chomsky has to say about foreign policy or anything other than the most abstruse linguistics.
However, as is typical of Mr. Dershowitz's style of argument, he does much damage to his cause by grossly and unnecessarily overstating his case, writing:
"There is no intellectually or morally defensible case for singling out Israel for divestiture, and I challenge Chomsky to debate me on the morality of this selective attack against an American ally that is defending itself -- and the world -- against terrorism that targets civilians. Universities invest in a wide array of companies that have operations in countries that systematically violate the human rights of millions of people. Nor are these countries defending themselves against those who would destroy them and target their civilians. Yet this petition focused only on the Jewish State, to the exclusion of all others, including those which, by any reasonable standard, are among the worst violators of human rights. This is bigotry pure and simple, and those who signed the petition should be ashamed of themselves and shamed by others."
The first phrase highlighted above is obviously correct on many grounds, and the move to cause American universities to divest stock in companies doing business in Israel is horribly wrong. But the argument that the move is wrong because "[u]niversities invest in a wide array of companies that have operations in countries that systematically violate the human rights of millions of people" is absurd, proves vastly more than is needed, implicitly tends to equate Israel with such countries, and is hypocritical with respect to many people he is attempting to persuade and probably with respect to Mr. Dershowitz himself.
It is obvious that Israel is not in need of an argument that would preserve university investments in a "countries that systematically violate the human rights of millions of people." Israel is not doing that. Further, the movement for university divestiture of companies doing business in Israel is formally (although anything but substantively) analogous to the successful prior movement for university divestiture of companies doing business in South Africa - a country which, at the time, DID systematically violate the human rights of millions of people. Also, the white South Africans then running that country could and did also plausibly argue that South Africa was then a country defending itself against those who would destroy it and target its civilians. So what? If Mr. Dershowitz's sweeping arguments are correct, then did he - and many in his audience - support divestiture in the South African case? I suggest that he is probably being hypocritical here because, on the basis of his general politics, it seems likely he DID support university divestiture in the South African case. But he is surely inviting many of his readers to engage in such unnecessary hypocrisy. Also, what's the deal with his creepy "equal protection" argument: "Yet this petition focused only on the Jewish State, to the exclusion of all others ... This is bigotry pure and simple." Mr. Dershowitz thereby suggests that it would NOT have been "bigotry pure and simple" if the petition had been phrased in terms of forcing divestiture with respect to countries such as Iraq in addition to Israel, even though that would expressly equate Israel with wretched dictatorships!?
The hypocrisy is unnecessary because Mr. Dershowitz's sweeping arguments ignore that only a legitimately constituted democratic country such as Israel has the right to survival and self-defense - and to take vigorous measures to assure its survival and defense. Under such conditions such measures do not constitute the violation of human rights. This is what separates Israel from South Africa and, for that matter, from Iraq. Similarly, if the movement were to force divestiture of companies doing business in the United States, there would be no need to resort to the arguments Mr. Dershowitz uses here. What is perhaps most disturbing about Mr. Dershowitz's performance here is that he appears to believe he DOES need to resort to his arguments.
Mr. Dershowitz's fulsome arguments sound more like the kind of claptrap one hears at the United Nations, where the right of survival and self defense are asserted by and on behalf of almost every tin pot dictator, routinely and in the most disgusting manner. Does Iraq have the right of survival and self defense? No question about it in the minds of the geniuses in the big blue glass box. Israel does not need those arguments or the specious support they provide, especially since few, if any, of the pseudo-diplomats spouting that claptrap into the East River believes a word of it anyway. It is exactly that kind of excess that so often makes "international law" a travesty.
True, there were reasonable arguments against university divestiture even in the South African case. Some were made by Milton Friedman, if memory serves. Those arguments continue to apply to the case of Israel a fortiori - although, oddly, Mr. Dershowitz doesn't proffer THOSE arguments here. But Israel has vastly more in its favor than the old South Africa did. Mr. Dershowitz implicitly equates the two situations, which makes his arguments overbroad, feckless - and just bad lawyering.
That Mr. Dershowitz's ultimate conclusions are correct in this case doesn’t make him a good lawyer or a person offering trustworthy arguments one would want to chance over, say, the dinner table.
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