Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Op-ed on Alan Dershowitz's Reception of the Begin Prize

Yaakov Ahimeir's op-ed on last night's special program, awarding the Honorary Begin Prize to Professor Alan Dershowitz:

The case for Dershowitz

Renowned law professor Alan Dershowitz has long used his rhetorical strength and intellectual talents to tackle controversial subjects. He recently was awarded the Menachem Begin Prize at an event marking the publication of "The Goldstone Report 'Reconsidered': A Critical Analysis" -- an important book by the Jerusalem-based organization NGO Monitor -- which refutes the Goldstone report on the 2008-9 Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, on legal grounds. Our number one defense attorney, even when Israel is isolated in the international arena, more than hinted that Israel must heed what is said about it around the world. His remarks were aimed at officials who objected to recent criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about dwindling women's rights in Israel. Her detractors claimed that she should not interfere in the country's domestic affairs. Dershowitz warned that there is no such thing as "internal affairs" in Israel. Anything discussed in Israeli public discourse is no longer internal, he said.

Dershowitz defined himself as "center-Left", as a lawyer who cares about human rights, gay rights and feminism, yet he garnered applause even from the many traditional Jews in the audience. This very same public might not approve of the character of the Supreme Court, but Dershowitz vigorously defended the institution currently engulfed in controversy, saying unequivocally: "Israel's best weapon, single best weapon in the international community, is Israel's judiciary, Israel's independent Supreme Court."

In other words, you can love the Supreme Court or detest its rulings, but when it comes to the international community it is one of Israel's most essential, prestigious institutions. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch's husband, attorney Yehezkel Beinisch, was present in the auditorium. He presumably could have told her later that the institution she presides over has a first-rate defense lawyer. And what a lawyer: Professor Dershowitz, who personally knows all the U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Dershowitz went on to "interfere" in another internal Israeli dispute: the subject of free speech. He was particularly resolute when defining the greatest enemies of freedom of expression. The greatest censor of freedom of speech is the Stalinist radical Left, he said. He told the audience how he was banned from speaking at any university in enlightened Norway because he is considered to such a great extent a defender of Israel. He also was not allowed to speak in Cape Town, South Africa.

In principle, Dershowitz said, he opposes restrictions on freedom of the press, but added that there was no point in responding to the anti-NGOs bill or the amendment to the libel law with cries about "the end of democracy." He called for restrained discourse, in which the Left defends the Right's freedom of speech and vice versa. He also had an encouraging promise for senior Israeli officials who fear arrest in foreign countries such as Britain. Don't be afraid, go abroad, he said, adding that he would personally defend any such official in court.

Finally, Dershowitz said that he learned a great deal about defending human rights from someone he only knew as a "terrorist" before they met: Menachem Begin.

And that's all I have to say about Dershowitz's lack of involvement in Israel's public affairs.
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