Canadian Jews must defend Israel, Dershowitz says

CJN editor Yoni Goldstein, left, chats with Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.

The Jewish community in Canada, especially in Toronto, is exceedingly strong, but it must not shy away from using that strength, Alan Dershowitz says.

Known for his strong support of Israel, Dershowitz, the renowned American lawyer, author, political commentator and retired Harvard law professor, was the featured speaker at the United Jewish Appeal’s (UJA) major gifts dinner Oct. 19, held this year at Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Following his address, Dershowitz was interviewed on stage by CJN editor Yoni Goldstein.

In his speech, Dershowitz praised the Toronto Jewish community for its remarkable philanthropic support of Israel and Jewish causes, calling it “the envy of the UJA federation world.”

He commended Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his clear support of Israel and condemnation of Hamas in the face of international criticism and what Dershowitz referred to as “the media buying Hamas’ dead baby strategy.”

“Hamas uses children and women as human shields. Hamas leaders will brag about this… and the media runs after the dead babies, counts the bodies… even though every single [civilian] death [in this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas] could have been prevented by Hamas,” he said

“Canada is the only country in the world that understands with great moral clarity the difference between Hamas and Israel… for seeing moral clarity while others see moral ambiguity,” he added.

The success and relative safety from anti-Semitism that the Canadian Jewish community and others in North American enjoy should not, however, make us complacent, Dershowitz warned, nor should it make us feel sheepish about denouncing anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Though North Americans don’t feel it as acutely, he said, “we, as Zionists, have never been in such grave danger as we are today.”

To back this up, he cited the “blatant hypocrisy” of countries around the world who pilloried Israel for taking strong military action in Gaza this summer when, he said, Israel was acting just as any country in the world would under similar circumstances.

“The difference is Israel does it better, more safely and with less civilian casualties,” he maintained.

He spoke of increasing anti-Zionism on university campuses worldwide and growing support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which he stressed is not, as some understand, a protest against Israel’s West Bank settlements, but an attempt to threaten Israel’s existence entirely.

He said “anti-Zionism is the excuse du jour for anti-Semitism,” and is highly pervasive.

He warned that, in the next year or so, the United States may make a “bad deal” with Iran, allowing it to continue developing rockets with nuclear explosive capabilities, and that for Israel, this will be an existential threat. Any attempt at pre-emptive action against this on Israel’s part, will make the latter even more unpopular internationally.

Still, Dershowitz stressed, “we have to do something, because it’s right and in the protection of the Jewish State of Israel. We can’t act in the hopes of being judged favourably by history.”

He also predicted that in the summer of 2016, Hamas will strike Israel again, and that it’s important for Israel to be prepared.

Every war Hamas fights with Israel, he said, “[Hamas] loses infrastructure and civilians, but they win the war of public opinion,” thus strengthening the group.

Israel must, therefore, be anticipating “the next war,” he said, and the Diaspora must bolster Israel by digging deeply into its pockets and using all resources at its disposal.

“You must never be ashamed to use your power and strength,” Dershowitz concluded. “Never be afraid that people will say, ‘You’re too strong and powerful.’ Jews need power and strength. Without this strength – economically, morally, militarily – we can’t have peace.”

Goldstein joined Dershowitz on stage and asked to what extent the tunnels built by Hamas had “changed the game” in the recent war in Gaza.

Dershowitz spoke of the sheer danger of tunnels built exclusively to kill and kidnap Israeli civilians and soldiers. He said Hamas leaders have already been bragging that they’re building new ones. Israel has its work cut out for it in terms of upgrading technology to protect its people, he added.

“Ultimately,” he said, “Israel is going to have to build an Iron Dome in the ground, or sensors, or a deep-down-in-the-ground security wall. It will be expensive, but it’ll be worth it to save the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Goldstein asked how the left’s rejection of Israel can be squared with the reality that many Jews consider themselves to be quite liberal.

Dershowitz distinguished between the left and the “radical left,” noting, “I’m a strong supporter of all the leftist, liberal causes, like gay marriage, freedom of speech, universal health care… I think it’s largely a generational thing. In my generation, the leftists supported Israel. Now the left hates Israel.”

He added: “I’m not going to give up my claim to being a person on the left… We cannot give up on the left. We can’t [keep making] Israel a wedge issue between the Democrats and the Republicans in the States, and the Liberals and Conservatives here… We need to show young people that you can be both progressive and pro-Israel.”

Asked how serious European anti-Semitism currently is, Dershowitz outlined what he said are the three distinct types now:  a return to “old-fashioned, Nazi fascism” – an ultra-nationalist hatred of Jews and all people of colour, for example, in Hungary and Greece at this time; Muslim anti-Semitism, as demonstrated by the fact a large number of European Muslims are highly anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic; and the “hard left,” where “anti-Zionism really merges into anti-Semitism.”

Dershowitz likened all three types to “viruses,” which he said are “coming together in a very dangerous way.”

Lastly, Goldstein asked how Jewish leadership in places such as Canada and the United States can best help Jewish university students feel safer defending Israel on campuses.

Dershowitz said the “main villains on university campuses” aren’t the “radical leftists,” but the Jewish professors who lack the courage to speak out in favour of Israel, fearful their reputations will be tarnished.

“I have never met a less courageous group of people than these tenured professors,” he said, “who call me and tell me in whispers, ‘Thank you for speaking up for Israel.’

“I say, ‘Why don’t you speak up for it?’ And they say, ‘It’s complicated.’”

Dershowitz acknowledged that it can be difficult or risky for Jewish professors to openly support Israel amid a climate of anti-Zionism, but it’s ultimately their obligation to do so, he insisted

“I’m not suggesting they speak their minds in the classroom, as the university lectern has already been abused by many on the hard left. I’m suggesting they speak up outside the classroom… ‘You might not win popularity contests,’ I say, ‘but it’s your job.’”