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Writing Dershowitz’s Obituary


After half a century of service at Harvard University, law professor Alan Dershowitz is preparing to retire.

A recent article in the Harvard Gazette quotes Dershowitz’s musings on his legacy outside academia:

New response to Palestinian terrorism", Dershowitz prescribed an "immediate unilateral cessation in [Israeli] retaliation against terrorist attacks… for a short period, say four or five days".

After the period had passed, Israel "would institute the following new policy if Palestinian terrorism were to resume":

legalise torture, which he proposed be limited to "nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain".

Despite the obvious cause-and-effect relationship that exists between the institutionalised violence of Zionism on the one hand and Palestinian terrorism on the other, meanwhile, Dershowitz contended that his four- or five-day moratorium on counterterrorist retaliation would "make it clear to the world that Israel is taking an important step in ending what has become a cycle of violence".

'Reasonable people'article for Haaretz during the IDF’s November 2012 assault on Gaza:

headline from the same day – "Israeli Airstrike Kills Three Generations of a Palestinian Family" – or about Dershowitz’s fanatical aside in Haaretz in defense of targeted killings:

"There are some who argue, quite absurdly, that all targeted assassination is unlawful, since it constitutes 'extrajudicial killing'".

Some "reasonable" folks might go as far as to question how persons incapable of concocting coherent arguments or presenting valid evidence in support of them end up professors of law at the nation’s leading academic institutions.

To illustrate his frustration with "cycle of violence" terminology, Dershowitz offered an analogy: "It would be as if the media described lawful police efforts to stop illegal drug-related murders as a 'cycle of violence'".

As I pointed out in an op-ed for Al Jazeera at the time, he refrained from citing any historical instances in which police had deterred drug-induced murder by pulverising apartment buildings.

The last wordvastly disproportionate Israeli slaughter of civilians in Lebanon in July and August of 2006 also received disproportionate encouragement from Dershowitz, who in an essay for the Los Angeles Times devised a "continuum of civilianality" in order to effectively negate the civilian status of those perishing in the assault.

Walking us through various gradations of civilian-ness, Dershowitz warned:

Reuters put total war deaths in Lebanon at "1,200 people… most of them civilians, according to the United Nations" but failed to break down the tally into more-civilian civilians and less-civilian civilians.

Dershowitz meanwhile concluded that "[e]very civilian death is a tragedy, but some are more tragic than others".

As for deaths that will be decidedly less tragic, the retiring professor has already penned a takedown of his own obituary. In a review of Dershowitz’s latest memoir, Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law, the Boston Globe’s Alex Beam notes that the book "ends with his posthumous letter to the editor, complaining about being called a pro-Israel patsy and a celebrity lawyer in his obituary".

Dershowitz has, Beam writes, "[found] fault with the as-yet unpublished, indeed unwritten obituaries that he assumes will herald his passing". Beam also quotes "an interesting admission from Dershowitz, concerning his successful defense of a Jewish Defense League bomb-maker: 'This was the first time I had used my legal talents to help free guilty murderers. It would not be the last'".

Of course, no amount of talent or preemptive obituary rebuttals can redeem Dershowitz himself.

The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work , released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in theLondon Review of Books blog Salon Al Akhbar English and many other publications.  

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