It’s time we update the curriculum for all incoming Jewish college students. And they won’t even have to read, just watch a less-than-75-minute video. The proposed assignment? Rising freshmen must watch Alan Dershowitz eviscerate Cornel West in a debate about the merits of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) and they’ll have their pro-Israel ammunition when they get to campus in the fall.
Sure, when I heard that the two Harvard professors — Dershowitz of law, West of philosophy — would be dropping gloves, I wondered if there was a way they could both lose.
West was once a respected author and thought leader, even if his ultra-liberal opinions are significantly to the left of Saul Alinsky. But as his name recognition surged and he became a regular on the talk-show circuit (and made cameo appearances in each of the horrid “Matrix” sequels), he became a parody of himself, professing to be such a lover of peace that he now calls everyone his brother or sister. He also happens to be a vocal critic of Israel.
As for Brother Alan, as West referred to him during the December event at the Old Parkland Debate Center in Dallas, everyone knows his style: grandstanding while seeking out television cameras to plug his newest book. And of course he was part of the O. J. Simpson legal team.
Still, Dershowitz’s status as a champion for Israel is undeniable, and his “The Case for Israel” (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004) ought to be required reading for all Jews (there’s even a video version on Netflix for those averse to reading.)
For now, just Google the Dershowitz-West debate. The professors were to argue whether BDS would help or hinder efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. West’s position was predictable, saying that BDS is an effective, non-violent method of influencing a “settler-colonial enterprise” that is committing crimes against humanity.
Dershowitz parried this easily. Acknowledging that the Jewish state is not perfect (“Israel gets a B- on human rights”), he noted the hypocrisy of censuring Israel when so many countries, at least 160, even West admitted, are worse.
“When you single out only the nation-state of the Jewish people for a sanction, there is a word for that and it is called anti-Semitism,” he said to applause, and challenged West to name any country in history that has faced similar threats and “has had a better record of human rights, a higher compliance with the rule of law, and is more concerned with the rights of civilians who are being used as human shields by people on the other side.” West immediately changed the subject.
Dershowitz scoffed at the notion that BDS could bring about peace. After all, he said, Israel has tried to negotiate with the Palestinians, proposing compromises on numerous occasions, including in 1937, 1948, 1967, 2001, 2005, and 2008. They were rejected each time and the Palestinians declined to make counteroffers.
“The idea of boycotting Israel and casting all of the blame on Israel really disincentivizes the Palestinians from making the kind of negotiated compromises that both Israel and the Palestinians will have to make,” he said. “Why should the Palestinians give up their right of return, or their claim to all of Israel if they are going to win it by the BDS movement?”
West countered, feebly, that such offers were insincere and unworkable as the proposed Palestinian state would need to be demilitarized.
“You do not have a state or a Palestinian state if you have no control over your air and over what comes in and out of your borders,” West said. He could not have predicted that his words would be refuted in the name of Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian Authority president, Dershowitz recalled, has said publicly that should a Palestinian state be established, it would have to be demilitarized for the first few years because of the terrorist groups inside the West Bank and Gaza.
Seeing as each of his justifications for supporting this racist movement were so easily discredited, West turned to the laziest of arguments against Israel, that hundreds of Palestinian children were killed during the 2014 offensive in Gaza.
It was here that Dershowitz shined and West’s lack of knowledge was exposed.
“What would you do if you were the head of the Israeli government and rockets were being sent at your schools…and terrorist attacks were being directed at cafeterias in schools, pizza parlors, and other places?” Dershowitz asked.
West demurred, but Dershowitz pressed him relentlessly until he blurted out, “If I was [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, I would be suicidal.”
Dershowitz, ever the skilled litigator, refused to accept this copout and repeated the question, only to be met with…more copouts such as “That is like asking what I would do if I was Donald Trump. I’m not them.”
“I don’t get it. Tell me what you would do,” Dershowitz said, though at this stage he and everyone in the room realized West didn’t have a response.
At the start of the debate the audience was polled on whether they supported or opposed BDS, with 14 voting for and 93 against. They voted again at the end, but this time the tally was 16 for, 129 against.
The messenger may be flawed, but Dershowitz convinced 34 of 36 people that BDS is unproductive, immoral, and anti-Semitic. Just imagine how many more he could influence if college students had his answers at the ready when confronted by pro-BDS activists on campus.