Alan Dershowitz’s passionate defense of boycott, divestment, and sanctions

by Yaniv Reich on January 28, 2010

Sitting in my hand is Alan Dershowitz’s official critique of the Goldstone Report. I am going to devote time in the near future to rebutting some of the ridiculous claims he makes. To foreshadow my criticisms, Dershowitz’s primary tactic is to exaggerate willfully the claims made by the Goldstone report so he can shoot them down ceremoniously—the standard technique of straw man vilification. That and a not insignificant dose of selective reading of the historical and oral record.

For the moment, however, I would like to emphasize an extraordinary admission buried midway through his essay. Dershowitz has in fact presented a powerful argument in favor of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

By far the most common reaction to calls for an Israel boycott is the hysterical Jewish response that this is an anti-Semitic effort bent on the destruction of Israel. In other words, a boycott is not viewed as a policy to put pressure that changes behavior, but rather as a devious mechanism for destroying the state and its people.

Dershowitz dismisses this claim completely:

According to [the Goldstone report] argument, Israel intentionally targets civilians because it considers them the Hamas infrastructure. The report’s purported evidence is this dubious claim is the “indiscriminate and disproportionate impact of [Israel’s] restrictions on the movement of goods and people [into Gaza].” It simply does not follow, however, that Israel’s blockade means Israel considers all Gaza civilians to constitute Hamas supporting infrastructure, or that all Gaza civilians are appropriate military targets.

A blockade is a blunt instrument; by definition it is deleterious to civilian life (see, for instance, the statement by Robert Gates, quoted at page 9 supra). There is an enormous difference—a difference ignored by the report but not by Israel—of depriving civilians of non-essential commodities and targeting civilians for murder.

It is a classic non-sequitur to argue that a boycott proves the intent to kill.” (Emphasis added.)

I would argue, in contradistinction with Dershowitz’s claim, that how deleterious is a boycott is, in fact, a critical matter in deciding whether or not a boycott aims to kill civilians. As Dershowitz points out, the United States has implemented a number of utterly catastrophic boycotts that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. On Iraqi sanctions, for example, which had by that time possibly killed half a million children, Madeline Albright famously responded to a pointed question on their effects on civilians by saying: “We think the price is worth it.” I would argue this is sickening, deeply immoral, and most pertinently, a likely violation of international law protecting civilians.

But let us return to Dershowitz’s argument. He is defending in unambiguous terms the notion that a boycott is simply a policy designed to effect pressure on a group, with negative but necessary impacts on the resident population, but which must be distinguished from an intentional effort to kill or destroy that population.

Very well then, Alan. I trust you will be the first to speak up in defense of this distinction as Israeli hysteria explodes against the backdrop of the growing BDS campaign.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Louis Lipsky April 19, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Mr. Reich (no background or titles offerred bythe site management) is more guilty of his own criticism of Dershowitz than is Dershowitz. Reich writes: “By far the most common reaction to calls for an Israel boycott is the hysterical Jewish response that this is an anti-Semitic effort bent on the destruction of Israel.” It would be appropriate to cite at least one instance of this “hysterical” response. But there is none. Dershowitz himself has been quoted as criticizing noy oycott itself, but the selective boycott of Pro-Israel speakers by the Norwegian academic community. So what’s the surprise that he writes what he does?
If Reich wants to argure with himself, he should do so in the privacy of his own computer. If you want to go public on the web, don’t falsify other people’s positions just to make yourself look good.

2 Yaniv Reich April 20, 2011 at 10:21 am

Dear Louis Lipsky,

My title is Mr., but you can feel free to call me by first name.

You are right I should have cited the hysterical responses. But I trusted that my dear readers would know how to use The Google to find basic information. So, for example, in the very first search I did today on “BDS anti-semitism”, I found a quote from Dershowitz that said: “This divestment campaign [at Hampshire College] has absolutely nothing to do with human rights. It is motivated purely by hatred for the Jewish state.” That, in my view, is precisely the sort of hysterical response I was referring to.

In the first-page results of this same single search, NGO Monitor has a piece in which they describe BDS as follows: “the antithesis of universal human rights values, rooted in immoral double standards that single out and condemn Israel as a pariah state. The BDS movement also rejects the very existence of Israel as a Jewish entity. Inasmuch as BDS activists seek to eliminate Jewish self-determination, the movement (as a movement, not necessarily every individual linked to it) is anti-Semitic.” Again, this is the very definition of hysteria, in my opinion, in that it’s motivated more by raw emotion that objective contention with the reality of Israeli occupation and rights violations.

In other words, you need not worry I am arguing with straw man arguments I have created myself. The Google and the magic intertubes can help you see that. I encourage you to give them a good read before you accuse me of falsifying positions that are documented in literally tens of thousands of websites.

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