Dershowitz and Paglia: When Good Liberals Go Wrong

It never ceases to amaze how people who should know better, erudite intellectuals who write with precision, flair, and lucidity and are capable of acute reflectiveness, can nevertheless lend their support to Barack Obama. Alan Dershowitz comes immediately to mind. In such important books as The Case for Israel, The Case for Peace, and The Case Against Israel’s Enemies, Dershowitz has done yeoman service on behalf of the beleaguered and universally misprized Jewish state. And yet, when it comes to the international figure who may well represent the most serious threat to Israel’s well-being and perhaps even to its survival -- by whom I mean not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but Barack Obama -- Dershowitz assembles his, shall we say, The Case for Obama.

Thus, in a much-publicized and mudslinging debate with British author Melanie Phillips, a staunch defender of the Jewish state who is highly suspicious of Obama’s intentions toward Israel, Dershowitz resolutely backstops the American president. Accusing Phillips of not understanding the structure of American politics, Dershowitz, a loyal Democrat, is all for giving Obama time to develop his presumably benign and far-seeing aspirations toward recalibrating the Israeli-Palestinian and Middle East imbroglio.

It would be a mistake, Dershowitz argues, to create a starkly unproductive rupture between Democrats and Republicans over this issue. Obama’s reneging on the settlement consensus worked out between Israel and the former American administration, his patently skewed Cairo address that equated the Holocaust with Palestinian suffering and tellingly ignored the historical and continued presence of the Jewish people in the Holy Land, his appointing manifestly anti-Israeli figures like Susan Rice and Samantha Power to positions of official eminence, his well-attested friendships with the virulently anti-Semitic pastor Jeremiah Wright and former PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi, the phatic waffle of his speech to the residents of rocket-battered Sderot, and his studious avoidance of Israel during his presidential junkets -- all this and more does not seem to have had the slightest premonitory effect on Dershowitz’s mindset.

Dershowitz insists that Israel should not be allowed to become a “wedge issue,” that the question should not be partisanized. Identification with the “liberal” wing of the political spectrum is necessary, it would appear, in order not to cede the anti-Zionist field to the hard left and to show that affiliation with what is known as liberal “progressivism” is by no means inconsistent with support for Israel. His fear is that Israel may become “a cause of the right wing alone” and thus “anathema to liberals.”

Dershowitz is unwilling to see the strength of Phillips’ essential point, namely, that support for Israel does not divide along the right-left axis but is primarily a moral issue, not merely a political one. This is why Obama’s swiveling on Israel is profoundly disturbing. What is needed is not a skein of subtle argumentation and intricate nuances to justify the president’s strategy for resolving the Middle East conundrum or a sagacious caution not to polarize the debate. Tactical prudence, as Jews above all people might have learned by now, tends inevitably to boomerang. What is needed is an attitude of remorseless clarity with respect to the president’s words and actions, which should not be painted over from fear of alienating the electorate, further splitting the parties, or reinforcing media-inflated opinion. We must curb the temptation of being too finespun and ingenious for our own good.

For the evidence is in: Obama’s choice of advisors and consular appointments, his sly choreographing of meetings with Jewish organizations to exclude critics of his policies, his awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Israel-hater and secretary-general of the infamous Durban I conference on racism Mary Robinson, his backing of the Saudi peace plan (which envisages Israel’s retreat to indefensible borders, the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens from their homes, and the “return” of millions of manufactured Arab “refugees” to Israeli territory, thus putting paid to the Jewish state), and his clearly anti-liberal (in the classical sense) maneuvers which deprivilege democratic allies (Honduras, Israel) while propitiating avowed enemies (Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Russia). If this is not enough to uncloak Obama, then nothing is.

Anyone who cannot see this has capitulated to his infatuations. Such people are incapable of recognizing that Obama is no Cantabrian president. They cannot resist the caramelized eloquence of a shifty wordmonger. They cannot detect, as political author George Jonas puts it, “the malodorous miasma of gall, social engineering zeal, anti-Semitism, and Arabist agenda that emanates from the Obama administration.”

And so, the apostolic charade continues. As they say in NASCAR country, “no rubbin’ allowed.” Against the mass of incontrovertible evidence, Obama must still be given the benefit of the doubt as he pursues diplomatic relations with adversarial Islamic and autocratic enemy-states and moves toward the gradual but inexorable destabilization of Israel. To suppress such salient facts is the sort of shuffling that eventually comes back to haunt one, like lying to one’s doctor in the illusory hope that the symptoms will disappear on their own.

The leverets of the liberal-left have rolled over for the sonic boom of a teleprompter cyborg and the pixelled surface of a presidential image, behind which lurks a very different sort of beast -- the Wizard of Oz in reverse. Prior political commitments and who knows what deeply nurtured personal aims can be extremely effective blinders to the corrugations of the real. How else to account for the unctuous immunities we are often willing to accord people who advance agendas that conflict with our professed beliefs and congenial principles? Alan Dershowitz, I’m afraid, for all his bona fides, makes one of this too-clever-by-half and self-deluded lot. Of course, Obama is a special “case,” charismatic, persuasive, superficially likable, energetic, seductive, and, as Camille Paglia says of Obama’s senior advisor David Axelrod, a “wily fox” who could “charm gold threads out of moonbeams.”