The front page of the New York Times Sunday Review featured one of the most biased, poorly informed, and historically inaccurate columns about the conflict between Israel and Palestine ever published by a mainstream newspaper. Written by Michelle Alexander, it is entitled, “Time to break the silence on Palestine,” as if the Palestinian issue has not been the most overhyped cause on campuses, at the United Nations, and in the media.
There is no silence to break. What must be broken is the double standard of those who elevate the Palestinian claims over those of the Kurds, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Chechens, the Tibetans, the Ukrainians, and many other more deserving groups who truly suffer from the silence of the academia, the media, and the international community. The United Nations devotes more of its time, money, and votes to the Palestinian issue than to the claims of all of these other oppressed groups combined.
The suffering of Palestinians, which does not compare to the suffering of many other groups, has been largely inflicted by themselves. They could have had a state, with no occupation, if they had accepted the Peel Commission Report of 1938, the United Nations Partition of 1947, the Camp David Summit deal of 2000, or the Ehud Olmert offer of 2008. They rejected all these offers, responding with violence and terrorism, because doing so would have required them to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, something they are unwilling to do even today.
I know because I asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that question directly and he said no. The Palestinian leadership indeed has always wanted there not to be a Jewish state more than it has wanted there to be a Palestinian state. The Palestinian issue is not “one of the great moral challenges of our time,” as Alexander insists in her column. It is a complex, nuanced, pragmatic problem, with fault on all sides. The issue could be solved if Palestinian leaders were prepared to accept the “painful compromises” that Israeli leaders have already agreed to accept.
Had the early Palestinian leadership, with the surrounding Arab states, not attacked Israel the moment it declared statehood, it would have a viable state with no refugees. Had Hamas used the resources it received when Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005 to build schools and hospitals instead of using these resources to construct rocket launchers and terror tunnels, it could have become a “Singapore on the Sea” instead of the poverty stricken enclave the Palestinian leadership turned it into.
The leaders of Hamas as well as the Palestinian Authority bear at least as much responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians as do the Israelis. Israel is certainly not without some fault, but the “blame it all on Israel” approach taken by Alexander is counterproductive because it encourages Palestinian recalcitrance. As Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once observed, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
One striking illustration of the bias is the absurd claim by Alexander that “many students are fearful of expressing support for Palestinian rights” because of “McCarthyite tactics” employed by pro-Israel groups. I have taught on many campuses, and I can attest that no international cause is given more attention, far more than it deserves in comparison with other more compelling causes, than the Palestinians. It is pro-Israel students who are silenced out of fear of being denied recommendations, graded down, or shunned by peers. Some have even been threatened with violence. Efforts have been made to prevent from speaking on several campuses, despite my advocacy of a two state solution to the conflict.
Alexander claims that there is legal discrimination against Israeli Arabs. The reality is that Israeli Arabs have more rights than Arabs anywhere in the Muslim world. They vote freely, have their own political parties, speak openly against the Israeli government, and are beneficiaries of affirmative action in Israeli universities. The only legal right they lack is to turn Israel into another Muslim state governed by Sharia law, instead of the nation state of Jewish people governed by freedom and secular democratic law. That is what the new Jewish nation state law, which I personally oppose, does when it denies Arabs the “right of self determination in Israel.”
Alexander condemns “Palestinian homes being bulldozed,” without mentioning that these are the homes of terrorists who murder Jewish children, women, and men. She bemoans casualties in Gaza, which she calls “occupied” even though every Israeli soldier and settler left in 2005, without mentioning that many of these casualties were human shields from behind whom Hamas terrorists fire rockets at Israeli civilians. She says there are “streets for Jews only,” which is a categorical falsehood. There are roads in the disputed territories that are limited to cars with Israeli licenses for security. But these roads are in fact open to all Israelis, including Druze, Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians, and people of no faith.
The most outrageous aspect of the column is the claim by Alexander that Martin Luther King Jr. inspired her to write it. But he was a staunch Zionist, who said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.” It is certainly possible that he would have been critical of certain Israeli policies today, but I am confident that he would have been appalled at her unfair attack on the nation state of the Jewish people and especially on her misuse of his good name to support anti-Israel bigotry.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School. His new book is “The Case Against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump.” You can follow him on Twitter @AlanDersh.