Listening in on Charles Ogletree talking with Alan Dershowitz
At the request of The Martha's Vineyard Times, last week Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree interviewed his friend and colleague, Alan Dershowitz.
What follows is an excerpt of an interview that can be heard in its entirety here.
Prof. Ogletree began by asking the famed litigator and author about his use of the word "moral," in the title of his latest book, "The Case for Moral Clarity: Israel, Hamas and Gaza."
Alan Dershowitz: Well, I think that it's a universal morality that condemns the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians. It's also a universal morality that permits a country whose civilians are targeted to try to prevent rockets from killing them.... and when those who are aiming the rockets do it behind Palestinian school children in order to induce Israel to kill Palestinian civilians, the moral clarity should be self-evident to anybody. As Golda Meir once said to terrorists, "We can perhaps forgive you for killing our children, but we can never forgive you for making us kill your children." And there's just nothing more immoral than that. I call that "The Dead Baby Strategy" - they call it "The CNN Strategy" ...
Charles Ogletree: Let me ask you one other question along the same lines... Why do you think Gaza can be resolved in a way that respects the interests of both sides in this debate?
Dershowitz: There are two possible Gaza solutions: one would require that the Palestinians vote Hamas out and vote the Palestinian Authority, which genuinely wants to see peace and genuinely wants a two state solution, into office. The other possibility is that Hamas will stay in power, and will do what it has been doing actually for the last couple of months, that is - declaring still its opposition to a Jewish state and to Israel but not doing very much about it. ... And I think many Israelis would be satisfied with a long-term ceasefire ... My own view is that one of the people who could help bring it about would be Bill Clinton, who has the enormous admiration of Israelis and Palestinians. It took him a long time to deserve that, and right now the polls show that Israelis trust Bill Clinton more than they do Barack Obama. I'm hoping that will change in the sense of
increasing the trust for Obama. I'm actually somewhat optimistic that peace could come during an Obama administration... And I'm waiting anxiously for the peace proposal that Barack Obama promised at the General Assembly that he's going to speak to in September.
Ogletree: Let me just turn back to the Obama issue, I've known him for two decades now, you've known him as well. You wrote a very thoughtful piece this summer about whether or not Obama is a friend of Israel. I know you received blistering criticism on your views throughout the United States and in Israel... What were you trying to achieve and is it worth the cost of the holistic assault on you for defending Obama?
Dershowitz: Oh definitely it's worth that price. I want to keep Obama a friend of Israel; I want to keep the Jewish community a friend of Obama. I want at all costs to avoid any kind of divisiveness between the African American community and the Jewish community. You and I have worked hard to accomplish that at Harvard and other places and I think both the destinies of African Americans and Jews have always been tied together, and we are each strengthened by the support of the other ... I think we share a common goal, and that is to bring about a peace with justice for all sides.
Ogletree: Let me ask you ... we both know that President Obama will be on the Island about the time this article appears - what would you say to him if you had an audience with him? What do you think he needs to know and understand about Israel that may not be getting through ... What does he need to hear?
Dershowitz: There can't be peace unless the Israeli public supports the President of the United States and the peacemakers. The difference between Israel and the Palestinians, or Israel and the Jordanians, and the Egyptians, is that Israel is a pure and complete democracy and nothing can be accomplished in Israel unless the people support it. Right now he has not done enough to gather the support of the Israel rank and file. He's even lost some of the peace advocates within Israel on the left, and he has to do much more to rebuild that confidence... Congress passed a statute several years ago calling for the appointment of an international ambassador against rising anti-Semitism around the world. The Obama administration hasn't filled that ambassadorial post yet, and it's been seen by some as a slight...
Ogletree: Do you think there will be a time when you can no longer be sort of the lightning rod on the Israel issue and can let go at all?
Dershowitz: I hope I can let go. The reason I devoted the last decade of my life to defending the case for Israel, the case for peace, the case against Israel's enemies, the case for moral clarity, is because Israel has been increasingly the underdog around the world and a double standard has been applied to it... To me, Israel is an example of a democracy struggling for peace - not always right... but criticized disproportionately. And when that stops, I'll stop. I'd like to move on to other issues but I can't let go of this issue until Israel is subjected to the same standard of morality of international law as other democracies in the world.
Ogletree: There have been two people - and you and I have talked a lot about this - who have been prominent in your life... The first was Jackie Robinson ... and the second was one of your early mentors, John Hope Franklin, who taught at Brooklyn College... Both had an impact on race and race relations.
Dershowitz: Well for a Jewish kid from an immigrant family... we saw the fate of Jews, blacks and other discriminated against minorities in tandem, and we regarded Jackie Robinson as one of us. And when he was hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was a wonderful day for us. We even got our rabbi to make a blessing, and when he first came up at bat he got a hit and so we all became more religious. He was my hero, and I still have a shirt with his number 42 on it that I prize...
And for me John Hope Franklin was my academic Jackie Robinson. He was a superstar when it came to race... I wrote a paper attacking Plessy v. Ferguson [a case upholding the constitutionality of racial segregation], supporting the [only dissenting] opinion of [U.S. Supreme Court] Justice John Marshall Harlan. And [John Franklin] gave me a C grade ... because he said I didn't present both sides of the argument fairly, I didn't look at the historical sources objectively. He was a historian first and he went out of his way to teach an all white class in American Studies without getting personal, without showing his rage, and always presenting the devil's advocate position on every side and being the epitome of the perfect balanced scholar. He became one of my unconscious consciences. Whenever I wrote something, I would ask myself, 'What would John Franklin think of this?"
Charles J. Ogletree, a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs, is Professor at Harvard Law School, the founder of the school's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, author and frequent national spokesperson on issues of race.