Alleged Errors in Beyond Chutzpah

September 7, 2005

In News

Editor’s Note: In this section Finkelstein replies to assertions on the internet and elsewhere of errors and misrepresentations in Beyond Chutzpah. Those familiar with Dershowitz’s style and references will immediately recognize the real author of many of these allegations.


“Mild proposals”

In an review of Beyond Chutzpah, “Insulted Reader” makes this claim:

Nor is anything that Finkelstein writes credible. Let me give you just one example (and I could list examples like this all day). Finkelstein writes, “It is hard to make out any difference between the policy Dershowitz advocates and the Nazi destruction of Lidice, for which he expresses abhorrence-except that Jews, not Germans, would be implementing it.” (p. 176) I’ve been reading Dershowitz for a long time, and comparing his mild proposals for dealing with terrorism with the Lidice massacre of 1942 is just batty. Here’s what Dershowitz actually wrote in the passage Finkelstein cites: “[Israel] would then publicly declare precisely how it will respond in the event of another terrorist act, such as by destroying empty houses in a particular village that has been used as a base for terrorists, and naming that village in advance.”

To begin with, I will quote the relevant passages from Beyond Chutzpah:

In Why Terrorism Works, Dershowitz deplores resort to collective punishment as “the most immoral” tactic for fighting terrorism, one typical of “tyrannical regimes.” He specifically cites as a heinous example of collective punishment that “Hitler destroyed the entire Czech village of Lidice” after a senior Nazi officer was assassinated. “Directly punishing the innocent raises the most pointed moral objections, but it is also most effective,” Dershowitz concludes. “Notwithstanding the effectiveness of this extreme form of collective punishment, we are morally constrained – and legally prohibited – from imposing it.”


In the case of Israel, Dershowitz justifies the resort to sanctions such as house demolitions on the ground that, judging by poll data, Palestinians overwhelmingly “supported continuing terrorist attacks,” and accordingly are “themselves complicit” in these attacks. Indeed, he advocates not only individual house demolitions, but “the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations” after each Palestinian attack. “The response will be automatic.” Such massive destruction, he concludes, will further the “noble causes” of reducing terrorism and promoting peace. Israel categorizes attacks on its military personnel as terrorism; the Czech people undoubtedly supported the assassination of the Nazi officer. It is hard to make out any difference between the policy Dershowitz advocates and the Nazi destruction of Lidice, for which he expresses abhorrence – except that Jews, not Germans, would be implementing it.

The first source I cite in Beyond Chutzpah for Dershowitz advocating the “automatic” destruction of a Palestinian village is: Alan Dershowitz, “New response to Palestinian terrorism,” Jerusalem Post (11 March 2002). The critical paragraph delineating his “mild proposals for dealing with terrorism” reads in full:

Israel should announce an immediate unilateral cessation in retaliation against terrorist attacks. This moratorium would be in effect for a short period, say four or five days, to give the Palestinian leadership an opportunity to respond to the new policy. It would also make it clear to the world that Israel is taking an important step in ending what has become a cycle of violence. Following the end of the moratorium, Israel would institute the following new policy if Palestinian terrorism were to resume. It will announce precisely what it will do in response to the next act of terrorism. For example, it could announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings. The response will be automatic. The order will have been given in advance of the terrorist attacks and there will be no discretion. The point is to make the automatic destruction of the village the fault of the Palestinian terrorists who had advance warnings of the specific consequences of their action. The soldiers would simply be acting as the means for carrying out a previously announced policy of retaliation against a designated target.

It bears notice that Dershowitz is not only advocating the Lidice-style annihilation of the village but of its inhabitants as well if they don’t leave after 24 hours: “The response will be automatic…there will be no discretion.”*

Readers can now judge for themselves whether I have misrepresented Dershowitz’s “mild proposals” in Beyond Chutzpah or whether “Insulted Reader” is insulting readers of

*The association of destroying villages with Lidice occasionally crops up in the history of Zionism. In his study of the first Arab-Israeli war, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (2004), Benny Morris reports: “As Jewish losses mounted [in December 1947], the policy-makers’ and, in some localities, local Haganah commanders’ hearts grew steadily harder… . Binyamin Mintz, the leader of the orthodox Po’alei Agudat Yisrael Party, said with respect to a certain village in the Negev: ‘If the possibility arises of evicting all its inhabitants and destroying it, this must be done.’ (But Sapir, the mayor of Petah Tikva and a major orange-grove owner, argued against destroying whole villages, ‘even small [ones]… . This recalls Lidice – [and] here is food for thought.’)” (pp. 73-4)