Click on Harvard Law’s homepage and you find Dershowitz’s lambaste of Carter’s recent book entitled “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” This is an op/ed piece by Dershowitz printed in Conrad Black’s National Post. If, as Lawrence Velvel (Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law School) has articulated very convincingly, what goes on in the hallowed halls of Harvard Law is inextricably linked to what goes on in the halls of power in Washington DC, because of the revolving door between the two, we are in a sorry state indeed.
This is particularly true if Dershowitz is representative the scholars at Harvard Law, which he must be as his editorial is on page one of Harvard Law’s website. In my opinion, his superficial review of Carter’s book is today’s equivalent of a verbal book burning–as any reader of the review would be persuaded to ignore Carter’s book. This, in effect, takes the book out of circulation.
The op/ed proceeds as follows: Carter’s book is initially described as an “anti-Israeli screed”; Dershowitz complains “a mere listing of all of Mr. Carter’s mistakes and omissions would fill a volume the size of his book (Dershowitz lists four, out of context and with his own very-subjective interpretation of the word “mistake”); Dershowitz continues with subjective comments such as “Mr. Carter just doesn’t like Israel or Israelis”; and finally, the coup de grace, “his (Carter’s) authorship of this ahistorical, one-sided brief against Israel forever disqualifies him from playing any positive role in fairly resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” Thank you Professor Dershowitz for this anti-Carter screed!
Anyone who has actually read the book would know that most of it is centered on former President Carter’s own personal conversations and negotiations with all of the leaders of the Middle East from the 1970s to the present. The book is, in part, autobiographical. How can you label this autobiographical account of a former president “ahistorical”?
The major contribution of this book is not the pre WWI history of the region, but Carter’s own personal contribution to, and opinions of, the current history. Carter is a former President of the United States–he made this history. Carter’s book is important to read, if for no other reason than to get these first-hand accounts of his conversations with world leaders at critical moments in the recent history of the Middle East.
The final statement of Dershowitz, noted above, is especially galling when applied to former President Carter. Our former president is a man who has dedicated himself to seeking peace in the Middle East, he was the mediator of the historic Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel, and, most recently, was the monitor of fair Palestinian elections via his Carter Center and his own physical presence on the ground in the occupied territories. Ignoring these realities, Harvard Law has put it’s “seal of approval” on Dershowitz’s vitriolic review of an important work of a former President of the United States, effectively contributing to censoring this information. This is an accomplishment that should make our preeminent institution of higher education proud, or perhaps make the American public seriously question Harvard’s preeminence.
Troublesome as well, is the fact that Dershowitz’s review appears to be based on his reading precious little of the book. Obviously, he read the book title–as the entire first paragraph of his op/ed is a rant on the title alone. He is also familiar with a few selected quotes (perhaps highlighted for him by a student assistant) that are not representative of the tone of the book at all. Again, anyone who has actually read the book would know that it is not an anti-Israeli screed, quite the contrary. Carter has bent over backward to be fair in his presentation of Israel and Israeli citizens. Carter does, however, describe personal conversations and personal experiences on the ground that may put Israel in a negative light, but these are historic facts and if Dershowitz finds them offensive he might look to Israeli leaders, not Carter, to target his venom.
What I find especially frightening about the promotion of Dershowitz’s op/ed on Harvard Law’s homepage is that it says volumes about the current state of public discourse, free communication and public access to factual information in our country. Recently, in a radio interview, Carter stated that criticism of his book, and the recent resignation of Kenneth Stein from the Carter Center, has gotten more publicity from the mainstream press than has his book and its contents. If a former president, who has dedicated much of his life to seeking a fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, cannot get his opinions heard over the jeering of the likes of Dershowitz, who has dedicated much of his life (for big bucks) to defending murderers and currently, a child-molester in Palm Beach Florida, public discourse in the US is being seriously eroded. Even worse, this disinformation campaign is being abetted and empowered by Harvard Law, as evidently, Harvard Law prefers the bombast of Dershowitz to the serious historical facts of a former President of the United States.
MARY McGRANE is an associate professor in the field of biomedical sciences at the University of Connecticut.