Dershowitzs public enemy No. 1: a nuclear Iran

OK, a bunch of religious fanatics engrossed in a cult of death and martyrdom are working on developing nuclear weapons. What could go wrong?

How about Armageddon, asks law professor and prominent pro-Israel activist Alan Dershowitz.

With top Iranian officials like former President Hashemi Rafsanjani stating on record that it would be worth losing 15 million Iranians in a counter-strike if Iranian nukes could vaporize 5 million Jews, Dershowitz says preventing a second Holocaust must be a top American priority.

“I think Iran has always been more dangerous than Iraq. Because a tyrant who cares about dying, like Saddam Hussein, is less dangerous than tyrants who welcome death and believe they will be rewarded in the world to come,” said Dershowitz, who will speak at San Jose’s Fairmont Hotel Monday, Oct. 11, in an Anti-Defamation League-sponsored event.

The Iraq war ” has weakened our resolve against Iran. We are less focused on Iran’s nuclear capacity than we ought to be.”

So, in effect, it has weakened America and Israel in one fell swoop, leaving Dershowitz to chuckle sarcastically when reminded that anti-war activists claim the United States is fighting on behalf of Israel.

“Anti-Semites are saying that. They’re blaming everything on three or four Jews who are in low-level positions in the administration. The great irony is, this is an administration with no Jews, yet around the world, Jews are blamed for the fiasco in Iraq,” he said in a phone interview from the Boston area, where he teaches at Harvard Law School.

The author of “The Case for Israel” believes the Jewish state is doing the right thing diplomatically. First, it must use political and economic pressure before possibly resorting to a 1982-style first strike.

The problem is, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. “The book I’m working on now is about pre-emption. And it’s always much harder the second time. … [ Iran has] dispersed its nuclear capabilities, unlike what Iraq did, and hardened the protections,” he said.

“It’s important that the U.S. sold Israel bunker-busting bombs and announced it. I think that announcement was intended to put the fear of God into [Iran]. I just don’t think Iran is necessarily a deterrable country like Syria is.”

While Dershowitz is worried about Iran, he’s just plain embarrassed about the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches’ moves to divest from Israel. “When I grew up, the Episcopal Church was the bastion of anti-Semitism,” he said, pausing ever so slightly to check on the Red Sox-Angels game. “All the lay leaders ran the law firms and the clubs that discriminated — the polite anti-Semites of the world. They lived in the restricted neighborhoods and I think there’d be a little bit of guilt over that,” he said with a laugh.

“I think the divestiture movements are motivated, at least in part, by classic, old-fashioned, Christian anti-Semitism.”

That’s not the case among college crowds Dershowitz sees espousing anti-Zionism. You can be anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, he says. But you can’t hold the Jewish state to higher standards.

“When I speak on campuses, I say, ‘How many people are against the occupation?’ And many hands go up,” said Dershowitz, who, for the record, says he has long opposed both the occupation and settler movement.

“But then I say, ‘Let’s talk about specific occupations. How many are against the occupation of Tibet by China? How many are against the occupation of Kurdistan by the four countries that occupy it? How many are against the occupation of Lebanon by Syria?’ And I say, ‘You know, the Palestinian Authority favors all three of those occupations.'”

One point that is continually thrown back in his face is his somewhat confusing take on legalized torture — protesters often accuse him of supporting it.

Not so simple. He’s against it, but, if it’s going to happen, he wants it to be codified.

“I’m adamantly opposed to torture, whereas I’ll bet the people protesting never protest Palestinian torture and Iraqi torture. I’m against torture, but I do believe it would happen if we ever had a ticking bomb case, if we had a situation where someone knew the location of a nuclear bomb in downtown San Jose. There’s no doubt it would be done,” he explained.

“So, if [torture] is done, I want it done with the highest authority, the president, the chief justice. I want to avoid Abu Ghraib, where torture was being used for no justifiable reason by low-level people on low-level operatives. Also, we’ll know who authorized it. In Abu Ghraib, everyone is denying it.”

With thresholds and authorization required, Dershowitz believes incidents of torture will be reduced.

“My role is to prevent torture,” he said sharply. “The protesters are ignoramuses, knaves or fools.”

Alan Dershowitz will speak at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, at the Fairmont Hotel, 170 S. Market St., San Jose. Tickets: $100. Information: (415) 981-3500, ext. 222.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.