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September 11, 2015 1:03 pm

Dershowitz: Undemocratic Tactics and Bigoted Arguments Have Stifled Iran Nuclear Deal Debate

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

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The United States Senate.

The United States Senate.

When I was growing up, “filibuster” was a dirty word.  It was a tactic used by bigoted southern Senators to prevent the enactment of any civil rights legislation. I recall Senator Strom Thurman babbling on for 24 hours in an effort to keep the south racially segregated. We regarded the filibuster as the enemy of democracy and the weapon of choice against civil rights.

Yet, President Obama and his followers in the senate deployed this undemocratic weapon in order to stifle real debate about the nuclear deal with Iran and to prevent the up or down vote promised by the Corker bill. A President, who was more confident of the deal, would have welcomed the Lincoln-Douglas type debates that I and others had called for regarding the most important foreign policy decision of the 21st century. But instead of arguments on the merits and demerits of the deal, what we mostly got was ad hominems. Proponents of the deal trotted out famous names of those who supported the deal, without detailed arguments about why they took that position. No wonder so few Americans support the deal. According to a recent Pew poll approximately one in five Americans think the deal is a good one. The President had an obligation to use his bully pulpit to try to obtain majority support among voters. Not only did he fail to do that, he also failed to persuade a majority of Senate and House members. So this minority deal will go into operation over the objection of a majority of our legislators and voters.

One of the low points of this debate was a variation on the ad hominem fallacy. It was the argument by religious or ethnic identity. Supporters of the deal tried to get as many prominent Jews as they could to sign ads and petitions in favor of the deal. The implicit argument was, “See, even Jews support this deal, so it must be good for Israel,” despite the reality that the vast majority of Israelis and almost all of its political leaders believe the deal is bad for Israel.

The absolute low point in the non-debate was a New York Times chart, identifying opponents of the deal by whether they were Jewish or Gentile. The implication was that Jews who opposed the deal must be more loyal to their Jewish constituents or to Israel than Americans who supported the deal. But the chart itself made little sense. It turns out that the vast majority of democratic Congressmen who voted against the deal were not Jewish, and several of them represented districts in which less than 1% of the voters were Jewish. It is true that two out of the four democratic senators who voted against the deal were identified as Jews, but one of the non-Jewish Senators represents West Virginia where Jewish voters constituted less than one tenth of one percent of the voting population. Moreover, opposition to this deal is considerably greater among evangelical Christians than among Jews.

Identifying by their religion members of Congress who voted against a deal that the Times strongly supported is, as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) aptly put it, more than a dog whistle; it is a bull horn. It plays squarely into anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews having dual loyalty. Will the Times next identify bankers, media moguls, journalists and professors by their religious identity? Would the Times have done that for other ethnic, religious or gender groups?

This has been a bad month for democracy, for serious debate and for the treatment of all Americans as equally capable of deciding important issue on their merits and demerits. Whether it also turns out to have been a bad month for peace and nuclear non-proliferation remains to be seen. But even those who support the deal should be ashamed of some of the undemocratic tactics and bigoted arguments employed to avoid a real debate and a majority vote.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Emeritus Professor at Harvard Law School and the author of his new book: The Case Again the Iran Deal: How Can We Now Stop Iran from Getting Nukes?”  now available on Kindle and other ebook sites.

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  • Caren Shapiro

    Dersh is one of the most unethical people of our time. He is facing indictment for forcing a young sex slave, a Thai girl 12 years old to have sex on convicted pervert Jeffrey Epstein’s island. He has called everyone and his brother an “anti-Semite”. He defended OJ Simpson who killed a young Jewish boy for big bucks. He is the kind of Jew who corrupts and endangers other Jews. A kapo, a rodef.

    • rulierose

      it’s ironic that you respond to a Dershowitz column about ad hominems with a bunch of senseless ad hominems of your own.

      no, he is NOT ‘facing indictment’ for forcing anyone to have sex with anyone, or for anything else. as for his awful offense of defending someone who killed a Jew: are you seriously suggesting that lawyers only defend people of their own religion? I mean, that’s just weird.

      Dersh certainly didn’t understand how dangerous Obama was–but he does now. so some people take longer to learn. that makes them kapos?

      please take a pill and chill out.

    • erik keller

      thank you Caren.

  • Karen North

    During the “statement debate” not one member of Congress ever mentioned the failure to enforce UNSC Resolution 1701
    even when citing the 100,000 missiles in Hezbollah’s post-2006 arsenal.

    The filibuster WAS the vote in the Senate. Those of us who listened and watched are still in shock.

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary Kerry have made a cynical farce of the debate on the Iran debate. Those members of Congress who fell for the lame, cynical tactics of the leaders of the Executive Branch of the United States of America should be ashamed of themselves. Chicago politics was in full gear the entire time of the so-called debate. (I was born, raised, and formally educated in Chicago and taught English in high schools, colleges and universities in the Chicago area for thirty-four years.) The founding fathers are undoubtedly rolling over and roiling in their graves. I have maintained that Obama should be impeached for treacherous acts in the past and I still maintain this point of view. His so-called deal puts the United States in a very requires strategic position for sure in fifteen years if Iran does not cheat . . . and if it does before the time is over, then the next president or his successor will have heel to pay because of Barack Hussein Obama’s kicking the can down the street. Unlike what Obama contends, there is little doubt that Iran will become a nuclear power due to his amoral behaviour as leader of the Free World. I am ashamed to call him my president. I am ashamed to call him the President of the United States of America.

  • steven L

    Democrats sing the death knell of democracy and soon the 7th birthday of socialism. The republicans have so far showed impotence, incompetence and ineptitude. Politics as usual will reinforce socialism! That is what the rhinos will give this country if they win.

  • Robert Cohen

    Mr. Dershowitz

    Thank you for standing up for the truth.

    Robert Cohen

  • Uriel Priwes

    The New York Times has sunk to a new level. It seems that it draws its inspiration from the Nazi press of the 1930’s and 1940’s. This newspaper is totally beneath contempt. I hope that it’s fate is similar to that of the Nazi rags above mentioned