American law professor and prominent pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz has accused the self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American lobby group J Street of “totally undercutting American policy toward Iran,” and of misrepresenting the views of prominent Israelis over thwarting Iran.
J Street, he charged, can no longer be considered a pro-Israel organization. He said it had shown itself to be “unilaterally opposed to keeping America’s military option on the table,” and that “You can’t call yourself pro-Israeli and not want the American military option kept open.”
J Street, in response, accused Dershowitz of “attacking positions we have not taken.”
In an interview with The Times of Israel, Dershowitz also said he recently met for 45 minutes one-on-one with US President Barack Obama to discuss Iran, and that the president was adamant about preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear weapons option. He said he was confident that Obama “means it when he says the military option is on the table,” that the president had asked him to communicate his position to Israel’s leaders, and that he had done so.
Dershowitz said his own views on Israeli settlement policy and on the two-state solution “are closer to J Street in many ways,” but that the lobby group’s position on Iran had taken it out of the pro-Israel camp.
‘The Iranians and others think that J Street speaks for Obama. This makes it look as though Obama speaks out of both sides of his mouth’
J Street “began as an organization to support President Obama’s views on Israel. Indeed, some people think it was created to give President Obama cover to be more critical of Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank,” Dershowitz told The Times of Israel in the telephone interview this week. “It has now continued on a path toward undercutting America’s and Israel’s policy on Iran.”
Elaborating, Dershowitz said J Street was “unique” among ostensibly pro-Israel Jewish organizations “in that it is unilaterally opposed to keeping America’s military option on the table, and that undercuts the entire American policy.”
Obama’s stated position, he noted, is that “it’s not the military option that is off the table, but containment that is off the table. J Street is undercutting this. And they totally misquote Israelis in support of their position.”
Dershowitz pointed to J Street’s website, which states, on a page headed “Iran,” that “like many American and Israeli security experts, we believe that a military strike against Iran would be ill advised… We therefore oppose legislation authorizing, encouraging, or in other ways laying the groundwork for the use of military force against Iran.”
The page links to a second J Street page, headed, “What The Experts Are Saying On Iran,” which quotes statements made, among others, by former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Efraim Halevy, two figures who were selected, said Dershowitz, to create the impression that they believed the American military option should be off the table.
In fact, said Dershowitz, “I spoke personally to Efraim Halevy and he insists that the American military option must be left on the table. He opposes Israel going it alone.”
As for Dagan, said Dershowitz, “he says the American military option must always be on the table with regard to Iran but it must always be the last resort.”
Dershowitz said he met recently with Obama for a one-to-one discussion of Iran that lasted some 45 minutes. There are some differences between the American and Israeli red lines, Dershowitz said, “but America has a red line which if crossed will have consequences for Iran. J Street undercuts the credibility [of that Obama position]. The Iranians and others think that J Street speaks for Obama. This makes it look as though Obama speaks out of both sides of his mouth — to J Street and to me.”
Dershowitz said that by “explicitly undercutting Obama on Iran,” it actually “makes it more likely that Israel will have to go alone. As George Washington said a long time ago, the best way to preserve peace is to be ready for war, and that’s been the Obama policy.” For J Street to undercut it and misrepresent prominent Israelis’ positions on it, he said, “takes it out of the pro-Israel camp. I don’t think it’s debatable that J Street is pro-Israel. It is not.”
He stressed that the organization has every right to its views, every right to lobby for them, and every right to send out speakers in support of them. But “it has no right to mislead people and call itself pro-Israel.”
Dershowitz said he believed most J Street supporters have “no idea” of the position the lobby group holds on Iran. “Most supporters think of J Street as young, sexy, very pro-Zionist and very pro-Israel, and that they are opposed to Likud’s policy of expanding the settlements. That’s the perception of J Street. That’s a false perception.”
Dershowitz also criticized J Street for failing to condemn the Goldstone report for its false conclusion that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in Gaza in 2008-9. “J Street wouldn’t condemn [Goldstone] and even arranged for Goldstone to meet with Congressional staffers,” he said. He also noted that “only J Street [of ostensibly pro-Israel groups] uniquely urged the United States to condemn Israel at the Security Council over settlements, when the US instead vetoed an anti-settlement resolution in February 2011. But it was the lobby group’s position on Iran that most troubled him, he stressed.
In response, J Street’s Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami said it was “time for Alan Dershowitz to stop putting words in J Street’s mouth and attacking positions we have not taken.”
J Street, said Ben-Ami, “supports the President’s approach toward Iran, combining robust sanctions and international diplomacy. We also share the President’s deep concern over those who are irresponsibly beating the drums of war with Iran for political gain. It is sad that one of Israel’s most passionate advocates persists in defaming an organization that has raised the voice of nearly 200,000 Americans in defense of Israel’s Jewish character and democracy.”
Ben-Ami added: “We do not accept that it’s up to Alan Dershowitz to determine who is in and who is out of the pro-Israel tent. I think it’s safe to say that a large part of our community is eager for new counsel.”
Personally, Dershowitz said, he does not believe that sanctions alone will force Iran to halt its nuclear program. “The only way to stop Iran is with a completely credible military threat. There has to be an absolutely clear message: You will not be permitted [to develop a nuclear option]. If you cross the red line, there will be military action.”
He said he did not agree with the assertion that, if all else fails, a resort to military action would merely delay Iran two or three years and would prompt the Iranians to intensify their efforts. The message to Iran has to be, he said, that “if you then rebuild, then in two or three years you will face another military attack, and another two or three years later. Whatever it takes. One or two or three or four. No boots on the ground. Just a form of aerial attack. I think if you set them back three years, every three years, that’s pretty good,” he said.
He noted that the expectation, when Israel struck Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osiraq in 1981, was that it would only set back the Iraqis a few years. “They never restarted.” Similarly after Israel’s strike in Syria in 2007, “there’s no indication that they restarted.”
‘Most supporters think of J Street as young, sexy, very pro-Zionist and very pro-Israel, and that they are opposed to Likud’s policy of expanding the settlements. That’s the perception of J Street. That’s a false perception’
Said Dershowitz: “I don’t buy the argument that says you’ll only set them back three years and you’ll encourage them to move forward. A credible policy of never allowing Iran to develop a nuclear option, combined with sanctions, has a realistic chance. The Iranians have to believe it. The Israelis have to believe it. If not, Israel is not going to leave her fate in the hands of any American president. No Israeli government [would do so], unless it is absolutely certain the American military option is a real one.”
Asked about the content of his conversation with Obama, Dershowitz quoted the president saying on Iran, “Alan, I know you understand this, and the world has to understand this: I don’t bluff. And the Iranians better understand that when I say containment is not an option, I mean it.”
Dershowitz said that for Obama to reach the position he holds “took a lot of doing.” He said he believes CIA chief David Petraeus and former defense secretary Robert Gates favored containment, and that there were indications that Vice President Joe Biden did too. “The president took containment off the table.”
He said Obama had chosen to speak to him because the two had known each other for a long time, and because “I have a certain credibility with the Israeli leadership.” He said of Obama, “I believe him. I do believe him” as regards Iran. “I am confident that he means it when he says the military option is on the table.”
He said the president had asked him to communicate his position to the Israeli leadership, and he had done so. I don’t think he [Obama] wants to use military force,” he stressed. “[Prime Minister] Netanyahu doesn’t. No one does.”