February 20, 2009

Bishop Williamson Isn’t the Only One in Denial

Historical revisionism – Alan Dershowitz style.

Holocaust denial is despicable. There, I got that out. So now let the records show that Alan Dershowitz and I agree on something. In a recent rant against Bishop Richard Williamson (who claims that the Nazis killed no more than 300,000 Jews), Dershowitz passionately expresses his contempt for Holocaust denial, and I—as you just heard—agree with him.

Unlike Dershowitz, however, I think it’s despicable to deny or downplay the suffering of all groups of people. Dershowitz, as you may know, doesn’t really like to admit it when Israel Defense Forces kill innocent Palestinians. When the evidence is absolutely overwhelming, he’ll concede that, yes, some people may have died, but even then he tends to deflate the numbers. In a recent blog, for instance, he calls into question the widely-held belief that 1,300 Palestinians died in Operation Cast Lead,[1] claiming that this number is “hotly disputed.”

Now if by “hotly disputed” he means that some people deny that around 1,300 Gazans died, then he is correct. Some people certainly do deny this, just as some people deny that six million Jews died in the Holocaust. But I doubt this is what Dershowitz means by “hotly disputed.” He instead seems to be saying that the Palestinian death toll is indeterminate, that there’s no good reason to believe that it isn’t actually much lower than the media’s been reporting.

In order to prove his case, Dershowitz refers to a “study” conducted by an Italian newspaper which claims that no more than 600 Gazans were killed. It turns out that the “study” to which he refers is actually just an article that appeared in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera. And it turns out that the claim that no more than 600 died comes from a single source, an anonymous Gazan doctor who told journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi: “The deaths could not be more than 500 or 600. Mainly boys between 17 and 23 years recruited from the ranks of Hamas that has literally sent them to the massacre.”

The doctor’s claim hardly makes the number of Palestinian deaths a “hotly disputed” matter. First, it seems pretty clear that the doctor has an axe to grind with Hamas: notice how he blames Hamas, and not the IDF, for the deaths (“…from the ranks of Hamas that has literally sent them to the massacre”). Second, it’s not clear how one doctor, who presumably lacks the attribute of omnipresence, could know how many people died throughout the entire Gaza Strip. Third, both the UN and Red Cross, which had workers on the ground throughout the conflict, accept the 1,300 figure. Fourth, the independent Palestinian Center for Human Rights conducted a thorough investigation and concluded that 1,284 people were killed.[2] And fifth, and perhaps most significantly, the IDF—yes, the Israel Defense Forces—maintains that 1,134 Gazans were killed.[2]

So, morally speaking, it’s unclear what the difference is between Dershowitz’s denial and that of Bishop Williamson. For each man, while admitting that innocent people died, makes use of a dubious source in an attempt to deflate a generally accepted death toll.

Worse than distorting this evidence, however, is Dershowitz’s insistence that the IDF was justified in its killing. In his mind, the IDF’s actions are always justified. Whether it’s expropriating land in the West Bank, preventing food and medicine from entering Gaza, or dropping bombs in civilian neighborhoods, it’s always the Palestinians’ fault.

Bishop Williamson, I should point out, has never defended the Nazis. Yet it is he who is the object of public opprobrium. Alan Dershowitz, on the other hand, is widely respected in both the US and Israel. The Jerusalem Post, for instance, proudly promotes his blog, which is titled (get this) “Double Standard Watch.” Yes, the ironies never cease.


Notes

[1] This is the figure given by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

[2] The Jerusalem Post interviewed the deputy director of the PCHR and reported: “His organization had 45 field workers posted at hospitals and morgues, counting bodies and checking names, he said. They had also gone to the sites of IDF attacks and interviewed the families of the dead, he said.”

[3] At the time in which Dershowitz wrote his blog, the IDF was saying that the death toll was between 1,100 and 1,200.

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