Just the word “Israel” stirs up furious debate; add to that the name of controversial lawyer/author/Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz and you’ve got yourself a serious hullabaloo. Based on his 2003 book, The Case for Israel, directed by Michael Yohay and screening tonight as part of the Other Israel Film Festival, is documentary as argument, with Dershowitz as the main proponent.
Taking as his starting point a rebuttal of Jimmy Carter’s Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Dershowitz and various well-known interview subjects like (former and present Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu defend Israel’s historical legitimacy, right to defending herself, and its crucial role as bastion of democracy in an otherwise totalitarian and corrupt Middle East. Some of the points seem not a little dubious: does the fact that Muslims have frequently desecrated holy sites substantially counter Palestine’s claim on Jerusalem? And some of the film’s techniques border on the propagandistic, as when the inherent humaneness of democratic Israel versus the inherent barbarity of Intifadaist Palestinians is evoked in contrasting pictures of smiling Israeli children and locked and loaded Palestinian ones. Bellicosity never rears its ugly head on the Israeli side?
Nevertheless, The Case for Israel brings up some intriguing ideas in the debate about the right of Israel to exist. The mere fact that its existence is even debated at all amid so many other worse events and governments in the world points up the fierce anti-Semitism behind much of the anti-Israel side, though Dershowitz and company are clear in distinguishing legitimate criticism of Israeli policy from the thinly veiled racist tirades behind opponents’ unbalanced righteous indignation. Israel’s comparatively diplomatic and compromising stance in regard to territories and settlements is put into clarifying perspective. Perhaps most powerfully — and, I’m assuming, controversially — the film ends by discussing the threat posed to Israel by Iran, and the timing couldn’t be better. While many people and even leaders have been skeptical when comparisons have been made between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hitler, recent events should confirm how dangerous the Iranian theocracy is not only to Israel but to the rest of the world. As Netanyahu so well puts it, “The main point that wasn’t understood in the 30s is that it never ends with the Jews.”