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Alan Dershowitz: Netanyahu ‘will not do anything to endanger American support for Israel’

The outspoken attorney recently met with the new prime minister and opened up about the future of Israeli democracy, cancel culture and Bernie Sanders

The Israeli Knesset is expected to vote Thursday in favor of the formation of a majority coalition government, ending more than three years of political instability. The occasion marks a personal victory for Benjamin Netanyahu, already the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, who will take the oath of office for the sixth time, just 20 months after he was ousted and 26 years after he was first sworn in to the role. 

But the makeup of the new government that includes far-right extremists in senior cabinet positions and the coalition deals between the Likud ruling party and its conservative partners has already sparked anxiety among Israel’s friends and supporters in the diaspora. Among them are Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz. 

Dershowitz, a criminal defense attorney, recently returned from a month-long visit to Israel in which he met with key political figures, including a lengthy conversation with Netanyahu. Among Dershowitz’s concerns are the government guidelines – formally published Wednesday – that include a controversial override clause, which could allow the new far-right Knesset to overrule the country’s supreme court.

“I’m afraid that the power of the supreme court in human rights or basic civil liberty cases may be constrained by this override provision,” Dershowitz said in a Zoom interview, after one of his meetings in Tel Aviv. “It will make it much harder to defend Israel in the International Criminal Court on the grounds of complementarity.” 

Proposed legislation would also limit LGBTQ rights, lift a ban on politicians who support racism from running for office and change the law of return to strengthen Israel’s “Jewish identity,” potentially limiting those who could make aliyah.  

In recent media appearances aimed at American audiences, Netanyahu sought to assuage concerns by declaring he will have his hands “firmly on the steering wheel” on policy. However, the appointment to justice minister of Yariv Levin, a Netanyahu loyalist who is a major proponent of passing the override measure, is an early indication of the government’s direction on judicial matters. 

Dershowitz said that he and Netanyahu “had some pretty good arguments” about a few of the proposed changes to the court but hadn’t reached an agreement. “He tried hard to persuade me as to his view on the judiciary,” he said, adding that Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges – repeatedly used the term “balance” to explain his positions that would reflect the will of the people who elected him. “But I don’t think either of us persuaded each other.” 

Ahead of the traditional swearing-in ceremony, major Jewish-American organizations issued statements pledging close cooperation with Netanyahu. But, in private, prominent Jewish communal leaders have warned that extremist moves by the government could complicate relations with the United States and hamper support for Israel among American Jews. Abe Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a recent interview that his support for Israel is “conditional” on it remaining an open democracy. 

Dershowitz, who’s written several books about Israel, said he disagrees with Foxman. “I will continue to proudly defend Israel with no redline,” he said, but added that he wouldn’t shield Israel from criticism over drastic changes on civil liberty issues. He added that outside pressure by Israeli supporters “could have an impact” and may even be welcomed by the prime minister “to employ against the extremists on the right.” 

The outspoken Jewish attorney suggested that President Isaac Herzog could become a bridge builder between Israeli and American Jews. Herzog, who serves in a largely ceremonial role, has increased his involvement in the political process in recent months. He visited Washington, D.C. in October and shared his commitment to religious pluralism and gender equity in a meeting with Jewish leaders of all denominations and political parties. Herzog met on Wednesday with Itamar Ben-Gvir, the incoming national security minister with far-right nationalist views, to caution him about the potential steps he may take. 

Dershowitz said that Herzog’s centrist approach is “reflective of the consensus mainstream of Israeli life and so it’s really important that he has the presidency at this point and time.” He also expressed his view that Netanyahu would be the moderate force of his government and “will not do anything to endanger American support for Israel.” 

Controversial figure 

Dershowitz, who describes himself as a liberal Democrat, has become a controversial figure in U.S. politics and among some Jewish groups. His public defense of former President Donald Trump in the first impeachment trial and his denial of sexual assault allegations has isolated him, in particular on Martha’s Vineyard, his annual summer getaway. In November, the woman who accused Dershowitz withdrew her lawsuit and recognized that she may have “made a mistake in identifying Mr. Dershowitz.”

In July, Dershowitz complained he was shunned by Jewish Democratic leaders who convened a summit on the Massachusetts island. “I did the right thing,” he said, “and they did the wrong thing.”

Dershowitz added, “What I worry about is what it says about America that you can’t disagree without breaking up friendships and canceling people, creating divisions and tensions. But I’m going to continue to fight for Israel, for the Jewish people and I’m going to continue to fight for my own truth and my own reputation.” 

Dershowitz said he doesn’t regret his defense of Trump, noting that he represented other accused clients in the past, but said he wouldn’t do it again. “I only represent people once, that’s my policy,” he said. “And secondly. I would never represent him on a claim that the election was unfair.” 

Dershowitz said Trump deserves credit for his pro-Israel policies, but strongly condemned the former president for his recent dinner with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, two prominent antisemitic figures. Dershowitz said that in the 2024 election he would back President Joe Biden, or whomever the Democrats nominate – except for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Anybody who went to campaign for Jeremy Corbin, a virulent antisemite, can never get my vote,” Dershowitz said, referring to the former leader of the British Labour Party. “I will never under any circumstances vote for Sanders.”

This post has been updated.

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