A Rigged Vote, No Real Debate
By Alan Dershowitz
September 11, 2015
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 senator and house members. So this minority deal will go
into operation over the objection of 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 (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
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.