Dershowitz: Trump likely to be unpredictable on Israel

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

For Jewish people in the United States and Metro Detroit wondering how President Donald Trump’s administration could take shape over the next four years, a renowned law professor Alan Dershowitz has a message.

“It will be unpredictable,” the acclaimed jurist, author and educator said Thursday during a community forum at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills. “That’s the only thing you can know for sure about Donald Trump is he is unpredictable.”

Temple Beth El’s Senior Rabbi Mark Miller, left, moderates a talk with Alan Dershowitz during a community forum, “Looking Ahead: What Do the Next Four Years Mean for American Jews and our Relationship with Israel?” Dershowitz predicts Donald Trump will be unpredictable.

On the eve of the presidential inauguration, “Looking Ahead: What Do the Next Four Years Mean for American Jews and our Relationship with Israel?” was a chance for residents to hear an overview from an expert on the challenges, developments and conflicts that could arise in the upcoming tenure.

The more than 1,000 guests who packed the synagogue to listen to Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School, attest to both Dershowitz’s popularity and the interest in the local Jewish community, despite differences in political opinion, said Mark Miller, senior rabbi at Temple Beth El.

“He appeals to the right and left,” he said. “He can speak to both sides. We have more in common than we’re different.”

Dershowitz covered ideological clashes, historical moments and many other topics throughout the free program sponsored by Temple Beth El with support from the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

The Brooklyn native has published more than 1,000 articles in magazines, newspapers, journals and blogs as well as fiction and non-fiction works, including “Electile Dysfunction: A Guide for Unaroused Voters.”

Honors include the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith’s William O. Douglas First Amendment Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship for his work on human rights, Harvard said.

He fielded questions about Trump and the Middle East. The businessman-turned-president has not yet laid out a clear policy for the region but signaled he would be more sympathetic to Israel’s hard-line right than previous administrations.

The mogul has appointed David Friedman, a Jewish-American lawyer with close ties to the settlement movement, as his ambassador to Israel. Trump also has vowed to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step Palestinians strongly oppose. European Union foreign ministers have also come out against any plan by Trump to move the U.S. Embassy, warning that it could ratchet up tensions with the Arab world.

It remains to be seen how Trump’s presidency will play out internationally, Dershowitz said. However, “it could come out very, very positively. ... I’m rooting for him. I’m American first well before I’m a Democrat. ... I want him to be a successful president.”

Still, Dershowitz, who did not vote for Trump, criticized outgoing President Barack Obama’s policies in the region, claiming his administration emboldened Iran and Russia while weakening Egypt and other countries. “I think we can do better, and I hope we will do better,” he told the crowd.

But while the academic hoped for greater strides overseas, Dershowitz called for Jews to reject policies that violate civil liberties. “As a Jewish community, we have an obligation to stand up for justice.”

Seated on a brown chair atop a stage, he also addressed the status of the nation to which many Jews in Metro Detroit claim ties. “Israel in some respects is stronger than it has ever been,” he said. “... It’s a military powerhouse, an economic powerhouse.”

Dershowitz also decried a recent U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned as illegal Israel settlements in occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future independent state. And when asked about trends in “hard-right” figures appearing to back Israel while denouncing others, he responded: “Jews should not be seduced by bigots who support Israel … yet their bigotry extends to others. We have to stay true to our traditions.”

Rabbi Yoni Dahlen of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, who was among those in the audience, welcomed Dershowitz’s views.

“Professor Dershowitz has for years now represented a critical thought in a lot of areas of Jewish life,” he said.

Elyssa Schmier traveled from Ann Arbor to attend the forum. Though she didn’t agree with all of Dershowitz's views, she left with another perspective at a turning point for Jews across the country.

“He’s a big personality,” she said. “I think he presented for me some good arguments to take back. It was a well-spent evening.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.