Dershowitz misses the point with Qatar-Israel comparison

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Dershowitz misses the point with Qatar-Israel comparison

Academics who enter the political fray, as I should know very well, might get confused between their well-researched scholarly work and political opinion; or worse, some off-the-cuff remarks on issues in which they are less than well versed. 
Professor Alan Dershowitz is a highly respected, though equally controversial, US constitutional lawyer and scholar. In his long career, he has defended not only some crooked characters, but also some questionable causes. Both are completely legitimate in a free and democratic country. Every offender deserves defense in court, and everyone is entitled to their opinions as to how well, or not, their arguments are substantiated. 
In the world of international affairs, Dershowitz is best known for his unwavering support for the state of Israel. Israel, in his eyes, can hardly do any wrong, especially vis-a-vis its neighbors. Somewhat of a contentious approach, but it resonates well in his native United States. He is less known for his expertise on the Gulf region, hence there were many raised eyebrows, including mine, when he was quoted as saying: “Qatar is quickly becoming the Israel of the Gulf states, surrounded by enemies, subject to boycotts and unrealistic demands, and struggling for its survival.”
This smacks to me of weak comparative analysis without much evidence to support it, or perhaps it was the generous hospitality that eclipsed his judgement. I am not so sure that many in Israel would thank him for this comparison, considering that Qatar is one of the very few countries that supports the Palestinian fundamentalist movement Hamas. Israel regards the group as one of its sworn enemies, almost on a par with Iran and Hezbollah. Doha has been a home for Hamas leaders for a long time. Ironically, Iran is one of the causes of the rifts between Qatar and the rest of the GCC and others in the region, as Doha has made overtures to Tehran. There is no country in the world that provokes a more adverse reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than Iran. He never fails to portray Iran as Israel’s main existential threat. 

Not even a free trip and great hospitality should have obscured US professor’s judgement to the extent that he couldn’t tell the difference between the political and strategic situations of two countries that have very little in common.

Yossi Mekelberg

Qatar and Israel are as different political entities as two countries could be; from their system of governance, social structures and their main sources of wealth, no comparison between them could be taken seriously. Israel is a democracy, albeit a problematic one that occupies the land of another people, but nevertheless a democracy. Qatar is an absolute monarchy that occupies no one. But it is not only these obvious differences between the two countries that make the comparison ridiculous — it is also the overdramatization by Dershowitz in trying to make a point, and missing it completely. 
Neither of the countries are surrounded by enemies and neither has real fears for their survival. Qatar encountered protagonists who are confronting it for its policies in the region, and the role of Al Jazeera, which they perceive as supporting extremism, but the country’s sovereignty is currently not under threat. And though Israel undoubtedly faces security threats, it is mainly bordered by countries with which it signed peace agreements decades ago and cooperates with strategically, such as Egypt and Jordan; or others which possess limited capabilities to pose an existential threat to it.
Dershowitz’s visit was part of Qatar’s charm offensive to get out of the very tight political spot it is in right now. It is trying to gain some support among the decision-makers in Washington. Knowing his soft spot for Israel, and his impact in certain political quarters in the US, in Doha he was showered with the kind of sentiment about Israel that was music to his ears. However, even a free trip and great hospitality should not have obscured his judgement to the extent that he couldn’t tell the difference between the political and strategic situations of two countries that have very little in common. 
 
Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media.
Twitter: @YMekelberg
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