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Picks and Pans Review: Chutzpah

updated 09/02/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/02/1991 01:00AM

by Alan M. Dershowitz

To the perpetrator of chutzpah it means boldness, assertiveness, a willingness to demand what is due.... To the victim of chutzpah, it means unmitigated gall, uppityness, arrogance." So Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz (portrayed in the film Reversal of Fortune as the defender of Claus von Billow) explains the title of this bold, assertive, uppity book.

Dershowitz's introduction makes his argument clear: American Jews are too passive and worry too much about "charges of dual loyalty, of being too rich, too smart, and too powerful.

The author's own chutzpah is beyond doubt. In Moscow last year, at a conference on legal and economic cooperation, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev made an appearance. From the rear of the hall, Dershowitz strode past security guards to confront him, urging Gorbachev to publicly condemn anti-Semitism. Gorbachev responded positively, Dershowitz reports, and "asked for my card."

Chutzpah repeals itself, but it is a provocative survey of Jewish-interest issues. Proclaiming his own pro-Israel stance, Dershowitz pulls no punches; his hit list of overt and covert racists, anti-Semites and anti-Zionists includes not only such predictable targets as Vanessa Redgrave, but two Harvard presidents, as well as Harlan Stone and William Howard Taft, who both became U.S. Chief Justice.

Attacks, defenses, reflections, all are offered in admirably direct prose, with comic relief provided by Jewish jokes, Woody Allen one-liners and family anecdotes. Arguing with him once, Dershowitz's mother defined the differences between a Jewish mother and a terrorist. "With a terrorist," she said, "you can sometimes negotiate." (Little, Brown, $22.95)

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