Dershowitz's Double Standards: Hypocritical Lawyer Slams Brooklyn College Sponsorship of Talk Critical of Israel
Alan Dershowitz at Yale University.
Photo Credit: Sage Ross/Wikimedia Commons
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Alan Dershowitz is at the center of a controversy at Brooklyn College about a panel discussion Thursday featuring two supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation -- the Palestinian activist and scholar Omar Barghouti and the American philosopher, Judith Butler.
Dershowitz has written that he does not oppose the student-organized event itself (though he did describe it as an impending "propaganda hate orgy".) Instead, the world-renowned attorney says he opposes the decision of Brooklyn College's political science department to "endorse" and "co-sponsor" the event. In an email exchange with Glenn Greenwald, Dershowitz insisted that no academic department should be allowed to co-sponsor or endorse "one sided political events that are not academic in nature ." Dershowitz argued that "any other approach denies academic freedom to students who disagree with the official political line of the department ." To make the point as clear as he could, Dershowitz also said that he would "oppose a pro-Israel event being sponsored by a department." It's worth noting that while the political science department at BC did agree to sponsor the event, it declined to endorse it. In other words, despite Dershowitz's conflation, the clear implication is that sponsorship does not imply endorsement.
In any event, Dershowitz has directly contravened his own principle. Last year, in response to a BDS event at the University of Pennsylvania, groups identifying themselves as "pro-Israel" organized an event titled, "Why Israel Matters to You, Me and Penn: A Conversation with Alan Dershowitz." Though the Penn political science department refused to sponsor the BDS event, it did co-host Dershowitz's lecture. According to the plain meaning of Dershowitz' own standard, therefore, any political science student at the University of Pennsylvania who disagrees with Dershowitz about Israel is at odds with the "official political line of that department" and is being denied her or his "academic freedom," thereby running the "risk" of "being downgraded or otherwise discriminated against for deviating from the "party line." Elsewhere Dershowitz has argued that he would "not major in political science at Brooklyn College for fear that my support for Israel and my opposition to BDS might prejudice me in the eyes of professors whose department has endorsed BDS, thus discriminating against my viewpoint in the marketplace of ideas." Leaving aside the apparently erroneous claim that BC's political science department did endorse BDS, Dershowitz must believe, according to his own standards that anyone who disagrees with his views on Israel should not major in political science at Penn because its political science professors have discriminated against those who disagree with Dershowitz in the marketplace of ideas .
This apparent double standard calls to mind Dershowitz's long-running war with the former De Paul political science professor Norman Finkelstein. While their feud is too involved to fully consider here, the key flashpoint in the so-called Dershowitz-Finkelstein affair is deeply revealing about the "principles" that Dershowitz is so insistent upon.
In 2003, Dershowitz wrote a widely read book, The Case for Israel. Two years later, Finkelstein, a long-time critic of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians (though a critic of BDS), wrote Beyond Chutzpah, essentially a book-length rejoinder to The Case for Israel. In it, Finkelstein revealed the Harvard don's book to be riddled with factual errors. Finkelstein showed in detail, for example, that Dershowitz frequently misused the writings of the revisionist Israeli historian Benny Morris to present a sanitized view of Israel's conduct toward Palestinians, especially during the conflict that accompanied the founding of Israel. Most sensationally, Finkelstein documented Dershowitz's (unacknowledged) use of a long-since discredited work on the Israel/Palestine conflict, Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial (Finkelstein's earlier scholarship was pivotal in exposing the fraudulent nature of Peters' book, so he was intimately familiar with its contents). Dershowitz has acknowledged that Peters' work is flawed and claimed that he only used it very selectively. He has also said that he checked all of the original source material that Peters relied upon.