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Deluge of Dershowitz

June 13th, 2007

For some reason, Alan Dershowitz has been everywhere I’ve turned lately. Until a few years ago, I knew of him, very vaguely, as a celebrity defence lawyer (OJ Simpsons, IIRC) with the civil libertarian views that generally go with this role. Then after 9/11 he apparently underwent a massive change in views, emerging as a supporter of torture, detention without trial and so on. I remember reviewing a book refuting his (very weak) case for torture. But shmibertarians of this kind are so common I didn’t pay him much mind.

Right now, though, it seems as if I can’t get away from him.

First he appeared, predictably enough, among the defenders of Lewis Libby.

Then, there’s the Finkelstein case where Dershowitz successfully campaigned* to prevent an academic opponent from gaining tenure. I haven’t followed this in detail, but it seems pretty clearly to follow the standard pattern in cases of this kind. Finkelstein’s published views, criticising the way in which supporters of Israel make rhetorical use of the Holocaust, are obviously offensive to many people and from what I can determine, his manner of putting them is also often quite offensive. But, making such “non-collegiality” (the term used by DePaul university) a grounds for denial of tenure is a dangerous breach of the principle of academic freedom*. In any case, Dershowitz’s own involvement is in the nature of a personal vendetta and a misuse of his powerful position as a Harvard Professor.

And finally, I received an email from a group called Scholars For Peace in the Middle East, urging me to oppose an academic boycott of Israel. I don’t need any urging on this subject, and will continue to visit Israel as the occasion arises and to maintain contact with my Israeli colleagues. Nevertheless, I was most unimpressed to be asked to sign a statement from “Alan Dershowitz, 15 Nobel Laureates AND SPME”. As far as I am concerned, Dershowitz’ prominent involvement more than cancels out any merits this exercise might have. He is entirely deserving of a boycott.

* DePaul University denies that Dershowitz’ involvement was relevant
**There are some parallels with this case.

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  1. mugwump
    June 13th, 2007 at 20:51 | #1

    And finally, I received an email from a group called Scholars For Peace in the Middle East, urging me to oppose an academic boycott of Israel.

    I received a similar email. The boycott is by the UCU union, which represents over 120,000 British academics.

    Interesting that you consider something so minor as Dershowitz’ involvement to “more than cancel out” any merit there is in opposing a boycott of Israel by most of British academia.

  2. jquiggin
    June 13th, 2007 at 21:19 | #2

    One of the difficulties of being a troll, mugwump, is that you have to pretend to be stupider than you actually are.

  3. Michael
    June 13th, 2007 at 21:24 | #3

    One thing I will say for Dershowitz is that he certainly is very active.

  4. cgreen
    June 13th, 2007 at 23:37 | #4

    On the issue of boycotting Israeli Academics (which I personally think is stupid), I believe Dershowitz was in the UK print media the other week threatening legal action against any UK academic who supported the boycott. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find a link now though.

  5. Paulkelly
    June 14th, 2007 at 16:08 | #5

    Derchowitz defended Klaus von Bulow and was depicted in the film (Jeremy Irons played von Bulow, someone unknown played Dershowitz) as always worrying about black kids going to death row because they can’t afford lawyers.

    Ie he was depicted as a left wing Jewish, liberal etc.

    But jumping on the Libby bandwagon is sort of an emblematic moment. Hitchensesque, finally making it official you’ve crossed that rubicon.

  6. Hal9000
    June 14th, 2007 at 17:10 | #6

    Dershowitz, Ruddock-like, still loves to cling to the ‘civil libertarian’ monicker. There he was on 4 Corners last week advocating torture and defending its dark practitioners, all above the ‘civil libertarian’ byline.

    As for the Dershowitz-Finkelstein stoush, Finkelstein comprehensively nailed Dershowitz for plagiarism of the utterly discredited Joan Peters tract ‘Since Time Immemorial’ that falsely claims Palestinians were recent immigrants to Palestine (see http://www.nybooks.com/articles/5249 for the expose on Peters). In all material respects, it’s like being exposed for plagiarising the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There’s a good analysis of the exchange at http://www.counterpunch.org/menetrez04302007.html

    I’m a bit confused as to why Finkelstein’s writings are ‘obviously offensive’, Prof Q. His ‘Holocaust Industry’ was not an analysis, as you suggest, of the ‘rhetorical use’ made by Israel of the Holocaust, but of how Swiss banks were blackmailed and coerced into paying out billions, and the use made of those funds (very little going to actual victims and survivors). Since Finkelstein’s own parents (unlike Dershowitz’s) were death camp survivors, he would seem to be well qualified to speak on the subject. Finkelstein is not a Holocaust denier, which would indeed be offensive, indeed he is quite the opposite.

    Dershowitz is a wonderful exemplar of the praxis of postmodernism in the era of junk journalism. He’s a civil libertarian and political liberal because he says he is. He’s exposed Finkelstein for poor scholarship and ad hominem argument, because he repeatedly says so. As he said on 4 Corners, he’d love torture to be abolished forever, it’s just that he defends anyone whose politics he likes who tortures people.

  7. June 14th, 2007 at 20:18 | #7

    Dershowitz is right in this particular case (though the anti-boycott position should be viewed in the light of the virtual non-existence of academic freedom in the West Bank and Gaza having not aroused a squeak of protest in solidarity from Israeli academia).

    But he has a long and rather undistinguished history of il-liberal and anti-civil rights positions regarding Israel. The first that I can recall goes back to the late 1960′s when Dersho did a tour of Israel meeting imprisoned Palestinian-Israeli author, Fouzi el-Asmar, who was being held for his alleged anti-Israel activities. According to el-Asmar, D. told him he’d do what he could for him, which turned out to be D. writing an article back in the US, describing how Israeli security had shown him the documents, written in invisible ink, that where the basis for el-Asmars’ imprisonment, and that they proved he was a terrorist who deserved to rot in jail. The alleged invisible ink documents were never produced and el-Asmar was eventually released.

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