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.