Congregation B’nai Israel presents the Roz Baim Distinguished Speakers Series: An Evening with Alan Dershowitz on Sunday, May 6, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for students, $36 for unreserved seats, $50 for reserved seats and $75 for reserved seats with dessert reception. The event is sponsored and underwritten by The Roslyn and Joseph Baim Family Foundation, Barbara and Joseph Baim. Contact the CBI office to reserve tickets at (714) 730-9693 or email@example.com.
Professor Dershowitz is an American lawyer, jurist, political commentator and Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard University Law School. He is known for his involvement in several high-profile legal cases and as a commentator on the Arab-Israeli conflict. While maintaining that he is a liberal, he often takes on the “hard left” for its negative views on Israel.
Orange County Jewish Life Editor-in-Chief Ilene Schneider caught up with Professor Dershowitz by phone. He is “looking forward very much to speaking at his friend, Rabbi Elie Spitz’s congregation, being in a beautiful part of the country and renewing acquaintances.”
How have your feelings for Israel evolved over the course of your life? I’ve always been a strong supporter of Israel. Israel was established when I was 10. I remember watching the debates on black-and-white television. I’ve been to Israel more than 80 times. I’m close to the leaders of all parties, although sometimes I’m critical of their policies.
Realistically, what do you think are the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and how should Israel approach the negotiations? It’s always a good a time for the Israelis to go to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. President Obama should encourage both sides to negotiate with no preconditions.
Where do you disagree with President Obama’s Middle East policies, and what can he do to improve them? I have always been a liberal and always opposed to some positions. I consider myself a Kennedy liberal. I have supported President Obama on some positions and have supported President Clinton on some positions.
President Obama should absolutely guarantee that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, or he will become the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st Century. (Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1937 to 1940, is best known for his appeasement foreign policy, conceding a region of Czechoslovakia to Germany, only to see Adolf Hitler continue his aggression.) Obama is generally friendly to Israel, but some of his subordinates, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, may not be.
In spite of his stance on Iran, which some Jews consider weak, do you think President Obama still has Jewish support, and will you support him in November? Jewish support for the President has not eroded significantly. He knows he has to earn our votes and can’t take them for granted. Without a doubt, the Middle East will be a factor in voters’ minds when they go to the polls in November.
Do you think Mitt Romney, presuming he is the Republican nominee, can beat Obama and why or why not? Nobody can predict the outcome of the election. There is a whole range of issues – the economy, foreign policy and others – that will affect the outcome. Pressure is the weapon of democracy. It is important that supporters of Israel maintain pressure to do what’s important for the U.S. and Israel.
We must keep petitioning the government to avoid a nuclear Iran. It would be a total disaster that would increase terrorism, make the U.S. vulnerable and put Israel in great jeopardy.
I’ve been reading about your stance on Media Matters. How about that other George Soros-backed group, JStreet? Media Matters is a hard left Democratic media attack and watchdog group that started out as an antidote to Fox News but now has turned most of its attention to Israel. M.J. Rosenberg, the senior policy fellow of Media Matters, repeatedly accuses Jews of dual loyalty (to Israel and the U.S.).
JStreet says it’s a pro-Israel organization. If so, it shouldn’t allow for the condemnation of Israel in the U.N. or nuclear proliferation in the region. I would never censor the people who support JStreet, but they should have truth in advertising. JStreet has widened its tent so broadly that it is now beholden to people opposed to Israel. Look who gets invited to JStreet events, and look who attends them.
What should American campuses do to maintain free speech while curtailing hate speech, or how realistic is it to expect that they will? Offensiveness to one group cannot be measured differently than offensiveness to another group. The university cannot conveniently accommodate the political correctness of the day. Campuses can take five approaches to deciding which speakers can appear: allow everyone, develop explicit criteria for allowing speakers, deny sponsorship to groups that are offensive to anyone, put the decision at the discretion of a university official and never support or sponsor any ideologically or politically controversial events.
The appropriate role for the university is neutrality. You can’t favor one group above the other.
Harvard is hosting a conference on the “one-state solution.” How seriously do you think it will be taken, and how do you feel about the advisability of Harvard hosting it? Harvard is permitting the conference to occur. It’s not a Harvard program, and it’s been condemned by various people. I have condemned the speakers but acknowledged the issue of academic freedom.
You spoke at Penn’s anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of companies with ties to Israel) event and called BDS a pretext for hatred. How much is this movement growing, and what can American Jews do to try to stop it? BDS is growing in Europe. Even Norman Finkelstein (a Jewish professor who has been highly critical of Israeli policies) has condemned it.
Is anti-Semitism growing, and why do you think so? There are different kinds of anti-Semitism now. No longer are Jews excluded from jobs and neighborhoods, but now people are calling Jews disloyal to the U.S. if they support Israel.
How have self-hating Jews fueled anti-Semitism? There is a cross-over from anti-Zionist to anti-Semitic, primarily involving anti-Israel attitudes. Some people say that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist and that AIPAC is too strong. Some people in the hard left have taken the destruction of Israel as their charge.
How have social media fueled anti-Semitic attacks? Social media exaggerate everything. It impacts younger people disproportionately but has helped to make the case for Israel.
Where do you think Arab Spring will lead? Nobody can predict that. The Muslim Brotherhood has tried to take it over and has succeeded in some places, but it’s impossible to know. It is beyond the control of Israel and the U.S. One has to look cautiously at it.
The Case for Israel came out in 2003, and The Case for Peace in 2005. Have any of your positions changed since then and how so? My positions have changed as reality has changed. There are external threats from Iran, and there are realities on the ground. I’m in favor of a two-state solution and opposed to the settlements. My positions have changed far less than those of the Israeli government.