Dershowitz Goes To Tel Aviv

In an angry, demagogic speech at Tel Aviv University’s graduation ceremony this week, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz stridently attacked Israeli academics who have dissented from their government’s positions and who have sought to rally outside pressure against the occupation of Palestine. He singled out professors Shlomo Sand, Anat Matar, and Rachel Giora by name, assailing them for giving support to the international BDS campaign and for “lend[ing] credibility to non-credible arguments.” (Dershowitz did not say what those arguments were or why they were not credible, however.)

“Academic freedom is not only the province of the Israeli hard left,” Dershowitz proclaimed. “Academic freedom also includes the right to agree with the government, to defend the government, and to work for the government. It includes the right to be patriotic.”

The Harvard law professor’s speech earned a harsh rebuke from a group of faculty members who said that his rhetoric “borders on incitement.” But if Dershowitz rankled his audience at all, they had a strange way of showing their displeasure. His most aggressive broadsides against academic dissenters were greeted by loud, sustained applause; the conclusion of his speech was rewarded with a standing ovation.

Before setting in on the academic evildoers, Dershowitz hailed Israeli universities for “support[ing] the mission of the IDF.” “The IDF has payed back Israel’s universities multi-fold,” he declared. Dershowitz did not mention any of the Israeli university system’s other accomplishments or highlight any other strengths. In his apparent view, institutions like Tel Aviv U are valuable primarily as research arms of the Israeli military-intelligence apparatus.

Then, without even a scintilla of evidence, Dershowitz luridly accused left-wing Israeli professors of forcing their politics on their students. “Any professor who punishes a student for not agreeing with his controversial opinion is guilty of academic harassment, which is a variant on what we all would agree is an academic violation, namely sexual harassment.” According to Dershowitz, Matar, Giora, and Sand were not only traitorous; they were the moral equals of sexual criminals. (Is that a pubic hair on your copy of “The Invention of the Jewish People?”)

Next, Dershowitz told the inspiring tale of a pro-Israel American student named Joel Pollack who supposedly found himself in a college course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict led by an allegedly pro-Palestinian professor. According to Dershowitz, Pollack “simply went online and created a course of his own in parallel to the professor’s… By the end of the semester more students supported Joel’s perspective than the teacher’s perspective. This is competition in the marketplace of ideas and it can work!”

Dershowitz’s call for students to undermine professors they disagree with and report their classroom behavior to outside political watchdogs (with assistance from partisan operatives like himself) recalled the neocon former Trotskyist David Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights,” a failed nationwide legislative initiative that would have mandated the hiring of one right-wing professor for each professor who assigned supposedly left-wing material and would have allowed students to sue their professors. (Dershowitz footnoted David Horowitz and Peter Collier’s “The Anti-Chomsky Reader” in his book-length attack on Jimmy Carter, “The Case Against Israel’s Enemies.”)

Omitted from Dershowitz’s story (which, according to Harvard Law School professor Duncan Kennedy, was largely false) was the fact that its hero, Pollack, was Dershowitz’s former research assistant. Currently, Pollack is campaigning as a Republican Tea Party candidate for the seat of incumbent Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky in Illinois on a neoconservative platform. And Dershowitz, his former mentor, has endorsed his candidacy.

Here is Pollack in all his Teabagger glory:

Dershowitz went on to suggest that Israel’s internal conflicts were rooted in ethnic pathologies, remarking, “to be Jewish is to be uncomfortable.” Then he told an old Jewish joke about a “downtown shul” that moves uptown with a new rabbi; in the end its members realize that persistent, vehement argument is a Jewish tradition. His stereotypical characterization of Judaism as a form of neurosis revealed his cultural limitations. Dershowitz was appealing to the only Jewish sensibility he has known: the Ashkenazi kind that finds its expression in everything from Borscht Belt humor and to the corridors of Israeli power. The culture of the Mizrahim who have been systematically marginalized by Israel’s Ashkenazi elite but who comprise a majority of Israel’s Jewish population falls entirely outside Dershowitz’s narrow range of experience. (During Tel Aviv U’s graduation ceremony, Israel’s swarthy elements were hardly acknowledged at all. Dershowitz’s stem-winder was followed by a recitation of poetry by Anton Chekhov, not exactly a Levantine native son.)

Dershowitz recalled his meeting the day before with Amoz Oz, the literary figurehead of Israel’s Ashkenazi elite who is still regarded by many as a leader of the “peace camp” despite his full-throated endorsement of every Israeli military campaign since the first invasion of Lebanon. According to Dershowitz, Oz told him that his Russian barber “hates Israel” because “everyone thinks they have the right to express an opinion on everything.” “Yes,” Dershowitz said with a wag of his finger, “welcome to Israel! Where everyone has a right to express their opinion!”

While Dershowitz spoke, the Palestinian Israeli activists Ameer Makhoul and Omar Said languished in prison cells after being detained without charges and accused by Israel’s internal security service of unspecified crimes against the state. “Security reasons” was the only reason the Shin Bet offered for imprisoning the activists. The Mizrahi Israeli peace activist Ezra Nawi had also been freshly imprisoned, sentenced to a month in jail and three years probation for placing his body between Israeli bulldozers and Palestinian homes.

On the other side of the Green Line, Palestinian medical students were recently refused entry to Jerusalem after they rejected a Shin Bet officer’s demand that they spy on fellow students at Al-Quds University. They were thus prevented from continuing their medical training. As usual, the Shin Bet offered “security reasons” as its explanation for denying the students their education.

Anat Matar, the Tel Aviv University professor denounced by Dershowitz, has been an outspoken advocate for the hundreds of Palestinian students who have been arrested and detained by Israel’s security services for simply refusing to do its bidding, or for belonging to student organizations the Israel government does not approve of. “When the flag of academic freedom is raised,” Matar has written, “the oppressor and not the oppressed is usually the one who flies it. What is that academic freedom that so interests the academic community in Israel? When, for example, has it shown concern for the state of academic freedom in the occupied territories?”

As Dershowitz concluded his speech, he reassured his hosts in Tel Aviv, “Israel will survive its dissenters, as will this great university.”

Yes, but as what?

4 thoughts on “Dershowitz Goes To Tel Aviv

  1. E

    Amos Oz giving his full throated endorsement of every Israeli war???? Where in the world are you getting this stuff Max? Do you know ANYTHING at all about Israel?

    Kol Yisrael Radio Interview with Amoz Oz
    Feb. 12, 2008

    Oz: Israel must not invade Gaza. One day of invasion will cost more of Israeli casualties than seven years of Qassams. And also the invasion will not stop the Qassams. There were Qassam attacks also when the army was inside the Gaza Strip. And in addition there will be attacks on the occupying army, shootings, explosives, ambushes, suicide bombings.

    Question: You say what we should not do, but what should we do to stop the Qassams?

    Oz: A ceasefire with Hamas is possible. There is a political price to be paid but the price of ceasefire is the smallest and the least lethal of all the alternatives we have.

    Did you miss when Oz, Grossman, and AB Yehoshua publicly called for an end to the Second Lebanon War when it was still incredibly unpopular in Israel to do so?

    Full throated endorsement? Correct your post – you have no need to LIE about peoples opinion Max. And the reason why Oz is considered a hated member of the “Ashkenazi Elite” is not because of his war-mongering but precisely BECAUSE of his left-wing dovish views since the peace camp in Israel is disproportionately Ashkenazi and most Mizrachim identify with the nationalistic parties of the right-wing.

    Seriously Max – this kind of sloppiness will ensure you will never be taken seriously. Oz is a thoughtful, genuine, thinker and novelist and for you to lie about him is maddening considering he has done more to advance the peace camp in Israel than your “advocacy” which consists of filming drunken 17 year old Americans talking about teabagging Obama. What a joke you are Max.

  2. Just Us

    I think E’s comments are valid. Max, how do you explain?

    Amos Oz is a dove

    “Ashkenazi Elite” do comprise the majority of the Peace movement

    Mizrahim are far more nationalistic

    Would you care to respond or is that beneath your journalistic integrity?

    you are a sucka mc, max

    i see you, clown

  3. ImadK

    Max isn’t entirely wrong about Amos Oz; he was an initial supporter of the gaza war in 2008-2009, despite the quote you gave above, E:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99071547

    It certainly wasn’t full throated support for war, but I wouldn’t call him a dove exactly.

    And about the second Lebanon war, I’m pretty sure that he did buy into the official israeli line and supported their bombings of the entire country – again, intially – before changing his mind:

    “In July 2006, Oz supported the Israeli army in its war with Lebanon, writing in the Los Angeles Times “Many times in the past, the Israeli peace movement has criticized Israeli military operations. Not this time. This time, the battle is not over Israeli expansion and colonization. There is no Lebanese territory occupied by Israel. There are no territorial claims from either side… The Israeli peace movement should support Israel’s attempt at self-defense, pure and simple, as long as this operation targets mostly Hezbollah and spares, as much as possible, the lives of Lebanese civilians. [17][18]

    Like fellow Israeli novelists David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, Amos Oz changed his position (of unequivocal support for a military act of “self-defense” at the outbreak of the war) in the face of the cabinet’s decision at a later stage to expand operations in Lebanon. Grossman put their shared view into words at a press conference as he argued that Israel already exhausted its self-defense right.[19]”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amos_Oz

    Again, certainly not a full throated call for war, but not exactly a dove.

    I think that Amos Oz means well, but falls for the official Israeli government line too easily.

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