By WILL ANDERSON
News and Features Editor
An open letter and a second petition have begun circulating around campus scrutinizing Alan Dershowitz’s inclusion in the Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Symposium.
Dershowitz is scheduled to speak Nov. 10 at 8 p.m. in Shriver Hall.
The open letter was written by the Hopkins chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a student group that advocates for the Palestinian cause in the Middle East and has called Israel an “apartheid state” akin to pre-Mandela South Africa.
The petition was spearheaded by a group of graduate students in the philosophy department.
Dershowitz is best known for his success as a criminal defense lawyer, working on the O.J. Simpson murder case and winning 13 out of the 15 murder and attempted murder cases he has defended. Dershowitz is a passionate defender of Israel and has written a book titled The Case for Israel for which he has received accusations of plagiarism from a previously written book.
The SJP letter condemns Dershowitz’s alleged anti-Arab bias and “racist arithmetic” and questions his ability to remain an unbiased expert on international and legal affairs while maintaining his strong pro-Israel beliefs.
“[C]onflating his legal background with his political commentary dangerously gives the misleading and inaccurate impression that Dershowitz is an objective scholar with extensive academic training and engagement with the histories, cultures, and peoples of the Middle East,” the letter states.
SJP also criticizes Dershowitz’s characterization as anti-Semitic of those who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which advocates for the financial retraction of all investments into Israeli companies.
The organization also called into question MSE’s inclusion of two pro-Israel speakers, Dershowitz and former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, without including the Palestinian perspective.
“We are particularly alarmed by the appropriation and widespread use of this… as a tactic to curb open discussion of Palestine-Israel and delegitimize individuals and groups that recognize the self-determination of the Palestinian people,” the letter states. “Dershowitz and his partisans therefore contribute to the particular climate of fear and hostility faced by Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students, staff, and faculty, as well as their allies.”
SJP does not object to Dershowitz speaking on campus, citing his right to free speech, but the organization does say that he does not deserve the same honor accorded to Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou, past speakers and human rights activists. SJP calls on MSE to acknowledge Dershowitz’s divisive presence and advocates for “alternative engagement” on campus.
“By offering an alternative engagement on campus, we trust that our community will be able to consider Dershowitz’s remarks and follow the standard of academic rigor that the members of this institution strive to hold themselves to,” the petition states.
Mutasem Aldmour, the president of Hopkins Students for Justice in Palestine, says that calling any criticism of Israel anti-Semitic is unfair.
“You would not be anti-American for questioning America’s policies or a feminist being called anti-male for standing up for equal rights,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “[Calling someone] anti-Semitic is a tactic commonly used to silence dissent, as we emphasized in the letter, and it does a disservice to everyone who suffered from anti-Semitism.”
Because they have another event scheduled for the same day, SJP is not planning on protesting the event.
The second petition condemns Israel’s actions in the Palestinian Territories. The petition also criticizes Dershowitz’s denial that Israel has committed war crimes and claims citing the opinions of several international organizations, some past Israeli officials and several nations’ official opinions.
The petition foremost calls into question whether Dershowitz satisfies the University’s ethical standards by denying Israel’s alleged war crimes against Palestinians, citing the University’s General Anti-Harassment policy and the University Statement of Ethical Standards.
“To be silent on an issue such as this is to stain both the dignity of our University and that of its members,” the petition states.
However, the petition signatories wrote that they are not opposed to Dershowitz speaking on campus but they advocate for a complete disassociation from Dershowitz from the University and the MSE Symposium.
“Nonetheless, by inviting Professor Dershowitz to participate in a celebrated JHU lecture series, the coordinators of the MSE are inviting a noted denier of the crimes committed against residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” the petition states. “Furthermore — and crucially — this invitation is happening in the absence of any public statement by the MSE Symposium, or by the University generally, which might serve to officially dissociate either the Symposium or the University from Professor Dershowitz’s views.”
The signatories explained that it does not plan on protesting Dershowitz’s presence on campus as a collective.
“Nonetheless, we do protest against his opinions, of course. This letter is an act of protest. But whether further action will take any form during his visit other than the already public letter is not yet clear. That is a decision for the individual signatories to make,” philosophy graduate student Richard Teague wrote in an email to The News-Letter on behalf of the signatories.
MSE has previously told The News-Letter that it does not endorse the views of any speakers that it hosts.
The MSE co-chairs wrote in an email to The News-Letter that they have notified Dershowitz about the petitions and that the organization encourages free speech.
“The students signing the petition are entitled to their opinions — we do ask, however, that in the effort of increasing awareness and broadening horizons that members of the student body conduct a thorough review of non-partisan, unbiased sources that lack ulterior motives for discrediting Professor Dershowitz,” they wrote.
The event will be run like all other MSE events.
“Professor Dershowitz has not requested any particular format. We will continue with typical MSE format, open and non-screened questions at the end of his discussion with Professor Freedman,” the MSE co-chairs wrote.
A petition protesting Dershowitz’s inclusion in MSE has been circulating since early October. Its sponsors are Hopkins Feminists, the Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU), the Diverse Sexuality and Gender Alliance (DSAGA), Voice for Choice and the Black Student Union (BSU). Among other offenses, they protested Dershowitz’s previous statements about sexual assault, claiming that he has trivialized victims.