BY NOAH FEIT AND ELLIE SCHMIDT
The Milton S. Eisenhower (MSE) Symposium is intended to raise awareness on issues of profound local, national and global importance. The speaker series achieves this lofty goal by inviting the world’s foremost leaders in social activism, politics, academia and journalism to address some of the world’s brightest students. The open exchange of ideas is important to our intellectual growth. After all it is during these formative years that we engage new ideas and that we come into our own as thoughtful individuals.
It thus comes as a great surprise that several student groups have leveled ad hominem attacks against Alan Dershowitz, a prominent legal scholar and leading voice for civil liberties, going so far as to call for him to be disinvited.
In the most recent petition calling to disinvite Professor Dershowitz, Students for Justice in Palestine makes four principal claims: (1) It is improper to call Dershowitz a Middle East scholar and the positions he has taken on these issues are anti-Arab; (2) MSE cannot be balanced if two of its speakers are “outspoken, staunch advocates of Israel”; (3) Dershowitz breeds fear and hostility toward Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students in his alleged claim that the opponents of the Israeli Occupation and proponents of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel are anti-Semitic; and (4), while Dershowitz is permitted to address students, MSE is an improper forum because SJP believes that he fails to meet the symposium’s academically rigorous standards.
The title of Professor Dershowitz’s long-awaited talk is “Global Perspectives on Justice and Civil Liberties.” Given that Dershowitz is a prominent legal scholar, the youngest professor of law in Harvard University’s history and has participated in some of the most significant criminal cases of our time, it is fitting that Dershowitz was invited to address law and justice.
That SJP would attack his credibility on issues Middle East-related is disingenuous because the authors of the petition neglect the fact that his talk concerns his areas of specialty (at least by Harvard’s yardstick). Provided MSE’s objectives, it seems sensible that Dershowitz would be featured amongst this year’s acclaimed speakers.
Let us for a moment consider Dershowitz’s stance on the Middle East, notably on Israel-Palestine, because if he were bigoted we would also oppose his inclusion in the conference. Professor Dershowitz is staunchly pro-Israel and equally so pro-Palestinian. He is a political liberal who, contrary to the claims of SJP, supports a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the form of the two-state solution — a position officially backed by the U.S. and E.U. — and publicly criticizes settlement expansion. Likewise, Dershowitz calls on Palestinian leadership to be responsive to the needs of its people and to engage the Israelis in productive dialogue. In fact, Dershowitz has himself challenged Israeli and Palestinian leadership to make difficult political concessions for the sake of peace. To classify Dershowitz as anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian, therefore, is a thinly veiled attempt to stifle constructive dialogue on an issue that requires the thoughtfulness and sensitivity that Dershowitz brings to the table.
Dershowitz’s opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement derives from this same unwavering dedication to the two-state solution. He opposes the BDS movement because it is destructive and divisive. Economic and academic boycotts would cut Israelis off — regardless of political ideology — from the world of ideas and international markets and would merely serve to embolden hard-liners in Israel, whose very support is premised upon the notion that Israel must go it alone. Likewise, BDS against Israel would remove the onus entirely from the Palestinian Authority and would give Mahmoud Abbas little reason to remain at the negotiating table.
BDS is not only counterproductive, it is wrong as a matter of principle. It is based upon the flawed impression that Israel’s record on human rights warrants its position as a world pariah. Despite the flaws that any democracy that regularly faces existential threats would have, the liberties Israelis enjoy in a region generally devoid of freedom are to be lauded. Israel has nearly 1.6 million Muslims, many of whom occupy the most prestigious posts in Israeli society. Ishmael Khaldi, a Muslim in Israel’s foreign service and Abdel Rahman Zuabi, a Muslim Arab who sat on Israel’s Supreme Court, epitomize the opportunities offered to all Israeli citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Khaldi said the following about the circumstances of Israeli minorities:
“I am a proud Israeli — along with many other non-Jewish Israelis such as Druze, Bahai, Bedouin, Christians and Muslims, who live in one of the most culturally diversified societies and the only true democracy in the Middle East. Like America, Israeli society is far from perfect, but let us deal honestly. By any yardstick you choose — educational opportunity, economic development, women and gays’ rights, freedom of speech and assembly, legislative representation — Israel’s minorities fare far better than any other country in the Middle East,” he said.
As gays, women and other minorities are repressed and murdered in countries such as Iran, Syria and China, BDS, claiming to advocate universal human rights, seeks to demonize and delegitimize Israel, the most democratic and free society in the Middle East. Anti-Semitic? You tell me.
Instead of working tirelessly to silence a champion of civil liberties and human rights, SJP and other student groups that have leveled attacks against Alan Dershowitz — who themselves claim to be opposed to intimidation and silencing — should attend his lecture. There they can engage with Dershowitz rather than hurling stones from behind the pages of the school newspaper.
Noah Feit and Ellie Schmidt are pre-med, post-baccalaureate students at the University.