By KELSEY KO and ROLLIN HU
For The News-Letter
Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard Law professor, writer and political commentator, spoke at the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium (MSE) on Tuesday in Shriver Hall. He came despite controversy and protest leading up to his arrival on campus.
His presence was protested by Hopkins Feminists and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Both groups staged independent walkouts during the discussion.
Dershowitz is often said to be one of the nation’s best criminal defense lawyers and has defended numerous high-profile clients, such as O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson. In addition, he is the author of The Case for Israel which was on the New York Times bestseller list.
Dershowitz spoke with Visiting Professor of Political Science Robert Freedman about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Dershowitz believes that there will eventually be peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians. He said it is not just a national conflict turning into a religious conflict.
“The outlines for peace are so obvious. There has to be a two-state solution,” Dershowitz said. “The Jewish nation of Israel has to recognize the right of Palestinians as a peaceful country of their own, and the Palestinians have to recognize the right of Israelis to form a nation-state of Jewish people. It’s in the best interest of all the people in the Middle East for there to be a peaceful resolution. The barriers to peace are largely political and artificial, and the need for resolution is pragmatic and beneficial to both sides.”
Dershowitz explained his views on the religious foundations of the State of Israel.
“I don’t think Jews should make religious claims to Israel. I think the issue should be a political issue because you have to compromise,” he said. “Take for example the city of Hebron, the birthplace of Judaism — and yet a compromise will require that Hebron not remain part of Israel. Ultimately, it will be a very painful compromise, but it will have to be done.”
About fifteen minutes into the talk, a group of students from Hopkins Feminists stood up and held signs that read, “You Are Rape Culture.” The students were dressed in black and stuck duct tape over their mouths to show solidarity with victims of rape. Then, as a sign of protest, these students walked out of the event.
Separately, SJP held up signs which read “Stop Defending Occupation” and “Stop Supporting Apartheid,” referencing Israel’s alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. They walked out of the event while one student carried the Palestinian flag behind him.
In response to this, Dershowitz had a prepared rebuttal with several notes quoting the petition against him.
“I challenge you to stay and ask me hard questions, challenge me intellectually. In the petition that you put forward you said that Dershowitz has had an accusation of statutory rape brought against him by a former student. I will contribute $10,000 to your favorite charity if you can justify that with any citation,” Dershowitz said. “You just made it up, and you’re lucky that I believe in the first amendment. Because if I didn’t, I could sue you for everything you’re worth for making that false allegation. So I challenge you all. Come up with a citation, apologize or else explain to your deans why you’re prepared to engage in false citations, false allegations. You won’t stay and debate me, so by your own standards you’re trying to silence my views.”
In an email to The News-Letter, the MSE co-chairs shared their response to the Hopkins Feminists and SJP walkouts.
“Throughout the year, we have upheld that freedom of speech and expression is at the very core of the Symposium’s values. And so, we welcome any and all voices that want to be heard,” they wrote. “The fact is, last night, the stage was Dershowitz’s and he was absolutely brilliant. If only the protesters would have stayed, they could have shared a bit of that stage. For the rest of the student body that was fortunate enough to witness the dialogue and energy in Shriver, last night was absolutely spectacular.”
During the question and answer portion of the event, several students came forward to ask Dershowitz questions involving the Arab-Israeli conflict, but also on the nature of allegations that have been made against him. The MSE co-chairs praised the open discussion that the event facilitated.
“It was actually the first time students were able to truly engage with the speaker and ask an unlimited number of follow up questions… [W]e felt that dialogue was such core component of this event that we wanted to open up the floor completely,” they wrote.
A News-Letter reporter asked a question about the Jeffrey Epstein case, on which Dershowitz served as a defense attorney in 2006. Epstein was a friend of Dershowitz and was investigated on repeated accusations that he had solicited sex from minors. The reporter asked if whether during his defense he intended to portray the one of the girls as “asking for it.”
Dershowitz confirmed that as part of his defense he hired private investigators to follow one of Epstein’s accusers and try to determine if she was after Epstein’s money. He also confirmed that he had tried to paint the girl as manipulative since she was a drama student.
“I’m a defense attorney. I have an obligation under the Constitution to provide a full and zealous defense to my clients,” Dershowitz said in response. “If I have failed to do all the things you had just listed, I could be disbarred. I could be found incompetent as counsel.”
Dershowitz further explained his views on his own profession and the role of defense attorneys in society. He said he is proud of the work he has done for his clients.
“Would any defense lawyer not look on the websites, look on social networks, find out what the woman who was accusing my client was doing? We were able to disprove many of the charges, just like how I was able to disprove the charges against me. Falsely charging somebody with rape is a heinous thing to do,” Dershowitz said. “First of all, it creates horrors for the person who has been falsely accused. Second, it so hurts real rape victims because it makes it clear that some women lie for money. Our country, unlike others, requires that everybody be defended, and I’m going to continue to do that whether my clients are guilty or innocent. Let me tell you, most of my clients have been guilty. They deserve a zealous defense just as anybody else. I’m very proud of what I did for Jeffrey Epstein. If people don’t like the fact that I got a “good deal,” that’s the job I do.”
Sophomore Isaac Lunt asked about Dershowitz’s history of cases that imply victim blaming of women and how people’s perceptions of Dershowitz as misogynistic could affect him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever blamed a victim of rape. I’m very sympathetic. I wrote a piece for The Washington Post last week in which I wrote affirmative consent should be required for every act of sex, even if that makes sex less romantic and even if that would mean that many consensual sexual encounters wouldn’t occur,” he said. “I believe very strongly in the rights of victims… but I don’t believe that women are different than men. Men lie and women lie. I’m willing to attack people who make up stories. People who deliberately and intentionally make false accusations of rape should be prosecuted and sent to prison.”
After the event, Lunt reacted to Dershowitz’s answer to his question.
“I read a few of the things that Professor Dershowitz had written and had said previously, and it seemed to me that simply by reading those without real prior knowledge of his work… that there almost seemed like there was a misogynistic trend… There’s a lot of supplementary writings that say the exact same thing… I just wanted to ask him if he was at all worried about the effect that he is having on the misogynistic members of our society because I believe that many people do draw up[on] Dershowitz’s work when they are talking about victim blaming,” Lunt said. “The point is that there are people who use Dershowitz’s work to justify misogynistic actions and tendencies in our society… I don’t know if I was as clear as I could have been, but in the end I agreed with what he said.”
Dershowitz later expressed his opinion about two unnamed philosophy professors at Hopkins and the part he believes they have played in the protests.
“Anti-Israel faculty are perfectly prepared to make the most irrational statements. Where were those two philosophy professors who provoked these demonstrations? Why won’t they come challenge me? Why didn’t they sign the petition? Because they know if they signed the petition, I would’ve really sued them for defamation and collected all their salary for the rest of their lives,” said Dershowitz. “The departments have no rights to sponsor these ideologically divisive events.”
SJP has not yet responded to The News-Letter’s request for comment.
An open letter written by SJP to MSE claimed that Dershowitz had anti-Arab prejudices which did not make him a valid candidate to speak at the MSE Symposium. The letter clarifies by saying that SJP did not wish to prevent Dershowitz from speaking on campus, but they did not wish to give Dershowitz the honor and distinction of being a speaker for the MSE Symposium.
Increased campus security was present at the event. Campus Safety and Security Lieutenant Stephen Moffett explained how the protest occurred without any security issues.
“My impression was everything went very smoothly. It was orderly. The demonstrators were able to make their point, have their voice heard, even though they were a silent voice, but they got to demonstrate as they saw fit without disrupting the entire evening’s events,” Moffett said. “They had their say and were able to carry on with that. And once they departed, then the lecture resumed and everything went back to normal.”
Freshman Gloria Li also explained that Dershowitz’s controversiality makes him an interesting and provocative speaker.
“He’s very controversial but thought-provoking,” Li said. “I don’t agree with many of his points but I enjoyed his arguments because they were very intellectual. All his points were well-argued.”
Correction: Several quotes have been removed from that article that were previously misattributed to Jessa Wais.