Dershowitz petition merited a real response


What is the definition of ‘incongruous’? At the risk of dabbling in clichés, let’s observe a time-honored tradition and consult the Oxford English Dictionary (OED):

“Incongruous (adj.) Not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something.”

With this in mind note that during a federal Title IX investigation a well-known university avowedly committed to prohibiting the spread of discriminatory, victim-blaming rape culture confers a great honour upon a noted contributor to that very culture. During the injustices of an illegal occupation, that same university whose statement of ethical standards demands utmost personal integrity from all of its members, confers a great honour upon a noted defender of criminal foreign policies. And during the tragedy of human suffering incurred by that illegal occupation (and to the cruel sound of guffawing college kids), a professor at a well-known university opens his public introduction of a noted defender of that occupation by reciting a tasteless joke about how there will never be peace between Palestine and Israel. Incongruities all!

Over the past couple of months, students on our campus have been treated to a parade of such nonsense. Misinformation, mischaracterization and systematic bias concerning both the recent Nov. 10 MSE lecture by Alan Dershowitz and the criticism of him at the hands of student groups have been common. Some of this misinformation has come — unsurprisingly — from the MSE symposium co-chairs; ome has come — also unsurprisingly — from Alan Dershowitz himself; and some has even come — disappointingly — from administrative officials within the university.

The criticism of Dershowitz among Hopkins students varies somewhat across the critical parties. For not only does his career provide a buffet of moral failings, responses to any given failing vary in strength and style as well. The earliest response was a petition (spearheaded by Hopkins Feminists, et al.) which called for Dershowitz’s invitation to be rescinded entirely, suggesting that he has no place on our college campus. Subsequent petitions (an open letter from SJP and an independent petition, misleadingly referred to as a ‘grad student’ petition) respectively called for Dershowitz to be disinvited from the prestigious MSE symposium and for the relevant administrative bodies (MSE co-chairs and university officials) to issue statements that would disaffiliate the University from some of Dershowitz’s more repugnant public positions.

All things considered, even the most basic of these requests for disaffiliation, disinvitation, etc. were not met. Further, the written responses to them in some campus publications (and in emails from the administration) have formed the central part of the incongruous procession we now wish to adamantly rebuke.

(1) In response to these petitions, the MSE co-chairs said the following:
“… [We ask] that in the effort of increasing awareness and broadening horizons, that members of the student body [i.e., the signatories of the ‘grad student’ petition] conduct a thorough review of non-partisan, unbiased sources that lack ulterior motives for discrediting Professor Dershowitz”

If the MSE co-chairs had taken the time to read the petition carefully, they would have seen that its only sources were: Amnesty International, the UN Security Council and UN Human Rights Council, the International Court of Justice and the writings of Dershowitz himself. Now, precisely which of these sources is biased, partisan or has ulterior motives to discredit Dershowitz? The MSE co-chairs should have answered this question before responding in a manner designed to deliberately mislead.

(2) In an email response to the mis-labelled ‘grad student’ petition, the University administration (via Provost Lieberman) indicated that the requested disaffiliation from Dershowitz’s views might be inconsistent with the University’s statement on academic freedom, stating that “our response cannot be to censor or suppress those views, but to foster and support a campus environment that allows our community to challenge and refute them openly.” However, a quick glance at the one-page statement and the petition in question reveals no inconsistency: “The appropriate response to such [views] in an academic setting is … to challenge, criticize, and persuade.” Thus, the requests of the petition were entirely on point. Criticism and (at the very least) disaffiliation were appropriate and no suppression of opinion was sought. It is hard to see how the well-educated people at the head of our university could commit this kind of error, and so this response must also take its place in the incongruous parade.

(3) In a recent interview (Nov. 12, 2015), Dershowitz claimed that two ‘unnamed philosophy professors’ were behind the student protests. It is not surprising that these professors were unnamed. After all, it’s less common to have a name when you don’t exist. No philosophy professors were involved in either the drafting of petitions or encouragement of any protests. Dershowitz’s vulgar threats to sue these professors — bawled from his well-lit stage in Shriver Hall — were quite literally aimed at no one. Similarly, his own personal response to the protests — which was published on, also on Nov. 12 — shows a considerable degree of incongruity. There he portrays himself as a victim of free speech suppression, propelled along on the bandwagon of recent reactions to student protests on various U.S. campuses. Deliberately, and with characteristically thuggish pettifoggery, Dershowitz misrepresents the views of those who criticized him, failing to note that, in many cases, his opponents were not at all opposed to his having a platform from which to speak and that it was rather the honoring and implicit endorsement of his opinions that was being protested.

The students of this university deserve more than the intellectually 10th-rate arguments and silly incongruities being used by some to defend Dershowitz’s reputation. The written record is quite clear: he has opposed, in print, the diplomatic steps required to end the illegal occupation of Palestine. He has engaged, in print, in scurrilous victim-blaming. And he has shown that the shameful tactic of using false charges of anti-Semitism to silence reasonable critics is not beneath him. In its uncritical invitation of Dershowitz, and in the pre-programmed, thunderous applause with which it so predictably greeted him, the MSE Symposium has considerably sullied its integrity. Let us hope it is not a trend that next year’s board will continue.

Richard Teague and Mutasem Aldmour are members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

3 responses to “Dershowitz petition merited a real response

  1. Once they referenced the absurd concept of “rape culture”, it was clear this wasn’t a serious intellectual or ethical challenge to Dershowitz, but rather a series of specious accusations and misleading statements. If the authors wanted to challenge Dershowitz, they should have done that to his face at the extensive Q&A section following the talk, where he could have responded to these particular claims.
    I support the most of the SJP’s stances and I don’t agree with many of Dershowitz’s beliefs, but when the arguments made against him are so astoundingly weak, it merits a defense of the unjustly accused.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Did you even read the article? Either you read it and are choosing to ignore its arguments due to your own biases OR you simply didn’t understand it.

    I’m sure the authors would have loved to have their questions fielded by Dershowitz, but not while he is being celebrated at our university and not in an unequal exchange that highlights the disparate power dynamics. The questions for the Q&A were pre-screened and seating arrangements were altered for this lecture alone, not the other MSE lectures.

    Also, it’s an oft-used tactic to claim support for x in an anonymous posting as a way of legitimizing your voice and then proceeding in a manner more befitting of Dershowitz’s apologists and his more vocal, uncritical supporters.


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