Israel at talk
Constitutional and human rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz vigorously defended
Israel at a recent lecture at the University of Toronto. Dershowitz, a
Harvard law professor, gave a talk entitled Divesting from Morality:
Israel and the Culture on Campus. On Nov. 5 at Hart House, and speaking
before a crowd that included students, professors, invited guests, and
a small contingent of security guards accessorized with secret service-style
earpieces, Dershowitz was highly critical of a divestiture petition circulating
in several U.S. universities.
The petition calls on the U.S. government to make military aid and arms
sales to Israel conditional on withdrawal from the Occupied Territories,
including not building any new settlements and vacating existing settlements.
Aid and sales would also be conditional on Israels ending its use
of legalized torture. The petition further calls on universities to divest
itself from Israel and from U.S. companies that sell arms to Israel until
the above conditions are met.
Dershowitz argued that our society has become a topsy-turvy world
where efforts are made to isolate and delegitimize a democracy that has
a very good human rights record. He stated that Jordan killed more Palestinians
in one month Black September 1970 than Israel has killed
in 53 years of combat, and that no moral comparison could be made between
a terrorist organization that deliberately targets innocent civilians
and a government that inadvertently kills innocent bystanders.
Dershowitz noted that the Israeli Supreme Court recently banned the use
of torture, and that Israel has tried on several occasions to comply with
United Nations Resolution 242, which he helped to draft. The resolution
calls on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. Dershowitz
also criticized Palestinian President Yasser Arafat for rejecting Israels
withdrawal-for-peace proposal in July 2000 when Arafat met with former
U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
at Camp David. The controversial lawyer argued that the Palestinian Authority
opted for terrorism and that it does not know how to take yes for
an answer. Instead, Dershowitz argued, terrorism was an effective
strategy to induce an overreaction from Israel.
The divestiture petition would accomplish little in practice, claimed
Dershowitz, since too much university funding comes from Jewish and non-Jewish
contributors who do not agree with its terms and no university
would risk antagonizing a very large source of revenue. More disturbing
than the petition, he indicated, are efforts to boycott scientists and
academics from Israeli universities. This was described as a sort
of apartheid against Jewish academics which unfortunately requires only
the consent of individuals reviewing applications and selectively tossing
some away based only on country of origin.
Dershowitz told the audience that he and others at Harvard are working
on fifteen petitions of their own, critical of Middle Eastern countries
that practice torture, hangings, imprisonment without trial, and other
glaring human rights violations. The purpose of these petitions is to
make people think about why they signed the divestiture petition and whether
they would sign these petitions as well. Dershowitz quoted Lawrence Summers,
the president of Harvard University, who called the divestiture petition
anti-Semitic in their actions, if not their intent.
Dershowitz was also critical of Bill Graham, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former University of Toronto law professor, for his anti-Israel stance. If Palestinians are allowed to get land because of terrorism, Dershowitz concluded, then, in the words of one of his friends, terrorism is coming to a theater near you.
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