Faculty of Law websiteUniversity of Toronto websiteContact InformationSubscriptionsadvertisingAbout Ultra ViresArchivesNewsFeaturesEditorial & OpinionLegal IssuesDiversionsHome Page

Dershowitz defends Israel at talk
Professor condemns U.S. divestiture program

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 Israel’s 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 Israel’s 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.”

~ Return to Top ~
news | features | editorial | legal issues | diversions | archives | about uv| advertising | subscriptions | contact | law.utoronto | utoronto