Harvard professor criticizes top scholars

April 18, 2005

In News

by Andrew Gerst and Emily Rotberg

The biggest obstacles on the road to peace in Israel, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz said Sunday, do not reside in refugee camps, Israel Defense Forces outposts or Jewish settlements—but in elite university academic departments.

“Anti-Semitism from the far right is largely a thing of the past,” said Dershowitz, who is also the author of The Case for Israel. “But anti-Semitism from the far left is becoming a very, very, very serious thing.”

Dershowitz, speaking with intense passion, said anti-Semitism has plagued the rhetoric of a number of prominent professors who question Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian population.

In particular, he denounced the language used by professors Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Norman Finkelstein of DePaul University and the late Edward Said, formerly of Columbia University.

By oversimplifying the conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews into a case of oppressed and oppressor, Dershowitz said, these professors have worked toward creating a climate where Israel will be perceived in decades to come as an illegitimate nation.

“I wish I didn’t have to write a case for Israel,” he said. “Nobody has to write the case for Canada.”

Dershowitz spoke before an audience of about 200 in Page Auditorium and later ate dinner with students at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life.

After the speech, a line extended around the quad as audience members waited for Dershowitz to sign copies of several of his books.

During both the speech and dinner, Dershowitz reiterated his praise for the Duke Jewish community’s measured response to the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference. which came to campus in October.

“You didn’t try to censor, you tried to answer—and I think you won,” Dershowitz told students dining with him.

He continued to commend the group, saying that he believed their response to PSM will serve as a model for future reactions by Jewish student groups.

In a question-and-answer session following the speech, Dershowitz said he would in theory support a university policy calling for divestment from all nations and companies with unethical practices—but that Israel would fall at the very end of such a list.

“If any university did divest out of Israel, they know that [supporters of Israel] would divest out of them, and with impunity,” Dershowitz said.

Corinne Low contributed to this story.