On Dershowitz and Hampshire College
Howard Friel is coauthor with Richard Falk of The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy (Verso, 2004), and with Falk of Israel-Palestine on Record: How The New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East (Verso, 2007).
Suppose you are the president of a small college in the United States, or chairman of the board of trustees at the same school, and a prominent professor from the most powerful and prestigious university in the United States unfairly attacks a group of your students with baseless accusations of anti-Israel bigotry and political extremism. Do you first and foremost stand by your students—if indeed the charges are baseless and inflammatory—or do you submit an open letter to a newspaper in Israel, addressed to the university professor in question, and plead for mercy, knowing that this one professor can go a long way in ruining the reputation of your college with allegations of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bigotry?
The college in question is Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, the college president is Ralph Hexter, the board of trustees chair is Sigmund Roos, the prominent out-of-town professor is Harvard Law School’s Alan Dershowitz, and the students belong to a Hampshire College branch of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). Whether the students inappropriately announced that the college had narrowly divested from investment funds that benefit Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is not addressed here, though it is a key component of the controversy that has unfolded on the Hampshire campus and in the Jerusalem Post. Rather, the concern here is that Hexter and Roos neglected to defend the underlying motivation of the Hampshire students against the McCarthy-era allegations of Alan Dershowitz, and instead engaged in a sycophantic and unprofessional public effort to distance themselves from the legitimate political and humanitarian concerns of the students.
In his "Double Standard Watch" column in the Jerusalem Post on February 15, 2009, Dershowitz referred to the SJP students at Hampshire as "a rabidly anti-Israel group," "the virulently anti-Israel group called Students for Justice in Palestine," "the anti-Israel group," "the anti-Israel students," and "the anti-Israel student group." Meanwhile, Dershowitz invoked "bigotry" six times as the underlying motive of "the anti-Israel students," while demanding that the college punish the SJP students for their "bigotry." Here is what Dershowitz wrote in this regard: "There must be a price paid for bigotry"; "singling out only Israel for divestiture is bigotry plain and simple"; "this bigoted resolution" (describing the Hampshire students’ divestment initiative); "Students and faculty [at Hampshire] too must understand that bigotry has its cost"; "decency cannot survive with the kind of double standard bigotry directed only against the Jewish state"; and:
Hampshire is a small college without much influence. But those who are conducting the national [divestment] campaign see their "victory" at Hampshire as an opening wedge with which to get other more influential universities to follow suit by adopting similarly bigoted proposals. This is a cancer that is threatening to spread around the world, and it must be stopped where it began—at Hampshire.
The "cancer" here is the nonviolent SJP campaign to divest from businesses that contribute to Israel’s four-decade occupation of Palestinian territories in violation of international law.
Rather than defend the Hampshire College students from the charge of anti-Israel bigotry to which they were subjected, Hampshire’s Hexter and Roos began their letter to the Jerusalem Post as follows: "Dear Alan: We begin by affirming our high esteem for you, both as a legal scholar and a powerful voice against anti-Semitism." And in response to Dershowitz’s incitement against the students—stating that "there must be a price paid for bigotry"—Hexter and Roos sought to reassure Dershowitz that the Hampshire administration will take "disciplinary action" against the students:
But we are also clear, and urge you to understand us clearly, when we say that students do not speak for the college and may not willfully misrepresent the school. It will be, and must be, the college’s task to undertake any disciplinary action, according to its established rules and procedures. Discipline is an internal process that is not shared with the public.
If "discipline is an internal process that is not shared with the public," as Hexter and Roos wrote, why would they pledge to sanction the SJP students in an open letter to Alan Dershowitz, in order to pacify Dershowitz, but who is obviously not an administrator at Hampshire College? And immediately after ominously signaling that the Hampshire students would be thrown under the bus, Hexter and Roos concluded with a final plea for a stay of execution from the despotic Dershowitz:
Your good opinion matters to us; it matters, yes, because you are an influential public figure, but it matters even more because we count you as one of the Hampshire family, and hope that you will think of yourself that way, too.
So the students will get what’s coming to them—in response also to Dershowitz’s threat to encourage a financial boycott of Hampshire, given the "anti-Israel bigotry" on campus—while Hampshire’s president and board of trustees beseech and implore Dershowitz to remain within the Hampshire "family." In effect, then, by acceding as such to his demands and threats, Hexter and Roos certified Dershowitz’s allegations that the Hampshire students had engaged in "anti-Israel bigotry" on campus.
Clearly, however, Hexter and Roos had another option: To situate Dershowitz’s charges of "anti-Israel bigotry" at Hampshire in light of the serial nature of such allegations by Dershowitz against legitimate critics of Israel. Though it scratches the surface, the record below of Dershowitz’s defamatory characterizations of many others as bigoted, anti-Semitic enemies of Israel will provide some needed context on the nature of these allegations, and background for the charges against the Hampshire students, which, unfortunately, were seemingly certified and supported by the president and trustees of the college.
Dershowitz’s most recent book, The Case Against Israel’s Enemies (2008), is in fact a Nixon-esque catalog of enemies—literally an enemies list—of legitimate critics of Israel’s policies. While composing the original Nixon’s enemies list, White House counsel Charles Colson described Bernard Feld, an M.I.T. physicist and proponent of nuclear-arms reduction, as a recipient of "heavy far left funding," journalist Daniel Schorr as "a real media enemy," columnist Mary McGrory as the author of "daily hate Nixon articles," and the actor Paul Newman as a supporter of "radic-lib causes." The enemies list compiled by Dershowitz in his 2008 book, which features a former U.S. president, prominent academics, and human rights organizations, is presented in a far more virulent manner.
About former President Jimmy Carter, Dershowitz wrote: "Whatever the reason or reasons for Jimmy Carter’s recent descent into the gutter of bigotry, history will not judge him kindly." In an interview on Shalom TV in Israel, Dershowitz said: "Jimmy Carter has literally become such an anti-Israel bigot, that there’s a kind of special place in hell reserved for somebody like that." Is this what Hexter and Roos intended to support, in addition to Dershowitz labeling the Hampshire students as anti-Israel bigots, when they wrote to Dershowitz in the Jerusalem Post that "your good opinion matters to us"?
About John J. Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, who together authored The Israel Lobby And U.S. Foreign Policy (2007), Dershowitz wrote that "they are hate-mongers who have given up on scholarly debate and the democratic process in order to become rock-star heroes of anti-Israel extremists." Is this included in what Hexter and Roos admire about Dershowitz?
Because Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch—both of which are on Dershowitz’s enemies list—issued reports that were critical of Israel’s conduct in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon in summer 2006, Dershowitz referred to them as "so-called human rights groups," and described their reports as "bigotry—pure and simple." Dershowitz also cited "Amnesty International’s predisposition to blame everything on Israel," claimed that "Amnesty International just can’t seem to help itself when it comes to blaming Israel for the evils of the world," and described Amnesty as "a once reputable organization that has destroyed its own credibility by repeatedly applying a double standard to Israel."