Alan Dershowitz, a pro-torture plagiarist who has inexplicably managed to find employment at Harvard Law School, has written an embarrassingly incompetent Op-Ed at the Huffington Post. In it, he accuses the Department of Political Science at Brooklyn College of having an ‘Israel problem’ because it has sponsored, and thereby, according to Dershowitz, endorsed the contents of, a panel discussion featuring Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti on the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement. Throughout this screed, Dershowitz reveals the anti-intellectual dishonesty so characteristic of Brooklyn College’s worst alumnus.
The president of Brooklyn College claims that this co-sponsorship does not constitute an endorsement by the college and that this is an issue of freedom of speech and academic freedom. But when a department of a university officially co-sponsors and endorses an event advocating DBS against Israel, and refuses to co-sponsor and endorse an event opposing such DBS, that does constitute an official endorsement. Freedom of speech, and academic freedom require equal access to both sides of a controversy, not official sponsorship and endorsement of one side over the other. The heavy thumb of an academic department should not be placed on the scale, if the marketplace of ideas is to remain equally accessible to all sides of a controversy.
For a Harvard Law professor, Dershowitz has a poor understanding of freedom of speech and academic freedom; he also cannot construct a coherent argument.
If a department sponsors an event featuring a speaker committed to thesis X, it is merely committed to hosting the speaker and providing the speaker a forum in which to air her views. Those views might be contested by those attending the talk, thus engendering a discussion space where they might even be refuted. This provision of a forum to the speaker is all that is required to show support for academic freedom; it does not require the department to then seek out a speaker committed to the thesis Not-X. Were another student organization to organize an event featuring a speaker committed to Not-X, the department could evaluate that request for sponsorship separately.
There are many more quotes that illustrate Dershowitz’s poor grasp of the concepts central to his claim. (He is, of course, deliberately oblivious to how his advocacy of censorship is inimical to freedom of speech and academic freedom.)For now, I want to address another claim that he makes, one which he desperately hopes will serve to obfuscate the issue: does the sponsorship of such an event create a hostile atmosphere for ‘pro-Israel’ students and for faculty? Only if those students and faculty imagine the discussion of political claims and counterclaims creates a hostile atmosphere. If they do feel so then their problem is not with the particular thesis being presented but with the very idea of the open discussion of uncomfortable topics. That’s a problem the department of Political Science cannot be held responsible for. If every academic department were to stop sponsoring events for fear that someone, somewhere, is likely to be offended, that their students would somehow think that the department was officially endorsing the views expressed therein, then there would be no discussion on campus at all.
But that is what Dershowitz wants: an end to all discussion, to be replaced by the rote recitation and memorization of a party line written up by him.
Note: I have posted on the BDS event at Brooklyn College before; please do read that post and write in with your expressions of support. The Dershowitz-sponsored bullying is now in full effect.