From the Editors
[The following is an email exchange between writer Glenn Greenwald and Professor Alan Dershowitz. The context for the exchange was a public campaign by certain politicians to pressure the Political Science Department at Brooklyn College to rescind its sponsorship of an event discussing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The email exchange was originally posted here. For more information on the attempt to suppress the BDS event at Brooklyn College, click here and here.]
GG to AD
Professor Dershowitz - I'm writing a piece on the controversy over the BDS event at Brooklyn College. I have a few of questions:
- You yourself have previously spoken at this college, including when you delivered the Political Science Department's annual Konefsky Lecture (coincidentally, I'm giving that same lecture next month at Brooklyn College). On that occasion, you spoke alone. You've spoken alone on other occasions at the school. Why is that different? Should they have had someone next to you who disagrees with your views? Did you request that?
- As a long-time advocate of free speech and academic freedom, do you view it as concerning that local political officials are now trying to interfere in BC's events and dictate to the PoliSci deparmtent how they should hold such events?
- Why shouldn't advocates of a movement be able to gather at an event to debate tactics and strategies without having someone there who objects to the movement itself?
- PoliSci departments host a wide range of speakers. Indeed, the one at BC hosted you. Is it fair to view their sponsorship of an event as an endorsement of the ideas expressed by the participants?
AD to GG
Dear Mr. Greenwald:
Before I respond to your questions I have two questions for you:
- Are your editors aware that you are an active participant in the controversy at Brooklyn College about which you are writing—that you have threatened to cancel your speech if the event is cancelled?
- Are your readers going to be made aware of your bias in this matter?
Now to answer your questions. First, I hope you will emphasize that I would be completely opposed to any cancellation of the event. As I have written in all of my articles, I want the event to go forward. My sole objection is to the fact that the political science department has officially “endorsed” and “co-sponsored” the event.
Your absurd comparison between this highly politicized advocacy event and the Konefsky lectures reveals your bias. I was selected to give the Konefsky lecture by the Konefsky family about 40 years ago. It was an entirely academic lecture. Much of it was devoted to memorializing my great professor, Samuel Konefsky (who would be appalled by the invocation of his name for the support of BDS.) I have no problem with an academic department sponsoring an academic lecture. I would be just as opposed to the political science department endorsing and co-sponsoring an event advocated increased Israeli settlement on the West Bank. (Of course the political science department would never sponsor such an event.)
If and when I come to Brooklyn College to speak against BDS, I do not expect the event to be co-sponsored by the political science department. It will be sponsored by student and outside groups, as this event should be.
I am opposed to any officials trying to stop the BDS event from taking place. But I think it is perfectly appropriate for all concerned citizens to speak to the issue of principle. Namely: whether departments, which include students who are taking classes, should be officially endorsing highly contentious and divisive issues. What if the political science department had decided to officially endorse Mitt Romney’s campaign for president? You would be jumping up and down in furry. If you don’t like that analogy, you would be jumping just as high if the political science department, or any other department, were to sponsor an event by pro-settlement advocates demanding more building in the West Bank. I believe there should be a rule prohibiting any department from co-sponsoring or endorsing one sided political events that are not academic in nature. Any other approach denies academic freedom to students who disagree with the official political line of the department and risks putting them in fear of being downgraded or otherwise discriminated against for deviating from the “party line.” Every school I’ve ever been associated with has such a rule. At Harvard, professors can’t even use their official Harvard stationary to advocate political positions. They are, of course, free to do so with their own stationary and without the university’s imprimatur.
In this case, it is crystal clear that the political science department’s co-sponsorship and endorsement of these extremist speakers does constitute an endorsement of BDS. The best proof is that they have refused to endorse anti-BDS events or even pro-Israel speakers who advocate the two state solution and an end to the settlements. If you can’t see through the charade of the political science department ’s claim of neutrality, then you don’t deserve to be a journalist.
Of course advocates of a movement should be able to gather at an event to debate tactics and strategies without having someone there who objects to the movement itself. The absurd way in which you pose the question again reveals your bias. Do you know anyone who objects to the BDS movement gathering to debate among themselves? Do you think that the political science department should officially sponsor and endorse such an unacademic meeting that deals with tactics and strategies? Would you favor the political science department endorsing or sponsoring a gathering of Republicans debating tactics and strategies as to how to roll back health care or how to pack the Supreme Court? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more ridiculous analogy or question. I would expect you to hide your bias with a little more subtlety.
I am sending a copy of this letter to the editor of the Guardian, because I don’t trust you—as an advocate—to report my views fairly and in context. I am also publishing your letter and mine online as a further protection against your anticipated mischaracterization of my views based on your history and your advocacy position. I hope you will surprise me and actually present my views fairly, fully and in context.
Alan M. Dershowitz
Harvard Law School
GG to AD
Thanks for the responses. As for your two questions:
1. Are your editors aware that you are an active participant in the controversy at Brooklyn College about which you are writing—that you have threatened to cancel your speech if the event is cancelled?
YES, because I wrote this expressly when I wrote about the controversy several days ago (see Item 7: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/29/obama-guantanamo-pentagon-cyber-yemen).
2. Are your readers going to be made aware of your bias in this matter?
YES, they will once again be informed of this, because I intend to reiterate this commitment when I write about this again.
Finally, feel free, of course, to publish this in full. I intended to do so anyway when I publish the piece, as that is my standard practice.
AD to GG
I've now read your totally deceptive and dishonest article on bds at bc. You never discuss the issue of formal departmental sponsorship and endorsement. Not do you address the issues I raise in my shoe on the other foot article. I am sending you an updated version which I hope ( but doubt. ) you will honestly address.
GG to AD
"You never discuss the issue of formal departmental sponsorship and endorsement."
You seem to have missed this sentence:
"Earlier this year, the college's Political Science Department decided to sponsor a panel discussion on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at stopping Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, featuring Palestinian and BDS activist Omar Barghouti and US philosopher Judith Butler."
I don't think the Political Science Department at Brooklyn College needs to please local politicians - or you - when deciding which events they want to sponsor for the students.
If the Department had sponsored an event on Israel and only invited "pro-Israel" speakers - or if they had an event on torture and only invited you but no torture opponents - the very idea that you would object is so absurd that I doubt even you could manage to claim it with a straight face.
This is about you wanting to stop events that contain opinions you dislike about Israel. And I'm confident most rational people can see that.
AD to GG
First of you I am and always have been an opponent of all torture. I favor accountability if torture is to be used. Even you should understand the difference. Second I would oppose a pro Israel event being sponsored by a department.
GG to AD
Oh, OK - I guess you just forget to mention your opposition to torture when you proposed your torture courts and wrote: "Torture, it turns out, can sometimes produce truthful information."
Yes, you argued that torture warrants were preferable to judge-free torture, but never argued in that piece that torture should not be used. Multiple sentences suggested you believe it should be -- which is why, as you know, the perception of you as pro-torture is very widespread.
AD to GG
I recently told someone who invited me to give a talk on Israel that the talk should not be sponsored by the school or a department. But you wouldn't understand a principled point of view whether its about Israel, torture or free speech. I don't know whether you feign ignorance as a cover for your bias or whether the ignorance is real. Either way...
GG to AD
But you wouldn't understand a principled point of view whether its about Israel, torture or free speech.
I have a long history - as both a lawyer and a journalist - of defending the free speech rights of people expressing views I find utterly repellent (including Matt Hale and the World Church of the Creator, whose free speech rights you refused to defend), so this is really not a very good claim to make about me.
GG to AD
I recently told someone who invited me to give a talk on Israel that the talk should not be sponsored by the school or a department.
Can you identify where this happened? Would love to follow up on it for inclusion in what I write.
AD to GG
Of course I defended hale's free speech rights. He fired me because I wanted to contribute his fee to anti racist groups like the NAACP.
Dershowitz also sent the text to his article on this case, here.
If you prefer, email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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