Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, in dialogue with attorney Alyza D. Lewin, commenced the daylong event Academic Freedom at Risk: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement Against Israel at University of Baltimore School of Law, hosted by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.
About 200 people, including Alyza’s father, attorney Nat Lewin, attended the presentations and panel discussions that addressed threats posed to students and academia by the encroaching BDS movement and how to counter those threats.
“Everyone knows BDS in the U.S. will not succeed as a way of getting universities and others to boycott,” said Dershowitz, who acknowledged a more successful European effort. “Every president of every university knows that if they were to boycott Israel they would lose their jobs” under threats of discontinued alumni giving, among other reasons, he said.
But the real purpose of the BDS movement in the U.S. is “much more sinister, and it’s much more subtle,” said Dershowitz. “It’s an attempt to persuade the current generation of college and university students that Israel is a major human rights violator and doesn’t deserve [their] support.”
The goal of the BDS movement, he continued, is to “change the hearts and minds of students and change the dynamic and turn people who are positive about Israel against it.”
It is succeeding too much on American campuses, he asserted, exhibited by students running for academic office that use BDS as their platform, because support of BDS has become “a core, or litmus test, of your liberalism and your human rights.”
Moreover, Dershowitz said the immorality of the BDS movement teaches students to put the blame “for the continued stalemate [of any peace negotiations] on Israel without recognizing that all of this would have ended if [Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser] Arafat would have said yes instead of starting an intifada in 2001,” when clearly the fault is at least divided among the two sides.
Perhaps the most immoral aspect of the BDS movement, he claimed, is that “it’s hurting the prospects for peace and making it harder and harder to get the Palestinians to the negotiating table.”
Dershowitz challenged supporters to boycott the worst first. If that is the preferred tactic, he said, then boycott countries in the order of violation of human rights. Depending upon the list — he cited gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, China’s occupation of Tibet, Russia’s occupation of Chechnya — Israel might be 94th, 140th, or 180th, “but on nobody’s list would it be No. 1.”
He added, “There’s no country in the world, faced with comparable threats as those faced by Israel, that has ever had a better record” of human rights, reducing civilian casualties or complying with the rule of law. Worldwide, no country would earn an A grade, but, he claimed, Israel would earn a B+ in human rights with many others earning a grade of C or D or F.
To counter the effects of the BDS movement on universities and campuses nationwide, Dershowitz challenged academic leaders to speak up on behalf of Israel.
“I’ve never met a less courageous group of people than tenured professors,” said Dershowitz, facing several of them in the audience and to the sound of applause, “who don’t have the guts to stand up to the loudmouth people on the hard left who try to create an atmosphere of political correctness on our campus.”
The most vocal are the anti-Israel professors and the most silent are the pro-Israel, he asserted, which makes a lasting and damaging impact on students.
“We need to persuade professors who are pro-Israel to speak up more vigorously and more openly on their campuses,” he added, because students identify with their professors and are impressionable.
Dershowitz conversely urged students, using whatever mode possible including technology, to challenge their professors when faced with anti-Israel curriculum.
Finally, he claimed the most important thing is to persuade students that “anti-Israel/anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism — the effort to delegitimate the nation state of the Jewish people” — is one of the great moral issues of the 21st century “and [that the students] should be on the right side of that issue.”