LectureHop: America, Israel, and the Palestinians In Pursuit of Peace
Written by Bwog Staff
Rennert Hall was filled to the brim for last night’s lecture by Alan Dershowitz, famed Harvard Law professor, criminal attorney and author of The Case for Israel, an ardent defense of the state of Israel’s right to exist. The Kraft Center auditorium was so packed, people had to be turned away! Luckily, Bwog’s Briana Last scored a seat.
“Our collective antenna went up,” Michael P. Lustig, Co-President of the Hillel Board of Directors, explained his reaction to the news that Noam Chomsky was coming to speak at Columbia. “But, unfortunately [Chomsky] wasn’t speaking within his area of expertise, linguistics,” Lustig added, “he was speaking on the topic of America and Israel/Palestine.” So for the sake of “countering the makings of a potentially ugly situation,” LionPAC, Columbia University’s pro-Israel public affairs committee, decided to invite Dershowitz, “Israel’s single most visible defender,” to share his view. Flyers for the Dershowitz event even mimicked those for Chomsky to communicate that there was another side to Chomsky’s perspective.
“I was a little uncomfortable being asked simply to come here as the result of Chomsky being invited,” Dershowitz admitted. “But, then I thought about it. It’s the right response. I would have much rather debated Chomsky. I have debated in every decade since 1970. But not this one.” Dershowitz urged everyone to go Chomsky’s talk on October 17th to “ask him hard questions and to check his facts.” If Dershowitz couldn’t challenge Chomsky in person, at least they could have a “virtual debate.”
Regardless of the reason behind his invitation, Dershowitz seemed pleased to be here. “Thank you for welcoming me to Columbia. Columbia hasn’t always been so welcome to me.” he joked. “In 1955, I was put on the waitlist and I didn’t make it off the waitlist and went to Brooklyn College.”
Next, David Fine, CC ’13 and the editor-in-chief of The Current sat down with Dershowitz to discuss the Federal Investigation of the Columbia advisor, the release of Gilad Shalit, and how American Jewry can better speak out in support of Israel. Dershowitz explained how vilified Israel has emerged from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and why American Jews should reclaim the discussion. He repeated several times that we must be simultaneously proud and critical of Israel. “There’s a lot to criticize about Israel’s policies,” he conceded.
Still, Dershowitz argued, “the debates on university campuses today for the most part have ceased to be models of clarity, models of moderation, models of intellectual coherence. They have become extremist name-calling. When you see professors analogizing Israel to Nazi Germany, when you see professors saying that Israel has the worst human rights record in the world. Those are just lies.” Convincing people like Chomsky or anyone on the extreme is fruitless, he insisted: “It’s like you put your dollar in the soda machine. And the dollar doesn’t come out. And the soda doesn’t come out…You’re tempted to kick the machine. Don’t do it!”
Instead, Dershowitz encouraged a more reasonable approach to the conflict, which he devised with a fellow professor at Harvard, Chibli Mallat, a staunch advocate of Palestinian sovereignty. The proposal he shared with the audience, which the two plan to send to newspapers and the UN Security Council, had never been discussed in public until this talk. To put it simply, Dershowitz calls for a two-state solution with borders as recognized by the previous Resolution 242. “Mmm,” several audience members nodded in agreement. Others, not so much.
Overall, the talk, which catered to its audience (mostly Hillel regulars and Jews) pressed people to be proud, but not necessarily shout louder than Chomsky.