11 May 2010
The Tel Aviv University administration is not stupid. It announced on Friday that Dershowitz would be responding on behalf of the other recipients, and gave him the award Saturday night in a closed meeting with the Board of Governors and other recipients. His one other speech at Tel Aviv university will not be open to the public.
And what did he say? You can listen to it here. First he gave a stirring defense of the rights of the professors at Tel Aviv University to be wrong, unpatriotic, and attack Israel. But – and here came the lawyer tricks – he maintained that there is an equal right of those who do not agree with them to express their views. (Who said there wasn’t?) And there is also right of students not to be penalized by disagreeing with these enemies of Israel. (Who says they are being penalized?) He claimed, wrongly, that the protest early this year against Tel Aviv U Law School for hiring a legal apologist for the IDF involved suppressing her free speech. (To do this he relied on a particularly awful piece by Shomo Avineri; for more on that incident see here.)
And then came the “When-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife” line:
“Free speech for me but not for thee,” as Professors Matar, Giora and others express every day, is the beginning of the road to tyranny. (applause)
Excuse me? Where did that come from? Not from anything those two professors said. Well, here is the back-story: Profs. Anat Matar and Rachel Giora support the academic boycott of Israeli institutions of higher learning for their role in the Occupation. Some Jewish donors to Tel Aviv University want them fired. Prof. Joseph Klafter, the president of the university can’t do that. See the exchange between Klafter and a member of his board that appeared a few months ago in the Jerusalem Post here.
That is where Alan Dershowitz, Hired Gun, enters. He probably was invited by TAU to put on a show for the donors – explaining to them the importance of free speech, blah, blah, blah, and then satisfying their “blood thirst” by insinuating lies about Matar and Giora. Any idiot knows that calling for an academic boycott, whether you approve of the idea or not, has nothing to do with curtailing academic freedom or censoring speech or “McCarthy-like tactics” One might as well say that cutting off donations to the university curtails academic freedom (It doesn’t.)
Fortunately, Dershowitz’s performance was enough to arouse the ire of decent members of the faculty at Tel-Aviv University. Please read their letter below, signed, inter alia, by moderate, liberal Zionists. They appeal to Prof. Klafter to dissociate himself from Dershowitz’s slander of Matar and Giora.
No way that will happen. TAU has too much money to lose.
Here is the letter, in Didi Remez’s rough translation (thanks, Didi):
To Professor Joseph Klafter, President of Tel Aviv University
Dear Professor Klafter,
We the undersigned, members of the General History Dept at Tel Aviv University, heard in full the speech of Mr. Alan Dershowitz in the name of the Honorary Doctorate recipients as broadcasted live on video.
As Historians who know very well the periods of the past where the enlightened democracy declined into a dark regime, we are very concerned with some of the things said. Mr. Dershowitz viciously attacked academic members of the university criticizing the policy of the government, he specifically named some members of staff and accused them for leading narrow-minded thinking as they impose their opinions on students (and he compared it to sexual harassment).
As you know there is no scrap of proof that member of staff imposed his/her political opinions on students.
Mr. Dershowitz is allowed, of course, to enjoy the freedom of speech and to express his opinions, but the fact he named lecturers and accused them of hurting students and of hurting the strength of the State of Israel – These words are on the verge of defamation and may put those members of staff at risk.
We ask you, as the university administration to renounce the words of Mr. Dershowitz and to announce it will continue to protect the freedom of speech of all members of our academic community in any way. As you wrote in your article in the Jerusalem Post in 15th of February 2010, the university must protect the freedom of thinking and freedom of expression of members of staff and students.
Bad winds blow these days in Israel and in the West in general, which are anti-Intellectual and anti-Democratic. The universities are – as you said – the beacons protecting from them. Negation of some views or others and the attack on those expressing them, from the podium of the university destabilize such protective walls.
We are sure you will find a way for the university administration to renounce those words of Mr. Alan Dershowitz.
Prof. Gadi Algazi, Dr. Nitzan Leibovich, Prof. Miri Eliav-Feldon, Dr. Gerardo Leibner, Prof. Benny Arbel, Prof. Ron Barkai, Yossi Malley, Dr. Michael Zakim, Prof. Eyal Naveh, Dr. Amnon Yuval, Dr. Rachel Feig Vishnia, Prof. David Katz, Dr. Alon Rachamimov
Since last night, the following faculty members have joined their signature (33 names are appended)