Notes From the Margins…

Alan Dershowitz doesn’t get his own way

  • February 07, 2013
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I just got back from a lightning visit to Paris, where I was interviewed for a forthcoming documentary history of anarchism directed by the production company Temps Noir for Arte – the French equivalent of Channel 4.     It was a really enjoyable interview, lasting about two and half hours, and will form part of a comprehensive two or three part history covering anarchism internationally, from its origins to the present.

I spoke mostly about the ‘anarchist terror’ of the late nineteenth centuries, its motivations, dimensions and state responses etc.   It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a historical documentary on this subject – or with this kind of depth – going out on mainstream British tv nowadays, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the result.

Anyway, on arriving back in the UK, I was pleased to hear that Alan Dershowitz, the would-be Joe McCarthy of the Israel first lobby, has been stymied in his attempt to whip up a witchhunt against Brooklyn College, because its Political Science Department announced last month that it would be sponsoring   a debate on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ movement, to be held today.

Dershowitz is a ghastly character.     A former lawyer and member of the OJ Simpson defence team now at Harvard, he is an outspoken advocate of torture and extra-judicial executions (when carried out by Israel or the US), and he has made a habit of   bullying universities and academics that don’t accept his uber-Zionist views – a tendency that reached its apotheosis when he succeeded in destroying the career of his   arch-critic Norman Finkelstein.

Dershowitz is also a former student of Brooklyn College.   In a characteristic tirade in the New York Post, he fulminated against what he called an ‘anti-Israel hate fest’,   a   ‘propaganda hate orgy’ and a violation of academic freedom, because of its ‘one-sided’ absence of speakers putting forward and alternative view.   Dershowitz tried to pressure the Political Sciences Department into holding an alternative event to the BDS event – possibly with himself as speaker – something no university is obliged to do.

A number of prominent New York politicians also joined the fray.   On 29 January, leading members of New York City Council wrote a letter to Brooklyn College threatening to cut public funds to the college if it continued to host an event that they claimed had anti-Semitic connotations.

To its credit the university refused to back down, and this time Dershowitz seems to have overplayed his hand.   The pro-Israel New York Times has supported the university’s right to hold the BDS event, and NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg has criticized the City Council’s attempts to stop it, arguing that

 if you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea. The last thing that we need is for members of our City Council or State Legislature to be micromanaging the kinds of programs that our public universities run, and base funding decisions on the political views of professors. I can”t think of anything that would be more destructive to a university and its students.

Now some of the same politicians who supported Dershowitz’s position appear to be backing down.     All this demonstrates that when the will is present, the Zionist lobby is not invincible and that the bullying, emotional blackmail and witchhunting of Dershowitz et al can be faced down.

Let’s hope other individuals and institutions can show some of the same spirit – and not only in the US.


  1. Nik H.

    7th Feb 2013 - 4:12 pm

    I was astonished myself when I first heard/read about it. Bloomberg’s North Korea hint is priceless. Quite amazing how within 10 years the pro-war / likud-bullies and screamers ended up being the minority on campuses especially in the US.

    A change that indeed gives hope.

    PS: Hope you’ll give your readers a heads up once the documentary is finished and about to be aired. I have to tell you, Arte is an amazing channel. Congrats on getting involved with a company that produces a documentary for them.

    • Matt

      7th Feb 2013 - 4:42 pm

      Yes, Arte does look good, and the doc is really very promising. I will put out a reminder when it gets closer – probably next year.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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