Thursday, February 7, 2013

The HuffPost Sics an Attack Dog on Dershowitz

Just when we thought the Huffington Post has finally hit rock bottom, somebody tossed them a jackhammer. Even though Alan Dershowitz is a member of their blogger community and has been for a long time, they recently published a fourteen hundred word essay by Jonathan Weiler personally attacking him on every level. The aggressive and personal nature is clear right from the title: "Alan Dershowitz, Defender of Academic Freedom - Heal Thyself!" It's actually kind of amazing that the article itself contains very little substance, nor does it hide its attack dog nature versus Dershowitz. It even attacks him about things that happened years ago.

Let's get into it. After claiming that Dershowitz is at the "center" of the BDS-Brooklyn College issue, which he is not, Weiler tries to set up a claim that Dershowitz is a hypocrite. Dershowitz objected not to the existence of the BDS event, as his other critics have claimed, but that the Political Science department of the college is endorsing it. To defend this, Weiler attempts some hair splitting:
"It's worth noting that while the political science department at BC did agree to sponsor the event, it declined to endorse it. In other words, despite Dershowitz's conflation, the clear implication is that sponsorship does not imply endorsement."
Right. It's very common for institutions to give money to things that they don't agree with. I'm sure if a Zionist organization gave money to the Jewish Defense League Weiler would not consider that an "endorsement" either. But even if we decide to be charitable and say that Brooklyn was only giving money to BDS, that is still a problem and not something that colleges should be doing. Not only are they merely giving money, they are "co-sponsoring" the event, according to Weiler's own link. Whether they intended to come off as endorsing BDS or not, that's how it was perceived and they must answer for it. Now, if they want to host a BDS event, the way that UPenn did a while ago, and make it clear that that was all they are doing, that would be one thing. The only one conflating here, unfortunately, is Weiler.

Now he gets to his actual point, that Dershowitz said he would feel the same way if a college gave money or endorsed a pro-Israel event that was like BDS in that it was "not academic in nature." Notice how his first link is to a Guardian article by Glenn Greenwald. Yeah, no radical leftist influence here:
"In any event, Dershowitz has directly contravened his own principle. Last year, in response to a BDS event at the University of Pennsylvania, groups identifying themselves as "pro-Israel" organized an event titled, "Why Israel Matters to You, Me and Penn: A Conversation with Alan Dershowitz." Though the Penn political science department refused to sponsor the BDS event, it did co-host Dershowitz's lecture."
I'm sure Weiler thought he was being very clever here but it isn't working out. Unless the University of Pennsylvania gave money to Dershowitz's lecture, and there is no evidence that they did, there is no comparison here. Weiler is looking to conflate the words "endorse," "sponsor," and "host" to all mean the same thing...except when he chooses.

Put more simply: For BDS, Brooklyn gave money and provided a platform. For Dershowitz, Penn only provided a platform. And that's assuming that Dershowitz's lecture was just as hateful, anti-academic freedom, and nonacademic as the BDS event, which I highly doubt. At least Weiler didn't attempt the "free speech" argument, so common among BDS apologists, despite what may contain in his misleading title.

Anyway, with the fig leaf of recent events out of the way, Weiler settles in for a long attack on Dershowitz on a very personal level. He gets into the Dershowitz-Finkelstein controversy and Finkelstein's book "Beyond Chutzpah," even though that has nothing to do with BDS and only serves to shine a spotlight on his biases. Weiler takes Finkelstein's opinions as facts, e.g. "Dershowitz frequently misused the writings of the revisionist Israeli historian Benny Morris," and "Dershowitz repeatedly made errors." 

Weiler also cites a CounterPunch named "the Case Against Alan Dershowitz" (not exactly objective) to "prove" that Dershowitz was a plagiarist, which was also Finkelstein's accusation. Apparently Weiler missed the fact that Dershowitz was investigated by Harvard Law and was cleared of all charges. He also missed that when "Beyond Chutzpah" was published Finkelstein backed off from his claim that Dershowitz didn't write "Case for Israel" and the word "plagiarism" did not appear. Now why would Finkelstein do that if he was in the right? Weiler doesn't care, because he's here to bash Alan Dershowitz, not to tell the truth.

Furthermore, the case destroyed Finkelstein's credibility which led to his loss of tenure. But don't worry, Weiler knows who to blame for that as well:
"Having failed to stop the publication of Beyond Chutzpah, Dershowitz took the extraordinary step, in 2006, of trying to intervene directly in Finkelstein's tenure case at De Paul. According to Menetrez, Dershowitz provided detailed and unsolicited materials to the chair of De Paul's political science department, as well as a "larger packet of materials to a large but unknown number of members of DePaul's faculty and administration, including every professor at the law school.""
Hm, so Finkelstein made a ham-fisted attempt to destroy Alan Dershowitz's career and get him fired, so in return Dershowitz did the same thing right back to him? Sounds like justice to me, Weiler. Don't stay in the kitchen if you can't handle the heat. Furthermore, if Finkelstein really was as innocent as you and your buddy Menetrez (the author of the above mentioned CounterPunch article) apparently thinks he is, he could have counter sued and cleaned Dershowitz out. But he did not. And I notice that you didn't provide any details or a link to details about this "packet of materials." The reality is that Finkelstein's supremely douchey behavior is what got him fired, and when he went after Dershowitz he bit off just a little more than he could chew. You are apparently the only one still left crying for him.

Having fired all that he can against Dershowitz, and still lacking, Weiler gets personal, which is pretty much what we would expect from a Huffington Post blogger:
"While trumpeting himself as a defender of academic freedom, Dershowitz's actual record calls that self-approbation into doubt. A true defender of academic freedom could certainly resort to strong, even harsh language to denounce those whose views he finds abhorrent. But Dershowitz's history demonstrates a willingness to go far beyond words in order to influence the "marketplace of ideas.""
Oh hang on, we're talking about Dershowitz's "actual record?" I didn't see anything in your article about his decades of service as a civil liberties lawyer and a professor at Harvard University. Nor did I see anything about his important work in animal rights or the Second Amendment. Dershowitz has been described by Newsweek as America's "most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer and one of its most distinguished defenders of individual rights." He was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 1979, and in 1983 received the William O. Douglas First Amendment Award from the Anti-Defamation League for his work on civil rights. In November 2007, he was awarded the Soviet Jewry Freedom Award by the Russian Jewish Community Foundation. In December 2011, he was awarded the Menachem Begin Award of Honor by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center at an event co-sponsored by NGO Monitor. He has been awarded honorary doctorates in law from Yeshiva University, the Hebrew Union College, Monmouth University, University of Haifa, Syracuse University, Fitchburg State College, Bar-Ilan University, and Brooklyn College.

So yes, Weiler, I do think that Dershowitz's record speaks for itself. Though I shouldn't be surprised that middling academic in a North Carolina state school would be snapping at the heels of a giant. If you are going to criticize you can consider being honest, as Dershowitz has done far more in his life than talk about Israel and argue with Finkelstein. Just because that's what you happen to be interested in right now does not mean his record of supporting academic freedom does not stand up to his claims.

But fine, let's get substantial: Dershowitz did not say that Brooklyn College couldn't host anyone that they want to. He said they should not give money to organizations as anti-academic freedom as BDS. Because BDS is anti-freedom, you know that right Weiler? They endorse silencing all Israelis just because where they are born, no matter what their views are. But let me guess: you like them because you like "academic freedom." Maybe that makes sense in your head but it doesn't make sense on the page.

Dershowitz is in the right, and he has been for years. He's faced down bigger and badder attack dogs than Jonathan Weiler, and he will continue to do so. It's just amazing that the Huffington Post, which has hosted Dershowitz for so long, now turns around to stab him in the back. And I wager they won't be allowing him the courtesy of responding to this latest libel.

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