Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz told a crowd of about 200 at the University of Baltimore School of Law that the BDS movement will not succeed in pressuring universities to boycott Israel.
“Everyone knows BDS in the U.S. will not succeed as a way of getting universities and others to boycott,” said Dershowitz, and 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 United States is “much more sinister, and it’s much more subtle,” Dershowitz said. “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.”
He was speaking Monday, in a dialogue with attorney Alyza D. Lewin, at the all-day event, “Academic Freedom at Risk: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement Against Israel.” It included presentations and panel discussions that addressed threats posed to students and academia by the encroaching BDS movement and what is possible to counter those threats. Among those attending was Alyza Lewin’s father, attorney Nat Lewin.
The goal of the BDS movement, Dershowitz said, 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 [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 and give up certain claims that are necessarily given up.”
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 number one.”
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. Many others would receive a 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 loud-mouth people on the hard left who try to create an atmosphere of political correctness on our campus.”