BY MEREDITH MCKEE
Carrying signs and handing out fliers, about 20 students from the HLS student group Justice for Palestine gathered outside Professor Alan Dershowitz’s Professional Responsibilities class Thursday, March 14, to protest a recent article on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict authored by Dershowitz that recently ran in the Jerusalem Post. Monday students from the same group joined an undergraduate student-led protest outside Dersho-witz’s Thinking About Thinking class.
In the Post article (reprinted on page 4 of this issue), Dershowitz suggests that Israel could declare a four- or five-day unilateral “moratorium on reprisals.” Then Israel should “announce with precision exactly what it will do in response to the next act of terrorism,” Dershowitz writes. If attacks from Palestinian supporters continue after the moratorium is over, Dershowitz says, Israel should automatically destroy a pre-announced physical target, such as a “small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations” after giving residents 24 hours to leave. This strategy, he writes, will put responsibility for damage to Palestinian areas on those who attack Israel and its citizens.
Najeeb Khoury, president of Justice for Palestine [JFP], said students who read the article (which circulated by email) decided to protest for several reasons.
“We felt that we should show [Dershowitz] and the larger university that by no means did we agree with what we view as an extreme proposal,” Khoury said. “We were thinking about it and on one level, but perhaps a less important level, we wanted to show Prof. Dershowitz that people were listening to what he was saying. But more importantly, we wanted to raise these issues of Israel and the occupation in general to the larger community.”
Dershowitz said the protest began as a silent demonstration about 10 or 20 minutes before his class started, and he approached the protestors to engage them in conversation.
Although Dershowitz said he was only a little surprised that students mounted a demonstration, he said he disagreed with the protestors’ message and described himself as “a moderate on these issues.”
“I would think that when civilians are being murdered deliberately, with 87 percent approval of the Palestinian people, they ought to get their priorities straight and worry more about innocent people being killed rather than houses being destroyed,” he said.
Noting that his policy proposal arose as a small offshoot of a book he is writing on terrorism in general, Dershowitz said that he challenged the protestors to a public debate on the merits of his proposal. Instead of accepting his proposal, Dershowitz said, the protestors had instead scheduled a presentation on Thursday to “present their side in a one-sided fashion.”
He added: “I’m sure eventually they’ll be forced into a debate, because I don’t think they’ll be able to maintain their position that they won’t debate. If they’re confident about their views, they should be able to submit them to the court of public opinion.”
Khoury said that JFP has not yet made a decision on whether or not its members will accept Dershowitz’s invitation to debate the proposal. However, he said the group has some reservations about such a debate.
“We believe that Dershowitz is giving us a false choice,” Khoury said. “Destroying property isn’t going to save any lives. Palestinian anger arises from the oppressive nature of occupation. Dershowitz’s proposal would increase the level of oppression and perpetuate the cycle.”
Khoury also said the members of JFP “don’t believe [Dershowitz] is an expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and neither are we as law students.” But he emphasized that no decision on a debate had yet been made and that “everybody [in JFP] seems to be in agreement that if Prof. Dershowitz wants to talk to students individually about his proposal, we would be more than happy to engage him in such a conversation. But we’re not sure what that would contribute to the larger community.”
Most students in Dershowitz’s Professional Responsibilities class arrived in the middle of the protest. On the classroom’s chalkboard, someone had left fliers and written “something to the effect of ‘Your legal ethics professor advocates war crimes,'” said Ben Hatch, a student in Dershowitz’s class.
Ellen Hochberg, also a student in Dershowitz’s class, said that when she arrived at the scene, protestors “seemed agitated and were kind of vehemently challenging him, but [Dershowitz] was pretty calmly responding to them.”
Hatch described a similar scene.
“I didn’t really hang out at the place of argument,” he said. “But my impression was that Prof. Dershowitz was addressing the group in a level tone and seemed to be responding to those who were yelling at him.”
Dershowitz said “[t]here was no disruption at all, and they acted completely within the rules of the university,” Dershowitz said. “They should be commended for doing that.”
Most observers arrived well into the protest, Khoury said, after Dershowitz had addressed the group for “a decent amount of time without any interruption at all.” Then, Khoury said, “a whole bunch of people were trying to make points and he was trying to respond.”
Student reaction to the protest was mixed.
Guy Goldberg, who arrived after the protest ended and students dispersed, said he found the statement written on the chalkboard “obnoxious.”
“Showing up full-force with lots of people, it was clearly to intimidate with a show of force,” Goldberg said. “If they really wanted to have a discussion, they could have had a rational, sit-down conversation. This is a law school – it should be more rational.”
Hatch said his feelings about the protest were mixed.
“I was pretty impressed that so many people came out to support a cause, even if it’s not one with which I necessarily agree,” he said. “At the same time, I felt like it wasn’t appropriate to demonstrate in front of a classroom because it naturally disrupted our class and ate into our class time.”