Nov. 15, 2011

Letter: Dershowitz misinterprets endorsement

The most recent edition of the Maroon printed an article by prominent Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who offered scathing criticisms of Professor John Mearsheimer’s endorsement of Gilad Atzmon’s most recent book. In an effort to clarify Professor Mearsheimer’s position, it is important to state the endorsement in its entirety.

“Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it increasingly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their ‘Jewishness.’ Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.”

At once, it becomes evident that Dershowitz neglects the academic focus of the endorsement. While cherry-picking several phases from the statement gives Professor Dershowitz a captivating piece of rhetoric, it has unfairly projected Mearsheimer’s view on several key ideas in the book as an endorsement of every idea in the book. Even though Professor Dershowitz’s provides little context for the quotes from The Wandering Who? in his article, it is true that the book contains controversial statements. I know with certainty, however, that students at the University of Chicago are perfectly capable of reading a controversial book while maintaining an informed, academic perspective.

More interesting, however, is the fact that Dershowitz’s article fits perfectly in his greater narrative of preventing any criticisms of Israeli policies. The New York Sun published an article on March 24, 2006, in which Dershowitz declared that a substantial part of The Israel Lobby, a joint collaboration between Mearsheimer and Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, was lifted from neo-Nazi websites. According to a Harvard Crimson article from the same year, Dershowitz has also labeled both Mearsheimer and Walt as “liars” and “bigots.” Both of these incidents occurred long before the recent endorsement. Dershowitz urges his academic peers to shun Mearsheimer for “giving aid and comfort to anti-Semitism.” While Professor Dershowitz may see no problem in throwing around these terms to prevent intellectual conversation, most academics luckily disagree.

Michael Daus

Class of 2013