No doubt many of Alan Dershowitz’s neighbors on the Vineyard and colleagues at Harvard are distressed by the news that he is in talks with the Trump administration about joining the legal team fighting the president’s impeachment. But the move would be utterly syntonic with Dershowitz’s values: he will take any case that will bring him publicity. Besides, it’s far from the worst thing Dershowitz, eighty-one, has ever done.
Partying With Pedophiles
We’ll give Dershowitz a pass on representing Jeffrey Epstein (along with repellent probable woman-killers like O. J. Simpson, Claus von Bülow, and Ted Kennedy), since everyone deserves a good lawyer. By definition, the worst people are probably the most in need of high-end legal representation! But there’s no good excuse for being friends with the billionaire pedophile. Ask any defense lawyer about their most depraved clients, and you’ll find few who will reminisce fondly about spending quality time with such characters. But Dershowitz was a guest of Epstein’s, on his private jet, at his homes in Palm Beach and New York, and on his private island in the Caribbean. As Epstein’s guests, many grown men are said to have had sex with underage girls. Two of Epstein’s victims have accused Dershowitz of joining in, a charge he has denied energetically and with litigation, suing one of the women for defamation.
He has also claimed that his accusers’ lawyer, David Boies, encouraged them to invent stories about him. Perhaps nothing is impossible, but this is a truly odd accusation on Dershowitz’s part. David Boies is not some desperate sleazy idiot taking out ads on bus benches. He is one of the most prominent lawyers in the country, having led the government’s successful prosecution of Microsoft and defending such zeitgeist villains as Harvey Weinstein and Theranos. Why would he risk disbarment and ruin by defaming another of the nation’s top lawyers? Boies has sued Dershowitz for peddling this batty conspiracy theory, calling it defamatory. No one has any way of knowing the truth of any of these charges and countercharges yet, since all this litigation is ongoing.
The proven facts are that Dershowitz was friends with Jeffrey Epstein and spent significant time in his company, and that is bad. It was a passionate friendship: Dershowitz told New York magazine that he found Epstein “feisty,” exulting over his “quirky mind,” even claiming that he would have hung around with him even if he weren’t so rich. Despite all that, Dershowitz claimed Epstein was just an “acquaintance.”
Fine. But really, what powerful man wasn’t on Epstein’s plane? Let’s get even more specific about why Dershowitz is so loathsome.
Crusading Against the Human Rights of Palestinians
Dershowitz has for years dedicated significant intellectual energy to rationalizing and perpetuating the oppression of the Palestinian people. Just this year, he wrote an op-ed in the Hill claiming that the suffering of the Palestinians had “been largely inflicted by themselves.” He claimed that the only Palestinian homes being bulldozed are those of terrorists, that there is no real discrimination against Arabs in Israel, and he implied that Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, who had written a strongly worded essay in the New York Times on Palestine, was antisemitic for criticizing the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians. It was not the first time he’s lobbed baseless accusations of antisemitism or Holocaust denial at critics of Israel, including Jimmy Carter, Noam Chomsky, and J Street, among others.
Whitewashing the Real Bigots
Yet in 2016, he defended white nationalist Steve Bannon against that same charge, lecturing that “it’s not legitimate to call someone an anti-Semite because you might disagree with their policies.”
He’s Actually Pretty Racist Himself
After Dershowitz worried publicly that Trump couldn’t get a fair trial in Washington, DC, because of the city’s “ethnic and racial composition,” he was justifiably called racist by Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters.
Attempting to Quash Criticism of Himself
For a supposed free-speech absolutist, Dershowitz expends tremendous effort suppressing and punishing critics and political enemies. After the great Norman Finkelstein argued that Dershowitz’s claims about Israel were wrong and that he had plagiarized from another scholar, Dershowitz attempted to prevent two publishers from publishing the book in which Finkelstein laid out these claims. First, he browbeat the New Press, which delayed the publication of his book in order to do more fact-checking and legal review. When Finkelstein, irate at this foot-dragging by the New Press, took his book to University of California Press, Dershowitz then lobbied California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in an attempt to prevent UC Press from publishing Finkelstein. Schwarzenegger was apparently more committed to free speech and academic freedom than the New York liberals: his legal secretary wrote to Dershowitz, “You have asked for the governor’s assistance in preventing the publication of this book. He is not inclined to . . . exert influence in this case because of the clear academic freedom issue it presents,” as Gary Younge reported in the Guardian. Dershowitz then wrote to the university’s regents and provost, all the board members of the press, as well as its faculty editorial committee. Dershowitz actually lobbied Finkelstein’s employer, DePaul University, to deny him tenure.
You know that woke asshole on the internet — left or right — who’s always trying to get you fired from your job because he disagrees with you? Who is able to convince others that you’re some kind of bigot? Dershowitz was that guy, long before that guy existed on the internet.
But maybe this latest Dershowitz news will turn out to be positive after all. Dershowitz is one of those terrible people for whom one evil project is probably a distraction from another evil project, so perhaps defending Trump against impeachment charges (which were never going to remove the president from office anyway) is a harmless diversion compared to just about anything else he could be doing.