World-renowned lawyer and pro-Israel activist Alan Dershowitz was given an honorary doctorate by the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology on Monday.
Dershowitz was feted by the Haifa- based university for his “standing as a distinguished legal scholar and criminal lawyer,” his “fervent advocacy of civil liberties and human rights” and his “life’s work as a passionate, persistent and persuasive champion of the State of Israel in numerous and diverse arenas.”
He said he was honored to receive a doctorate from the Technion, which he deemed “the epitome of emerging science and humanity.”
Prior to the award ceremony, Dershowitz spoke to The Jerusalem Post on a wide array of subjects, from his early career to his announced retirement from Harvard Law School, as well as the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, the peace process and Iran.
“In America today I would not be able to get an honorary doctorate,” he told the Post. “There would be protests based on my support for Israel.”
He said honorary doctorates in the US had become a “focal point” for protesting issues that certain students and faculty might disagree with.
A proponent of free speech and human rights, Dershowitz has dedicated his life to “defending the underdog,” a lesson he said he learned from his father at an early age. Asked how he became an outspoken voice for Israel, he recalled the exact moment, nearly four decades ago, when the Left began to turn against Israel and it became the “vehicle for the distortion of human rights.”
“When the Reverend [Daniel] Berrigan, who was a hero of the Left, called Israel a ‘criminal community,’ I wrote a very strong response and challenged the hard Left,” he said. “That was in the early 1970s.”
Since then, Dershowitz said the defense of Israel has been “reactive” due to a change in world attitudes.
“I am becoming more active because Israel is becoming more subject to this type of attack,” he explained, referring to the BDS movement, which has gained traction on college campuses in the United States over the past few years.
He said he viewed BDS as a “serious long-term threat” directed against the peace process and the two-state solution.
“It’s designed to end Israel’s existence,” he said, “and they are very good at hiding the ball.”
Asked how to combat this phenomenon, Dershowitz had a number of ideas.
“We have to become much more aggressive, have counter-boycotts, file lawsuits, point out the immorality, spread the word about what BDS is really about, fight it aggressively – but not expect that changing Israel’s policies will have any effect.”
While he did not believe the movement would ultimately succeed in getting universities to divest, the far greater concern was of BDS as a “symptom of a deeper, underlying antagonism toward Israel’s very existence,” he said.
“The attack on Israel is deeper than any of its policies,” he explained. “It really represents the unwillingness of the world to accept the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
While he does not believe that there is a correlation between the peace process and BDS, Dershowitz said Israel should change some of its policies because “it is the right thing to do.”
Regarding the peace process, he hoped to put forth a new proposal to Israeli and Palestinian leaders calling on Israel to stop all settlement building outside the security barrier in areas that would become part of a Palestinian state. This would be in exchange for an end to Palestinian objections to construction in those areas that would remain part of Israel, such as the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement and the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
Dershowitz said he believed this would be a “win-win” for both parties that would help “deescalate the issue of settlement building” and offer a short-term, limited compromise.
As for Iran, he called the Islamic Republic the “greatest single threat facing Israel today,” with everything else paling in comparison.
“Israel cannot accept a nuclear Iran, no matter what it has to do,” he asserted. “The most important thing Israel can do is be self-reliant, never to have to depend on anyone else. That is lesson of the Shoah.”
He drew upon what he said was one of his favorite passage from scripture, which said that “first God grants strength to the Jewish people and only then delivers peace.”
“If you’re Jewish you can’t depend on anyone else,” he stated. “You have to build a very powerful defense force and you can’t rely even on your best friends – the US. I strongly support that Israel be a nuclear power and have the strongest defense anywhere in the Middle East. I want to see a very strong Israel.”
This is a lesson Dershowitz also applies to Jewish students. In a world with academic boycotts and BDS, they should “create a situation where you are in so much demand that no one can ever boycott you,” he advised.
According to the professor, Israel needs to become even better at science and technology.
“The start-up nation isn’t a permanent phenomenon,” he said.
“It’s ‘What have you done lately,’ and unless you can maintain that academic cutting edge Israel will lose one of the most valuable resources it has.”
Dershowitz added that Israel did not spend enough on education, calling the system “too bureaucratic.”
He also criticized the recent Council of Higher Education decision not to allow a law degree program in English.
When asked if he had one message he wished to convey to young students today, Dershowitz said: “If you are Jewish and you live in the nation-state of the Jewish people, you have to try harder. There are always going to be those who will not accept you, those who will be jealous of your successes, those who will look at the negatives.
Being Jewish is a stimulus for hard work and never taking anything for granted.”