Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz spoke about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a nearly packed house at the Kraft Center’s Rennert Auditorium Sunday evening.
The Columbia/Barnard Hillel, in cooperation with LionPAC, a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” advocacy group, arranged for Dershowitz to speak in response to linguist Noam Chomsky’s speech at Barnard on Monday.
Dershowitz addressed issues ranging from a two-state solution to academic freedom to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in the one-hour session, which included a speech, questions from the audience, and a series of questions from David Fine, CC ’13 and the editor-in-chief of The Current, a student journal that focuses on current events and Jewish affairs.
Dershowitz emphasized the need for a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the urgency to restart negotiations. He said that it’s futile to negotiate with people like Chomsky.
“It’s critically important that you appeal to the center, that your arguments go to those who are undecided,” Dershowitz said. “You will never convince Noam Chomsky. It’s like you put the dollar into the soda machine, and the dollar doesn’t come out, and the soda doesn’t come out.”
He stressed that audience members should be both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli while still acknowledging both sides’ faults.
Dershowitz repeatedly challenged Chomsky’s viewpoints and accused him of putting forward “absolute fabrications” and “total lies.” He encouraged his audience to attend Chomsky’s speech the next day and challenge him.
“[He is] living on Planet Chomsky,” Dershowitz said. “On Planet Chomsky, the truth is not held in high regard.”
Columbia/Barnard Hillel board co-president Michael Lustig said Hillel and LionPAC’s “collective antenna” went up when they learned that Chomsky would be speaking at Barnard.
“We’re essentially creating a virtual debate in a forum where an actual one isn’t really feasible,” Lustig said. “It highlights that the students can be exposed to what I call the correct/factual side of the story, but at least they get to hear both sides of the story.”
LionPAC president Eric Schorr, GS/JTS ’12, said that LionPAC and the Columbia/Barnard Hillel created posters for Dershowitz’s speech that mimicked the posters for Chomsky’s to highlight the relationship between the two speakers.
“LionPAC designed the flyer with the motivation of having people feel the two sides of the coin, going to one and then going to the other,” Schorr said. “… Although the event was not ultimately about Noam Chomsky, the great push is that it encourages people to be outgoing, to challenge ideas, and to fight in the court of public opinion.”
Allison Schlissel, GS/JTS ’15, said she believes Chomsky’s arguments are convincing but ultimately comes down on Dershowitz’s side.
“More than anything, it promotes a two-state solution, and it promotes compromise,” Schlissel said. “It’s willing to incorporate every single opinion, and it encourages more discussion.”
Schorr said he was pleased with how the event went and hopes the speech encourages more dialogue on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
“Overall, I think people really enjoyed the event,” Schorr said. “It’s also my hope that people walk away with this mentality of, ‘I may not have agreed with everything he said, but the most important thing is that he made me think.’”