Samuel Bodansky, St Peter’s College, Oxford
On Sunday, 1st of November, Professor Alan Dershowitz addressed a full-capacity hall of Jewish students at the Oxford Chabad Society after having successfully debated the BDS movement at the Oxford Union. The much-anticipated events were well attended; a full chamber of 250 people at the union, and around 200 at the Chabad society.
Dershowitz’s accolades are numerous and impressive; a Brooklyn native, he is professor emeritus at Harvard University Law School. He has been called “the nation’s most peripatetic civil liberties lawyer” as well as “Israel’s single most visible defender: the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”
He is the also the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Dershowitz, a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School, joined the Harvard Law School faculty at age 25 and is the author of 30 fiction and non-fiction works, including The New York Times #1 bestseller Chutzpah and five other national bestsellers.
At the union, Professor Dershowitz debated on “The BDS movement against Israel is wrong”, against acclaimed Australian-born human rights activist Peter Tatchell. The debate focused on whether the BDS movement could be judged on the basis of its leadership, and whether the BDS movement would be effective or the most practical course of action.
During the debate, Dershowitz claimed: “Not a single leader of a democracy anywhere in the world supports the BDS movement”. If you’re going to have a BDS movement, then have it internationally based on human rights offences and lack of democracy”.
Tatchell, on the other side, criticized the lack of action by Israel to come to negotiations, and stressed that BDS will be effective in putting international pressure on Israel to change its policy. Tatchell said: “The institutional inequality faced by Arabs in Israel is the root of radicalization, and the law of return is to blame”.
Ultimately, Dershowitz won the debate by 133-101, which he later claimed was a “victory of convincing the undecided voters” on the efficacy of BDS. The debate was widely reported in the media, with even Israeli news site Arutz Sheva and American site Breitbart reporting the story.
Later in the evening, Dershowitz attended the Oxford Chabad Society at the Slager Jewish student center, in a talk entitled the ‘Perl Grunzweig memorial lecture’ co-sponsored with Stand With Us. Professor Dershowitz was warmly welcomed by Rabbi Eli Brackman, director of Chabad of Oxford, and was quizzed about his early life by student President of the Oxford Chabad Society Samuel Bodansky, of St Peter’s College and Deputy President Fien Barnett-Neefs, of St Catherine’s College. He answered questions on his early life, recounting how his Brooklyn Yeshiva upbringing and studies inspired him to fight for civil liberties, human rights and the defense of Israel. He also discussed the important role of Chabad in his life and on campus, stating his belief that the best friend Israel has today on campus is Chabad, currently on over 220 campuses worldwide.
Afterwards, he answered questions from the audience, including the role of Jewish organizations in the USA, and some of the motivation behind his books. He also tackled the issue of the rising criticism of the Left against Israel, highlighting the generational and political switch over the past century apropos to Israel. Previously, the Left were the vocal support of the country. Rather than being a “Democrat but a Zionist”, he said he was a “Democrat and a Zionist”.
Overall, this was one of the highlights in the Oxford Jewish calendar, and one many exciting events for Jewish students to look forward to in the diary of the Oxford Chabad society. The Chabad Society looks forward to its events later in the term, including the Holocaust Memorial lecture, to be delivered by Robert Slager.
Rabbi Eli Brackman, director of Chabad of Oxford, commented that “the evening with Professor Alan Dershowitz was a great success and will inspire Jewish students to be proud of their Jewish identity and stand up to the challenges facing Jewish students on campus”.