Braving the monsters of the UC Berkley tar pits, Dershowitz gave the following speech.
I love his introductory story of the greatest fee he ever received.
The Case for Israel
I remember so well the early days in the 1970's when I sat down in UC Berkeley. I was there for a year. I was probably defending some of the parents of the kids who are outside protesting tonight.
I defended Angela Davis and many of the people involved in the free speech movement at UC Berkeley. But I was also deeply involved with the Soviet Jewry Movement. Recently I was on a radio talk show and somebody asked me what my biggest fee I ever earned was. Was it Michael Milken or Leona Helmsley? I said it was Natan Sharansky.
"Sharansky?" they said, "We didn't know he had any money."
And I said no. He didn't have any money. I had to defend him at my own expense. But when he walked over the Glienicke Bridge and he threw his arms around me, and he whispered in my ear in Hebrew "Blessed are those who help free the imprisoned." Tears came to my eyes, to his eyes -- I'll never earn a bigger fee in my life than that.
When we were in Jerusalem, we said we'd look back at that time and remember it as a wonderful point in history, when civil liberties, love for Judaism and a love for Israel came together. This week marks the 56th anniversary of Israel. And I'm reminded of myself in 1947 and 1948, watching the UN on television, the division of Palestine into hopefully a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. It was accepted by the Jews, but rejected by the Palestinians.
And then Ben Gurion announced the statehood. It was such a joyous moment! I remember when the director of my yeshiva came in and announced the words from Hatikva [Israel's national anthem] were officially changed from "going back to the land of our fathers" to "a free people in our land."
Those were the days. Those were the days when the Israeli-Arab conflict presented a clear-cut conflict between good and evil. Israelis were Holocaust survivors trying to build a Jewish democratic homeland that would always be open to Jewish immigrants and refugees. Doors to the world had been closed to so many refugees during the Holocaust.
On the other side were the Holocaust perpetrators. We forget too often that the Egyptian army commanders in large part were former Nazis given asylum by the Egyptian government. Amung them was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the recognized leader of the Palestinian people. These were indicted war criminals who spent most of the war years with Hitler in Nazi Germany.
This was a conflict between democracy and tyranny. A conflict between those who wanted to accept the United Nations' plan of a two-state resolution and those who rejected the existence of Israel. Those were the days when it was so clear on which side civil liberties and human rights and progress led and on which side tyranny and oppression lied. The sad reality is that nothing has changed on the ground. These facts are still the same today as they were in 1947 or 1948, yet the perspectives have changed so dramatically. Even in 1956, even in 1967, even in the early 1970's, most progressive, liberal and centrist people supported the right side of this struggle.
Sure, I favored a two state solution. I've always favored a two state solution. Israel has always favored a two state solution, since 1937, when they accepted the Peel Commission report which would have give the Palestinians a long, contiguous state and the Jews a totally non-contiguous state. The Jews said yes and the Palestinians and Arabs said no.
In 1947, the Jews were offered a non-contiguous state in which Jerusalem was separated from Tel Aviv and other Jewish cities, and the Palestinians were offered a contiguous state. And the Palestinians said no. Ben Gurion and the Israelis said yes. Nothing has changed. Not Israeli actions to be sure.
What changed is the perception of the world. The United Nations tragically has become a mega bomb for bigotry against Israel. If a space alien from another planet were to come down to earth and land at the General Assembly of the United Nations, or at some American college campuses, or many an urban capital, and have to report back to the distant galaxy from which he came, he'd have to report this is a wonderful planet with great countries that love peace. Like Syria, which is on the Security Council. Or Libya, that chairs the Human Rights Commission. But there's this one country, this evil nation that's been condemned by the UN more than any other country or all other countries combined. If the spaceship landed on the Berkeley campus, all the canards and untruths about Israel--genocide, apartheid, all the claims you hear so often, would be heard. And that's the tragedy.
And that's why I had to write The Case For Israel. It's my least favorite book, I have to tell you. It's the book nobody wants to write. Nobody has to write the Case for Canada or the Case for Spain or the Case for Australia. There's so much lying on college campuses today, so many untruths, so many legalese falsities being directed against Israel. But the impetus to write the Case For Israel came when the divestiture campaign began at Harvard and Berkeley and many of our college campuses. No members of the law school faculty, nor of the medical school faculty, nor the business school signed, but many at the other schools and departments signed the petition.
What did it call for? It called for no further investments in Israeli industries. What are Israel's main industries? It's not Jaffa oranges, it's high tech, life saving medical equipment, like kidney dialysis machines. Israel per capita saves more lives than any other country in the world.
I said cutting off this industry was immoral, so I challenged one of the leading pro-divestment professors at one of the Harvard colleges to debate me in front of his students. I challenged him to debate the morality of signing the petition to divest from Israel, but not from North Korea, not Cuba, not China, not Libya, not from Iraq in those days, not the Sudan -- only Israel. This was a man who taught the Christian approaches to the Old Testament. He said to me "Professor Dershowitz, my knowledge of the Middle East ended with the death of Moses." I invited those students to see me, watch me debate him or a surrogate. When nobody showed to take his position, I set the petition on a chair as a token surrogate and we had a dialog.
Many of the students who attended were not Jews and held no firm views of Israel. They all came up to me afterward and said the same three words: "We didn't know!"
"We didn't know Israel first offered a two state solution, a Palestinian state, but the Arabs rejected it!"
"We didn't know in 1967 Israel accepted Resolution 242, in which the United Nations called for the return of territories captured in exchange for full peace and secure boundaries."
All Arab states rejected it saying, "no peace, no recognition, no negotiations," but students today said, "We didn't know!"
These Harvard students didn't know that in the years 2000 and 2001 Ehud Barak along with President Bill Clinton had initially offered the Palestinians everything they were asking for -- a state made up of 97% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, a capital in Jerusalem, control of East Jerusalem, control of the Temple Mount, 30 billion dollars in a compensation package, and symbolic return of several thousand refugees. Instead of accepting it or coming back to the negotiating table, Arafat walked away and started the intifada and all the violence. The Harvard students kept saying, "We didn't know!"
"We didn't know that Prince Bandar at Taba called Arafat's rejection of the offer a crime against the Palestinian people and against all the people of the region."
The students just didn't know.
I came away with a different view than my friend Natan Sharansky. He came away with a sense of hopelessness. When he toured American campuses, he believed that America was becoming like France [which is exceedingly anti-Israel].
I came away with a very different, optimistic view. To be sure, 15 to 20% of students on college campuses -- perhaps more at Berkeley, Michigan, or Rutgers, fewer at Harvard and Yale -- you can't argue with them. It's like putting a dollar in the soda machine and the soda doesn't come out and neither does your dollar. You just can't argue with them. You want to kick the machine but you can't do that.
You cannot convince people like Noam Chomsky. And there are 15% on the other side who are clearly favorably disposed to Israel. But then there are 70% on college campuses with open and unfortunately empty minds when it comes to Israel. They take what their peers and professors say the Gospel truth. It's crucially important to fill that information gap.
During the same divestiture campaign, a young student came to me from Harvard College and asked me for forgiveness. I said, "What do I have to forgive you for? I don't even know you."
He said, "I never speak up on campus, in my classroom, in my dormitory, at dinner. I never speak up in favor of Israel even though I've been there on Operation Birthright and I know the facts and hear the lies."
"Why not?" I asked.
He replied, "Because if I am perceived as pro-Israel, pro-Zionist, in favor of Israel, I won't be able to get dates with young girls."