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Letter to the editor: Column contained many falsehoods

Published: March 2, 2007
Section: Opinions


To the Editor,

It's hard to imagine that one column (“Why I ignored the man from Harvard” by Stefan Borst-Censullo) could contain so many malicious falsehoods. To begin, Borst-Censullo asserts that “Dershowitz would never have come here [to Brandeis] if he did not expect a friendly crowd.” If Borst-Censullo knows anything about me, he should know that I relish hostile crowds. That's why I told the moderator I wanted only hostile, not friendly, questions. That's why I spoke last year at some of the most hostile European campuses. There would have been a more hostile crowd at Brandeis if those close-minded students and faculty who walked out on my speech had remained and challenged me. But instead, these cowards insisted on listening to only one side and then whining.

Borst-Censullo claims that I have “accused the mother of [Norman Finkelstein] of working with the Nazis.” Again, he has it wrong. It was Finkelstein who raised this issue when he wrote the following: “Still, if she didn't cross fundamental moral boundaries, I glimpsed from her manner of pushing and shoving in order to get to the head of a queue, which mortified me, how my mother must have fought Hobbes's war of all against all many a time in the camps. Really, how else would she have survived?”

Why would Finkelstein use the words “if she didn't cross the fundamental moral boundaries” unless he was questioning whether his mother had indeed crossed such boundaries, that is, whether she might well have collaborated or violated the other fundamental moral norms in the camps. Why else would he have included the “if” phrase?

Nor did I imply that any student “supports Nazis.” I was responding to an argument that when a terrorist group like Hamas wins an election, we are not entitled to complain about the result, and to try to have them undone in a subsequent election. My response was that surely we all would have had the right, indeed the obligation, to complain about Hitler's electoral victory. I then added, “I would also have liked to have seen an election in 1934 where Hitler was defeated. You wouldn't have? You would be happy with the outcome? No.” The moderator then said, “I don't really think she would have voted for Hitler in 1934.” And I emphatically added, “Of course not.” Quite different from the way Borst-Censullo described it.

Finally, he complains that I told a Palestinian woman that she was “talking to the wrong people” when she complained about the inconvenience of checkpoints. What I said was that she should be talking to those Palestinians whose terrorism has required Israel to install check points to prevent its civilians from being murdered.

Anyone who actually was at my talk or watched it on television would know that truth does not seem relevant to Borst-Censullo. He simply makes up facts to fit his ideology. Fortunately, there is a tape of the event that shows Borst-Censullo for what he is.

-Alan Dershowitz
Harvard Professor