Alan Dershowitz

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Person.png Alan Dershowitz
Alan Dershowitz.jpg
Born Alan Morton Dershowitz
1 September 1938
Brooklyn, New York
Nationality American
Alma mater Brooklyn College, Yale Law School
Spouse(s) Sue Barlach Carolyn Cohen
Children • Ella Dershowitz. Jamin Dershowitz
• Elon Dershowitz
Parents Harry and Claire Dershowitz
Wikipedia page Alan Dershowitz

Alan Morton Dershowitz is an Jewish-American lawyer and political commentator. He is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.[1] Dershowitz is also an outspoken advocate of Israel and has been involved in a number of high profile disputes with critics of Israeli policy. Dershowitz's academic output has faced strong criticism from opponents on both the right and left wing of the political spectrum[2][3].

Dershowitz is best known for providing legal defence for high profile clients such as Natan Sharansky, Claus von Bülow, O.J. Simpson, Michael Milken and Mike Tyson[4].

In January 2015, Alan Dershowitz was named alongside Prince Andrew in a 'sex slave' case and is suing for defamation. He urged the royal to also take legal action. Dershowitz was named in court documents by a woman who says she was forced to have sex with friends of US billionaire and convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, including Prince Andrew. The woman, identified as Virginia Roberts, was just 17 at the time, making her a minor.[5] The Duke of York and Buckingham Palace strenuously denied all allegations of misconduct and Dershowitz has said he was hoping that Ms Roberts would be jailed for perjury if she repeated the allegations under oath.[6]

Education and Career

Dershowitz studied a law degree at Yale University and graduated in 1962. He was an assistant professor at Harvard Law School from 1964 to 1967. He was awarded an MA in 1967 and has been a professor at Harvard Law School since. [7]

Norman Finkelstein and The Case for Israel

Norman Finkelstein alleged in his book Beyond Chutzpah that of the 52 quotations and endnotes in the first two chapters of Dershowitz's book The Case for Israel, 22 are almost exact replicas of another book. The other book In Time Immemorial by Joan Peters was also criticised by Finkelstein. Finkelstein argued that instead of quoting Peters as the source, Dershowitz cites the original sources from Peters' footnotes[8].

Finkelstein also alleges that Dershowitz's defence of Israel's human rights record during the second intifada is based on flawed or fraudulent data, which Finkelstein challenges with reports from organisations such as Amnesty International, the US-based Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organisation, B'Tselem. Says Finkelstein, "I juxtapose what he says is going on there and what is actually going on there."[9].

Finkelstein describes Dershowitz book as "among the most spectacular academic frauds ever published on the Israel-Palestine conflict." Finkelstein picks out many similarities between the books by Peters and Dershowitz, for example he says:

On a note both humorous and pathetic, Peters, in From Time Immemorial and claiming to be inspired by George Orwell, coins the term "turnspeak" to signal the inversion of reality (pp. 173, 402). Dershowitz, apparently confounded by his massive borrowings from Peters, credits the term "turnspeak" to Orwell, accusing critics of Israel of "deliberately using George Orwell’s ‘turnspeak’" (p. 57) and "Orwellian turnspeak" (p. 153). Is this scandalous scholarship, or is it plagiarism, or is it both?[10]

Dershowitz responded by arguing that:

Mr Finkelstein has accused me of not having written "The Case For Israel" but when I sent his publisher my handwritten draft, they made him remove that claim. He has accused virtually every pro-Israel writer, including me, of "plagiarism". I asked Harvard to conduct an investigation of this absurd charge. Harvard rejected it, yet he persists.[11]

The Case for Torture

Professor Dershowitz argues that laws safeguarding human rights were created in the aftermath of the first and second World Wars. He argues that the context for those laws is no longer relevant in the age of the suicide bomber. He lays out three key reasons for this:

"First, there is often no known entity to attack, since the suicide terrorists have died and the leaders who sent them have gone into hiding among civilians and may well be preparing renewed terrorist attacks".
"Second, there is no good reason for a democracy to have to absorb a first blow against its civilian population, especially if that blow can be catastrophic".
"Third, there is little possibility that potentially catastrophic first blows can be deterred by the threat of retaliation against a phantom enemy who welcomes martyrdom"[12].

Dershowitz argues for the legalisation of torture of terror suspects in an effort to protect democracy. He sums this position up by saying:

"While it may well be necessary for democracies to fight terrorists with one hand tied behind their backs, it is neither necessary nor desirable for a democracy to fight with two hands tied behind its back, especially when the ropes that bind the second hand are anachronistic laws that can be changed without compromising legitimate human rights. The laws must be changed to permit democracies to fight fairly and effectively against those who threaten its citizens. To paraphrase Robert Jackson, who served as the United States chief prosecutor at Nuremberg - the law must not be "a suicide pact""[13].

New Response to Palestinian Terrorism

In 2002 Dershowitz published an article in The Jerusalem Post entitled "New Response to Palestinian Terrorism". In it, he argues that Israel should demolish Palestinian houses in response to terrorist attacks. He says:

"Following the end of the moratorium, Israel would institute the following new policy if Palestinian terrorism were to resume. It will announce precisely what it will do in response to the next act of terrorism. For example, it could announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings. The response will be automatic. The order will have been given in advance of the terrorist attacks and there will be no discretion. The point is to make the automatic destruction of the village the fault of the Palestinian terrorists who had advance warnings of the specific consequences of their action. He adds that "further acts of terrorism would trigger further destruction of specifically named locations. The 'waiting list' targets would be made public and circulated throughout the Palestinian-controlled areas."[14]

Lockerbie controversy

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi wrongly convicted, Bernt Carlsson callously targeted on Pan Am Flight 103

According to The Jewish Journal of 6 September 2001, Alan Dershowitz, prolific author and veteran battler for human rights, is a much-sought-after speaker, but Temple Adath Yeshurun in Syracuse, N.Y., may have scored a first by withdrawing an invitation to him.

Dershowitz was to have delivered the keynote address and accepted a Citizen of the Year award at the temple's festive dinner on 6 September 2002, but that was before dinner chairman Alan Burstein received some unsettling news. The Harvard professor had agreed to serve as counsel to a British law firm that is appealing the conviction of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. The Libyan intelligence officer has been found guilty by a panel of Scottish judges of murdering 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on 21 December 1988. The terrorist act hit the city of Syracuse particularly hard, because aboard the doomed plane were 35 students from Syracuse University. Slated as honorees and participants at the temple dinner were the chancellor of Syracuse University, his wife, and faculty members who still bear the emotional scars of the tragedy.

Under the circumstances, it would have been the height of insensitivity to ask the university leaders to share the dais with a man perceived to be an ally of the convicted terrorist, Burstein said. Dershowitz responded with characteristic vigour, telling The Jewish Journal:

"This is a 21st century version of legal McCarthyism." He noted that there was widespread doubt among Western intelligence agencies and even some of the families of the British victims that al-Megrahi was the actual perpetrator. "It is at least as likely that the bombing was carried out not by a Libyan agent, but by someone connected with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command," Dershowitz said. He said his own role was limited to objectively evaluating the validity of the eyewitness testimony that helped convict al-Megrahi. "It is preposterous to criticize any lawyer for seeking the truth," Dershowitz said. "I have been doing that all my life and will continue to do so as long as God gives me the strength."

During a number of phone interviews, the two principals agreed that if Dershowitz had been aware of the special loss by the Syracuse community, and Burstein of the very limited role of Dershowitz in the appeal, the unhappy incident might have been avoided.

Dershowitz is to appear at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance on 20 September 2001 to discuss his new book, "Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000," with a panel of legal experts.

"I invite anyone with doubts about my role in the Lockerbie case to come and ask questions," Dershowitz said.[15]

"The Criminal Cynicism of Hamas"

In a 2009 article entitled "The Criminal Cynicism of Hamas", Dershowitz argues that Hamas are to blame when Palestinian civilians are killed by Israeli weapons because they deliberately attack Israel from civilian areas. These tactics are described by Dershowitz as the "CNN Strategy". This strategy involves Hamas attacking Israel from densely populated civilian areas so that when Israel respond civilians are killed. Dershowitz describes how:

"The CNN strategy is working because decent people all over the world are naturally sickened by images of dead and injured children".

Dershowitz also argues that the number of civilians killed by Israel is often exaggerated, he says:

"Moreover, the number of civilians killed by Israel is almost always exaggerated. First, it widely assumed that if a victim is a "child" or a "woman", he or she is necessarily a civilian". He points out that this way of counting dead civilians is innacurate because "Hamas often uses Palestinian youths, as well as women, as terrorists".

Dershowitz lays the blame for the death of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli Defence Forces firmly at the door of Hamas, Arguing that:

"Hamas does everything in its power to provoke Israel into killing as many Palestinian civilians as possible, in order to generate condemnation against the Jewish state".[16].


  • 2005: The Case for Peace : How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can be Resolved
  • 2004: Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights
  • 2004: America on Trial: Inside the Legal Battles That Transformed Our Nation--From the Salem Witches to the Guantanamo Detainees
  • 2003: America Declares Independence
  • 2003: The Case for Israel
  • 2002: Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age
  • 2002: Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the threat, responding to the challenge
  • 2001: Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000
  • 2001: Letters to a Young Lawyer
  • 2000: The Genesis of Justice: ten stories of biblical injustice that led to the Ten Commandments and modern law
  • 1999: Just Revenge (fiction)
  • 1998: Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the emerging constitutional crisis
  • 1997: The Vanishing American Jew: in search of Jewish identity for the next century
  • 1996: Reasonable Doubts: The Criminal Justice System and the O.J. Simpson Case
  • 1994: The Abuse Excuse: and other cop-outs, sob stories, and evasions of responsibility
  • 1994: The Advocate's Devil (fiction)
  • 1992: Contrary to Popular Opinion
  • 1991: Chutzpah
  • 1988: Taking Liberties: a decade of hard cases, bad laws, and bum raps
  • 1985: Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Balow Case
  • 1982: The Best Defense
  • 1973: In Defense of Shahak, Boston Globe

Related Links


  1. Alan M. Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, Accessed 14-August-2009
  2. Alexander Cockburn, Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist, The Nation, 13-October-2009, Accessed 14-August-2009
  3. Hadley Arkes,The Rights and Wrongs of Alan Dershowitz, The Claremont Institute, Accessed 14-August-2009
  4. Alan Dershowitz, Profile, The Huffington Post, Accessed 17-August-2009
  5. "Harvard law professor embroiled in 'sex slave' scandal alongside Prince Andrew files defamation lawsuits over the claims - and urges the duke to do the same"
  6. "Prince Andrew accuser Virginia Roberts now sued for defamation by top American lawyer"
  7. 'Alan Morton Dershowitz', The Complete Marquis Who's Who (R) Biographies, 10 February 2009, accessed via Lexis Nexis on 29 May 2009
  8. Gary Younge, J'accuse, The Guardian, 10-August-2005, Accessed 14-August-2009
  9. Gary Younge, J'accuse, The Guardian, 10-August-2005, Accessed 14-August-2009
  10. Norman G. Finkelstein, Alan Dershowitz Exposed: What if a Harvard Student Did This?, Norman G. Finkelstein, Accessed 14-August-2009
  11. Alan Dershowitz, Norman Finkelstein: the case against, The Guardian, 14-June-2007, Accessed 14-August-2009
  12. Alan Dershowitz, Alan Dershowitz: Should we fight terror with torture?, The Independent, 03-July-2006, Accessed 17-August-2009
  13. Alan Dershowitz, Alan Dershowitz: Should we fight terror with torture?, The Independent, 03-July-2006, Accessed 17-August-2009
  14. Alan M. Dershowitz, "New Response to Palestinian Terrorism.", The Jerusalem Post,11-March-2002, Accessed 17-August-2009
  15. "Dershowitz Blacklisted"
  16. Alan Dershowitz, The criminal cynicism of Hamas, The Guardian, 08-January-2009, Accessed 17-August-2009