Alan Dershowitz’s definition of retirement, like most of his career, is unique.
Following his recent announcement that, at 75 and after 50 years as a professor at Harvard Law School, he was stepping down, Dershowitz spoke at length to The Jerusalem Post about everything from possibly becoming an Israeli citizen, to the peace process, to controversial freedom of speech causes he has championed, including defending figures such as O.J. Simpson and Julian Assange.
The world-famous lawyer started by describing the first eight days of his retirement, which he spent in Israel.
Was he tanning on the beach in Eilat? Not exactly.
Each day, Dershowitz spoke to a different top official or group about Israel-related issues.
His schedule varied from a speech to American Latinos on a trip to learn more about Israel; to tea with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara; to a hyped slot at the huge Globes conference of businesspeople; to meeting with virtually every major political party leader in Israel.
Asked why he had “retired,” if he planned on such a busy schedule, Dershowitz clarified that it was not so much that he was retreating from public life, as much as he was “reinventing myself” so “I can spend more time in Israel and fight against its delegitimization.”
In that vein, Dershowitz noted that he was “very moved when [world-famous pianist] Evgeny Kissin” symbolically became an Israeli citizen, and that he is “giving thought to that myself.”
Until now, he said that he had refrained from requesting Israeli citizenship because of “charges of dual loyalty.”
But now, becoming an Israeli citizen would let him send the message to those boycotting Israel that “if you’re boycotting Israel, you’re boycotting me.”
This would be a “symbolic act of protest against singling out Israel” and he noted that in a past campaign, “10,000 American academics said we regard ourselves as Israeli academics.”
Regarding the peace process, Dershowitz expressed “cautious optimism.”
Part of the ability to make peace comes from the fact that “Israel has the capacity to defend itself, which distinguishes Israel from the history of the Jewish people.”
Connecting the boycott issue with the peace process, he said that while Israel “can make peace with the Palestinians,” he believed that “the Boycott Divestment [and Sanctions] campaign is making it harder for peace to be achieved, since it puts pressure on [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas” to dig in his heels regarding “radical Palestinians who tell him, ‘See, we’re winning.’”
He accused the BDS camp “of not being against the occupation, but against Israel’s existence. It’s not about 1967 [and the pre-1967 lines], it’s about 1948 [when Israel achieved independence].”
On the new Iran-US deal, Dershowitz said that from their meetings, he was “confident that Bibi [Netanyahu] will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, whatever it takes.”
He added, “If Iran tries to develop nuclear weapons during [Barack] Obama’s presidency, he would also take action, but the problem is the different US and Israeli redlines, and Israel’s redline is sooner for good reason – since Iran is closer to Israel.”
Regarding recent Iranian threats to pull out of the US-Iran deal if a new congressional bill relating to sanctions is passed, Dershowitz said that Iran “is bluffing, they’ll never pull out. It’s too good for them. That they won’t pull out is the best proof that it is good for them.”
He added that he is convinced that Iran is “moving ahead with nuclear weapons. On research and development, they are moving ahead, since it’s not prohibited by the deal. They are moving ahead on rocket capabilities, which could be used for firing nuclear weapons.”
“They may even be moving ahead surreptitiously with their centrifuges,” speculated Dershowitz.
“It’s a bad deal. Still, it was well-intentioned, and I understand the Obama administration’s position. For them, it may not be a bad deal, as they have more global concerns; but it is bad for Israel, and I personally think it is bad for the US.”
Dershowitz also weighed in on what he characterized as the negative impact of the International Criminal Court on the peace process.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the great test as to whether the ICC will survive,” he asserted. “My view is it will not survive if it opens a case against Israel.”
Dershowitz said the ICC’s basic rules are that it will not “go after a country with a legal system” which deals with war crimes allegations against it.
He continued, “If it changes that posture, and goes after the country that has the best legal system in the world for constraining violations of human rights, constraining military action and protecting civilians, the US will never join.”
“It will be the beginning of the end – Great Britain, France, Canada will also back away,” he said.
The key, he said, was for the Palestinians to understand that threats to take Israel to the ICC “should not be able to be used as leverage in negotiations.”
Dershowitz noted, “I spoke to Abbas, who personally said he will use the ICC as leverage. If there is no peace, he will consider initiating proceedings. That isn’t proper use of the ICC.”
He also addressed those who say the ICC should take on cases related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to show it is not Africa-centric or that it discriminates by only accusing Africans of war crimes.
“It should be Africa-centric. When [famed American bank robber] Willie Sutton was asked, ‘Why do you rob banks,’ he said, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ The focus should be on Africa, because that is where the genocides are. African countries don’t have the internal systems where citizens can seek remedies,” he said.
Switching to the more philosophical- legal arena, Dershowitz dug in on his “free speech – always and for everyone” views, which he grounds in the principle that “speech that challenges authority is vital.”
“Free speech isn’t free – it’s expensive, and imposes real costs,” he said, illustrating his point with this example: “A Palestinian student came to see me after [PLO leader Yasser] Arafat’s death, when he wanted to get a Palestinian flag on campus in his memory.”
Meanwhile, Dershowitz’s personal reaction to Arafat’s death was: “If only he had died earlier. I would not shake his hand, he was a mass murderer and a terrorist.”
He said he told the student, “I will get you that right, but I will hand out leaflets telling the truth when you fly the flag.”
This view led him to defend neo-Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie, Illinois, and to voice his support for Holocaust- denier Matthew Hale.
On defending guilty clients, he said, “That is old news. A lot of my clients, I don’t like – some people who murder, rape. I think of myself as a doctor or a priest. You don’t need to like people to treat them medically, or to take their confession.”
One question asked by the Post which Dershowitz said he had never been asked before was whether he joked or made small talk with clients of whom he did not approve. He answered, “I don’t make small talk with clients like that, just legal representation. I work as hard as I can to defend them, but no jokes and no showing them pictures of my family.”
In regard to helping retired football player O.J. Simpson attain his acquittal on criminal murder charges – though Simpson was later held liable for causing the wrongful death (of the same persons) in his civil trial, and also later convicted of a separate armed robbery – Dershowitz said that all he did was “prove police tampered with evidence… the verdict in the criminal case of ‘innocent’ could be right, because of the standard of ‘guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,’” whereas the civil trial had a lower standard.
He had “no contact with O.J. afterward, he was just someone whose case I handled.”
Still, he admitted that in the case of Simpson, “my mother didn’t like me representing him and said, ‘Oy vey’… I had not followed his career carefully as football is my fourth sport,” with his main loyalties lying with the Red Sox and the Celtics.
Dershowitz also discussed defending WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, despite accusations by some that WikiLeaks had undermined US and Israeli national security.
He said, “Don’t believe government officials when they talk about national security. Most claims of national security really mean, something will embarrass me personally.”
Part of the answer, Dershowitz added, is that in regard to certain embarrassing disclosures, “that is the cost you pay for freedom of the press… I don’t think he [Assange] is ideologically pro- or anti-Israel. I think he is pro-disclosure, and lets the chips fall where they may.”
Ironically, he noted, Assange had insisted that Dershowitz come see him in London, out of fear their conversations would be overheard.
Dershowitz responded to Assange: “Isn’t that ironic – you’re disclosing secrets, and you are trying to keep our conversations secret!”
Dershowitz is also well-known for publicly taking issue with the views of former US president Jimmy Carter and former UN official Richard Goldstone (author of the notorious Goldstone Report, which strongly criticized Israel’s conduct during Operation Cast Lead five years ago) on certain Israel issues.
He said the two were very different, stating “Carter is a bad person, he has gone to the dark side and is bought and paid for by Arab lobbies,” emphasizing Saudi Arabia as funding Carter’s activities.
He accused the former US president of “loving Yasser Arafat and having contempt for every Israeli prime minister.”
In contrast, Dershowitz said Goldstone “made a mistake and lacked the courage to stand up to the others appointed to look into the Gaza War,” but had “shown a willingness to reconsider his views.”
Nevertheless, he said that he was “proud of my role rebutting Goldstone” in an approximately 50-page critique of the report that he authored.
Dershowitz is also known for his outspoken views on torturing terrorists to obtain information.
He explained he has “called for torture warrants, because although I am against torture and think it should be banned, I am for accountability.”
He said it is still “clearly used in the US” and that at most, the “US Supreme Court says you can’t use the fruits of torture in court, but never said torturing someone violates [constitutional protections under] the Fifth Amendment or due process clause.”
In light of this reality, Dershowitz’s point is if he can’t completely stop certain actions like torture, he would rather regulate them – in place of the alternative of no regulation whatsoever.
As he signs off from one of his major public roles, Dershowitz said that going forward, in addition to fighting against delegitimization of Israel, he intends to finish a book on the biblical Abraham, whom he called “the world’s first, but not last, Jewish lawyer.”
He said he would discuss five stories in Genesis, including Abraham’s questioning the justice of God’s punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah, as his evidence.
“If our founder can talk to God like that, we are people that stand for questioning and justice,” said Dershowitz.