Alan Dershowitz speaking at the Zionist Organization of America dinner in New York City, Nov. 20, 2016 (Photo/ZOA-Facebook)
Alan Dershowitz speaking at the Zionist Organization of America dinner in New York City, Nov. 20, 2016 (Photo/ZOA-Facebook)

Dershowitz talk back on at UC Berkeley with law school as sponsor

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Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz says he will be speaking at UC Berkeley in two weeks, thanks to an invitation from Berkeley Law, the university’s law school, that allows him to bypass a campus rule requiring eight weeks notice for such a speech.

Dershowitz said in a phone interview today that he will speak at the law school on Oct. 10 following an invitation from Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and that he is continuing to seek a department to host him so he can speak elsewhere on campus.

The Harvard professor had said yesterday that he was being blocked from speaking about Israel at UC Berkeley because organizers of his visit didn’t give campus police the required eight-week notice for the event — a requirement that only applies to non-departmental applicants.

“I will definitely be at Berkeley, I will speak at the law school,” he said today. “I want to make sure I will speak as well” to a larger university audience.

Dershowitz said the sponsors of his visit, the Chabad Jewish Student Center and the pro-Israel student club Tikvah, had been turned down by several departments as a sponsor of his talk, and that he was trying to find out if any of those departments had sponsored “anti-Israel speakers” in the past.

“If they have, that presents a serious constitutional question for Berkeley,” Dershowitz said. “If a department has a policy of never sponsoring a speaker, that would be one thing. But if there’s content discrimination, that would be illegal under the First Amendment.”

Dershowitz’s lecture is tentatively titled “The Liberal Case for Israel.”

Rabbi Gil Yosef Leeds, the Chabad director, said yesterday that an initially approved 500-seat classroom was pulled because of the advance notice requirement.

The school’s “Major Events Hosted by Non-Departmental Users” interim policy statement announced on Aug. 14 states that a request form must be submitted to campus police “at least eight weeks prior to the event” for audiences of more than 200 people.

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said the policy applies only to non-departmental applicants, adding that Chabad and Tikvah can still hold an event with Dershowitz on Oct. 10 if they limit their audience.

“If they wish to host Mr. Dershowitz … we have offered the students a number of venues that can accommodate an audience of 199 people,” Mogulof said yesterday in an email. “If, however, having a larger audience is more important to the hosting student organization than holding the event on the date they initially proposed, we would be happy to work with them to reschedule the event for a day at least eight weeks from now so that we can maintain compliance with policy.”

Dershowitz, an emeritus professor of law at Harvard, wrote “The Case for Israel” in 2003 and often addresses the issue on college campuses, including an event earlier this week at Columbia University in New York.

UC Berkeley recently has been a battleground over free speech rights. Several right-wing speakers, including former Breitbart News editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, have visited amid accusations that the campus was shutting out right-leaning speakers.

Conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos made a 15-minute appearance on the steps of UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall last Sunday, costing the university an estimated $800,000 to provide security. He came after student organizers canceled a “Free Speech Week” that was to include Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former adviser, and conservative author Ann Coulter.

“I’m not looking to have a debate about free speech at Berkeley, I want to have a serious discussion about Israel,” Dershowitz said. “I hope they can do it at considerably less cost than the provocative speakers.

“I’m not in the category of Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter. I’m there as a professor of 50 years to give a serious talk.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.