Noted legal scholar delivers keynote address at program

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 By Linda Laderman

Legal News
 
Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan M. Dershowitz was in the Detroit area to address supporters of the Holocaust Memorial Center at its 30th anniversary dinner November 9. Twelve hundred people attended the sold out event at Congregation Sharrey Zedak in Southfield.

Prior to his talk, Dershowitz spoke with The Detroit Legal News about his work, the legal profession, and why he came to Detroit.  

“I love the Jewish community of Detroit. I have always felt very much at home here,” Dershowitz said. “I want very much to support the Holocaust Memorial Center because it as much about the future as it is about the past. “

 Dershowitz shares the Holocaust Memorial Center’s mission to educate students and the general public about the consequences of hatred and discrimination. 

“Discrimination against anyone is discrimination against everyone,” he said. “ We must use museums like the Holocaust Memorial Center to teach people to understand the lessons of history so we don’t repeat them. ‘Never again’ is not a slogan for me. It‘s a commitment.” 

More than six million people and millions of other minorities were murdered by Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II. 

While remembering the Holocaust remains central to fighting anti-Semitism, Jews have not let it define them, Dershowitz said. 

“The Jewish people have moved on from the most effective genocide in our history. Survivors have done terrific things. Look at how effectively we have moved on. We founded the State of Israel. I get so incredibly inspired when I see how survivors turned tragedy into success.”

Despite representing many high profile clients, Dershowitz dedicates much of his time supporting Israel and exposing anti-Semitism. 

“There’s old-fashioned theological anti-Semitism and there is anti-Semitism coming from the hard left. Then there are those who self-identify as Jewish but support groups like Hamas,” Dershowitz explained. 

Anti-Israel views are widespread on American college campuses, Dershowitz said.  He attributes anti-Semitic incidents at universities to Jewish faculty members who refuse to speak out for fear of retribution from those who hold anti-Israel views. 

“The real villains are the Jewish pro-Israel professors who remain silent in the face of lies by anti-Israel faculty. I am very critical of pro-Israel professors who don’t think to speak out because they are intimidated by anti-Israel professors, worried about their tenure or student evaluations,” Dershowitz said. “This is not a good time to be perceived as pro-Israel on campus.”

Dershowitz praised efforts by Jewish students to combat anti-Semitism on their college campuses. 

“The students have been terrific, initiating grass roots movements to bring these issues to the forefront.” 

He cited the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Michigan State University as campuses where anti-Semitic threats have been aimed at Jewish students.  

“I never could have imagined that these issues would be so virulent today,” Dershowitz said. 

“I have absolutely no objection to criticism of Israel, but the demonization of the most robust democracy in the Middle East is something else, ” Dershowitz said. 

He mentioned accounts of two unnamed senior White House officials who called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derogatory names that implied the Israeli leader was bluffing about Israel’s willingness to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. 

“If these officials were not authorized to do this, Congressional hearings should be held and the officials should be fired. Name-calling is a very serious breach of trust. “

During his five decades in the law Dershowitz has witnessed the transformation of his profession. 

“The profession has changed dramatically in the past 50 years,” he said. “Money was never talked about by law firms but today everything is about money, profits and the bottom line.”  
Regardless of the emphasis on the bottom line, Dershowitz believes attorneys should do more pro bono work.

“Pro bono work is the way for new attorneys to build their reputations. All the big law firms have pro bono departments.“ Dershowitz said. “Pro bono is a win-win situation. It’s a good way to establish your reputation and gain courtroom experience. Ninety percent of the work I do today is pro bono.”

In fact, the only work Dershowitz took when he began to practice law was pro bono. 

“I didn’t think I was good enough so I took pro bono cases. I didn’t get paid but when I started winning I started to charge,” Dershowitz said.

At 76, Dershowitz continues to tackle policy issues that are close to him, writing two to three articles a week, speaking out against anti-Semitism and defending Israel.  He has written more than 30 books, won numerous accolades and defended those who could not speak for themselves. Still, Dershowitz is not content to rest on past accomplishments.  

“Looking back I think I could have done more. I regret that,” he concluded.

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