Alan Dershowitz in Tel Aviv, January 24, 2001
Alan Dershowitz in Tel Aviv, January 24, 2001 Photo by Archive
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Senior faculty members at Tel Aviv University have come out against remarks by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz on Saturday in which he condemned Israeli university faculty who criticize Israel and have even supported an academic boycott of the country.

Dershowitz made the remarks, in which he also criticized academics who use their academic freedom and their Jewishness to chastise the Israeli government, at a ceremony awarding him an honorary doctorate at the university.

(Watch Dershowitz's speech - starts at 50th minute of video - here)

(Read the complete text of Dershowitz's speech here)

In a letter to the university's president, Joseph Klafter, a group of faculty members demanded that Tel Aviv University disassociate itself from Dershowitz's comments and "unequivocally defend the freedom of expression of all the members of the academic community."

They wrote: "The fact that Dershowitz mentioned the names of [university] lecturers and accused them of hurting students and harming the resilience of the State of Israel already borders on incitement."

The letter was initiated in the history department and within hours attracted the support of 80 faculty members.

Dershowitz, one of the most prominent pro-Israel advocates in the United States, spoke at the university on Saturday evening on behalf of this year's recipients of honorary degrees. But he stressed that the views he expressed were his own. Dershowitz said academic freedom not only meant freedom to criticize the establishment but also the right to defend the government, work with it and be a patriot.

He said students also have academic freedom and the right not to accept lecturers' classroom propaganda. Dershowitz's speech was met by enthusiastic applause.

In their protest letter, the faculty said that Dershowitz "has no evidence that anyone on the faculty has forced his views on students."

Tel Aviv University issued its own statement last night. "Prof. Dershowitz enjoyed the right to freedom of speech and to express his views. Klafter emphasizes that the university will continue to unequivocally defend freedom of expression of all the members of the academic community."

Dershowitz mentioned three faculty members - Rachel Giora of the linguistics department, Anat Matar of the philosophy department and Shlomo Sand of the history department.

Outgoing university rector Dan Levitan recently threatened to bring disciplinary charges against Matar after she took part in a conference in London - while classes were in recess at the university - dealing with the general and academic boycott of Israel. But no action has been taken.

Regarding Levitan's threatened action against Matar, the university said in its statement that "by virtue of his position, the university rector is entitled to approve or not approve vacation time for a member of the faculty during the academic year."

Dershowitz issued a separate statement to Haaretz. "Let the public judge whether the petition correctly characterizes my talk and whether it borders on 'incitement' or is itself an example of the kind of free speech many on the hard left would like to stifle," he wrote.