ANY event with Professor Alan Dershowitz as a keynote speaker is bound to be special, but the 2000-plus audience at UIA NSW’s gala event in Sydney last Sunday were, unexpectedly, treated to much more than an inspirational speech.
They were lucky enough to witness a live masterclass in how to defend Israel on the spot, using facts, logic and reason.
When a handful of protesters, – who earlier were waving Palestinian flags and a “Jews Against Occupation” banner outside the main entrance – began disrupting his presentation, Dershowitz chose to address them.
Up against the acclaimed Harvard law professor, who also spoke at private UIA functions in Melbourne on Tuesday, the protesters didn’t stand a chance.
“I support anyone’s right to shout, to boo and to heckle,” the Harvard law professor began.
“But they gave out a leaflet earlier that started with ‘tzedek, tzedek tirdof’ [justice, justice must you pursue] – oh the chutzpah of protesters against Israel citing that from the parshah of Shoftim, which ironically was the one I recited on my bar mitzvah many, many years ago.
“The word tzedek is repeated because there is often justice on many sides, but the protesters only list what they believe are the injustices committed against the Palestinian people.
“Not once do you ever list the injustices against Israel and the Jewish people!
“We are here tonight because we believe in justice, we support justice, and we insist that justice will only come through strength.”
After receiving a standing ovation, Dershowitz turned his attention to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, arguing that while it has “utterly failed” in its goal of persuading universities and corporations to cut Israel off, it has succeeded to some extent in influencing many young people, who represent the future.
“Occasionally you get some singer like Lorde from New Zealand [following BDS campaigners’ advice] … she just listens to the last person that spoke to her.
“But for me, refusing to perform for Jewish audiences in Israel is no different from refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple who want to get married – it is pure out and out bigotry, and it is not only directed against Israelis, but all Jews.
“How do I know that? First it exempts Israeli Arabs, and second, I was subjected to BDS when I was invited by the Oxford Union to a debate about BDS and I asked to debate Omar Barghouti – the founder of BDS – but he said I’m an [American] Jewish Zionist, so he is not allowed to debate me!
“But the great tragedy – and I get upset whenever I talk about this – is that the real villains of this problem are not the anti-Israel professors on college campuses, and not the folks in the back tonight who are shouting.
“The real villains are the pro-Israel professors on American college campuses that don’t have the courage to stand up for their own convictions.
“I think we can win over the young people but we just have to do a much better job.”
Dershowitz said, as a proud liberal, he is concerned about recent polls in the US that show support for Israel is becoming much lower among young and educated Democrat voters.
“People ask me why are you still a Democrat, and the reason is to keep [support for Israel] a bipartisan issue – it’s so important.
“I will never change my stripes, and I don’t think you have to just to defend Israel … but you can criticise your [side of politics] if it does the wrong thing.
“President Obama accepted the Iran [nuclear] deal without having it go through Congress, but by far the worst thing he did was order his representative in the UN – my former student Samantha Power – not to veto the UN resolution of December 2016 which basically said the Kotel … and the Jewish Quarter, are in illegally occupied territory. That is a moral and historical wrong and it makes peace much less likely.”
Dershowitz said he believes a two-state solution is still possible, “but peace can only come if Israel’s security is 110 per cent protected – no compromises on security or on Israel’s ability to defend itself”.
“No country in the history of the world has contributed so much to humankind in so short a period of history as the nation state of the Jewish people, yet Israel is the only country condemned by the UN more often than all the other countries of the world combined – and that world includes Syria.
“Because of this irony, Israel must have massive deterrent power, but it also must have disproportionate power in terms of support by people like us, and no supporter of Israel should ever be ashamed to use that power.
“We’ve learnt the lessons of the Shoah that morality is not enough.
“Peace for Israel and the Jewish people comes through strength, and what makes me optimistic is seeing a group of people like you, and organisations like UIA.
“The Australian Jewish community is small but mighty, it’s a community that stands so united.
“I’m trying to bottle that and take it back to my country!”
More than 4000 people listened to Professor Alan Dershowitz at five major events across Sydney, including the gala event, a Young Leadership event at Royal Randwick, and a visit to Moriah College to speak to students from Moriah, Masada, Emanuel and Kesser Torah.
Dershowitz told the students attending a Jewish school enabled him to learn about Jewish values that had a huge impact in his life.
“It made it so natural for me to defend Israel,” he said.
Moriah College student Sarah Cass said she a lot from his presentation.
“I took away to always be proud of who I am, proud of my identity and proud of my Judaism,” Cass said.
Other guest speakers at the General Division gala event included Colonel Richard Kemp – who commanded NATO’s Operation Fingal in Afghanistan in 2003 – Israel’s Ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer and Israel’s Youth Futures Program founder Shai Lazer.
In a nice touch, UIA NSW president Lance Rosenberg presented the S J Kreutner Award – the highest honour that can be bestowed on a UIA staff member – to the retiring Sam Steif, for his work spanning 28 years in the Wills and Bequests unit, which raised $45 million under his watch.
“The UIA responds to the most pressing needs of the people of Israel, and our responsibility to ensure the most disadvantaged on Israel’s social periphery are taken care of remains as important as ever.
“Thank you for supporting us in helping Israel’s greatest asset, its people.”
Dershowitz also spoke at UIA events in Melbourne and Perth.