Dershowitz Attacks Penn BDS Conference; Next In Line, The United Methodist Church

by James M. Wall

Israeli blogger Noam Sheizal writes in the US based, Foreign Policy’s The Middle East Channel, that the majority of voters in Israel currently have no interest in ending the country’s 44 year-long military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Sheizal, a columnist for +972, a progressive Israeli website, concludes in his FP essay, that the “peace camp” has disappeared from Israeli politics.

For Israelis, according to Sheizal, the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank

remains a non-issue and will continue to be so, as long as the military is able to hold back any local Palestinian resistance, the prime minister is successful in resisting continued diplomatic pressure and regional isolation, and the internal and external boycott movement remains marginal.

What Sheizal describes as “the internal and external boycott movement” is better known in US peace circles as BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
The indifference to BDS that Sheizal found among Israelis is unfortunately also found in the US voting public.

This indifference is not shared by those who gathered on the University of Pennsylvania campus this weekend for the first national meeting of BDS. According to the conference’s website, BDS’ goal is to “boycott, divest from and sanction (BDS) the State of Israel until it complies with its obligations under international and human rights law.”

The Israel Lobby and its US supporters took the BDS weekend event quite seriously, so much so that a heavy-hitter like noted criminal attorney Alan Dershowitz. was on the scene to employ his courtroom skills to make Israel’s case.

The presence of  Dershowitz in the University of Pennsylvania college newspaper prior to this weekend, was an early indication that the Israel Lobby is in such a belligerent paranoid mindset that any public display of criticism of Israeli policies must be resisted with heavy vitriolic rhetoric.

To the Lobby, there is never any room for indifference where Israel is concerned.

Who better than Dershowitz to set the agenda for the battle ahead.

“Why Israel Matters to You, Me, and Penn: A conversation with Alan Dershowitz,” was the title of Dershowitz’ lecture, an event co-hosted by Penn’s Political Science department, which had earlier refused to co-sponsor the BDS conference.

Advance attacks on BDS speakers were reported by Max Blumenthal, who was also a Conference participant.

Ali Abunimah, a renowned Palestinian writer and solidarity activist who will deliver the conference’s keynote address, was recently accused by Emily Schrader, an activist with the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, of “incitement to violence against Israelis.” Wayne Firestone, the president of the pro-Israel student group Hillel, accused the Penn BDS conference of advocating “warfare” and fomenting “hatred.”

The allegations leveled by Schrader and Firestone could not be further from the truth. Not one participant in the Penn BDS conference has “incited” violence against Israelis or anyone else.

Instead, BDS advocates have raised their voices in support of an expressly non-violent movement that takes its inspiration from the American civil rights struggle against Jim Crow bigotry and the international campaign against South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Thursday night one day before the conference opened, Dershowitz spoke to a full house at the Zellerbach Theater at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. His audience included  people from the university and from the larger community.

Dershowitz’ invitation to speak came from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Hillel of Greater Philadelphia and Penn Hillel.

David Cohen, Chairman of the Penn Board of Trustees, introduced Dershowitz with a message from University President Amy Gutmann, which included this pro-Israel sentiment:  “We are unwavering in our support of Israel. We do not support the message or the goals of BDS.”

Cohen is the chairman of the board of Comcast, which recently purchased the NBC television network, which includes MSNBC.

As faithful viewers are aware, MSNBC has a progressive stance. However, as Philip Weiss points out on his Mondoweiss website, the progressive MSNBC anchors do not reflect a progressive outlook in matters related to the Israel/Palestine issue. The lineup of Chis Matthews, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell, are four of television’s leading PEPs (Progressive Except on Palestine).

In his talk Thursday, Dershowitz praised the University for “championing free speech”. He added, however, according to the news report, that If Penn had banned BDS. he would have been forced to defend them in the name of free speech, something he wouldn’t want to do.

After that nod to free speech, Dershowitz told his appreciative audience, “We are going to win this encounter.” Dershowitz was critical of  Penn professors who support BDS, describing them are “complacent with evil.”

Penn for Palestine co-president, sophomore Sarah Shihadah, explained that their BDS group opted to watch the live stream of the event instead of attending the event because of Dershovitz’s “hostile rhetoric” against BDS supporters.

“[We] hope the balance of the two events,” — Dershowitz’s talk and the BDS conference — “will stimulate honest academic discourse,” Shihadah said.

She added, however that she felt Dershowitz “misrepresented and omitted some of the human-rights issues faced by Palestinians, such as the millions of Palestinians living under occupation and millions more in diaspora whose rights Israel fails to uphold as recognized by the United Nations.”

During his talk, Dershowitz’ comment that the UN is a “house of hypocrisy” was greeted by loud cheers and applause. Also in his speech, Dershowitz charged: “BDS hypocrites [are] interested in de-legitimizing Israel.”

Ali Abunimah earlier wrote in a guest column for the Philadelphia Inquirer:

We are coming together to push forward an inclusive movement that supports nonviolent action to promote the human rights of the Palestinian people, because only full respect for these rights can lead to peace. Today, millions of Palestinians live without basic rights under Israeli rule. This intolerable situation is at the root of problems that affect the whole world.

This is a theme that will move forward as both secular and religious groups gather,step by determined step, to make the case for BDS.

Next in line, the quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which meets in Tampa, Florida, from April 24 through May 4, 2012. On the Conference agenda will be a resolution that would make it official church policy to divest United Methodist funds from three US corporations–Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard–which the denomination has determined  are using church investment funds to support the Occupation of Palestinian Territories.

Delegates who support the divestment resolution will be able to declare that United Methodists will not allow its funds to participate in the Occupation.


The resolution calls for the General Conference to instruct all United Methodist general boards and agencies to divest promptly from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard, which have been engaged repeatedly by United Methodist agencies and annual conferences on this issue, until these companies end their involvement in the Israeli occupation.

The Penn BDS Conference was the opening salvo in 2012 in the campaign for Palestinian, and in the long run, Israeli, justice. In April, United Methodist delegates will be able to choose either to support the Palestinians who have asked for their help in ending Israel’s Occupation, or they may choose to reject that Palestinian request.

The vote will be the moment in time, Kairos time, when United Methodists will answer the question, “Which side are you on?”

The picture at the top of this posting is of a ceremonial space honoring indigenous people, by artist Bob Haozous. It is located in Fort Brooke Park on the Riverwalk in Tampa, Fla. The United Methodist Church will hold an Act of Repentance and Healing for Indigenous Persons, during its 2012 General Conference, which will be held a few blocks away at the Tampa Convention Center April 24-May 4. The United Methodist News Service photo is by Mike DuBose. 

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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17 Responses to Dershowitz Attacks Penn BDS Conference; Next In Line, The United Methodist Church

  1. Sam Jones says:

    “The lady [Dersh] doth protest too much, me thinks.” Great post Jim – I take comfort in the fact that the level of vitriol (and desperation) from sycophants like Dershowitz is directly proportionate to the level of success that non-violent tactics rooted in international law, like BDS, are having. For Dershowitz and his ilk, there is no acceptable form of resistance to the Israeli occupation, whether violent or non-violent, as they, at their core do not believe it is a occupation or that Palestinians have a fundamental right to their land.

  2. Max says:

    This is the Palestine solidarity movement beginning to get itself in fighting shape for the next stage of the struggle. Thanks for the write up.

  3. Ed McCarthy says:

    The question is not “Which Side Are You On?” The question is whether or not BDS is the way forward. Just looking at the vehemence, and strength, of the pro-Israeli response indicates that it is not. A basic evil besetting the Israeli-Palestinian situation is its polarized character. It is a Zero Sum Game, in which the Israelis hold virtually all the cards. A tactic like BDS promises only to reinforce that basic evil. It is also unlikely to have a significant effect until long after the Israelis will have consolidated their control of the Occupied Territories. BDS is a primrose path.

    In this rather appalling election year, it is hard to conceive of a positive US Government role in relation to the conflict. However, some basic realities remain: First, a 2-State solution–to which the US remains committed–is the only feasible end to be pursued, and before it becomes wholly impossible. Second, ending the status quo via the 2-State solution is in the US national interest and, arguably, that of the two peoples.

    Third, decisive US intervention is critical to a 2-State outcome. Those like Ali Abunimah, who rejects the 2-State outcome in favor of a wholly unrealistic One State approach, and others who insist upon BDS only perpetuate the longstanding failure of those in the US who support an outcome fair to the Palestinians to mount a realistic campaign to bring about useful change in US Mideast policy. That is what is needed, and BDS is almost wholly irrelevant, if not counterproductive, to its achievement.

  4. Willliam H. Slavick says:

    If Harvard University had any integrity (defined as willingness to put its self-respect before money), it would long since have brought charges against Dershowitz for unfitness to serve, taxing him with his blatant lies about the situation in Palestine, and would have fired him. The action wouid pass AAUP muster or show AAUP to be another Zionist outpostl

    Like Kissinger, who should be jailed for life, Dershowitzlk appears immune from accountability.

  5. Patricia Pynchon says:

    Obviously, they (the pro-Israel people who cannot feel the Palestinian pain),must think there is something to this, or their outcry would not be so strong.
    Actually, I don’t think that the BDS is widespread enough to do harm to Israel, nevertheless, I think it should be done quietly and without publicity, almost as a whispered, unspoken movement. So Far it has not been strong enough.

  6. Urbane Peachey says:

    Ending Israel occupation of West Bank, Gaza and the Golan should be daily agenda in the US congress; the occupation causes unending dehumanizing displacement and dispossession of Palestinians and devastation of human communities. Equal agenda should be rebuilding of Palestinian communities, while insisting to an end to the destroy Israel impulse of Palestine militia. Instead US congress, beholden to AIPAC, continues to bankroll Israel with all kinds of military collaboration and joint planning, bolstered by $3 billion tax dollars annually. Israel’s domination with its smug possession of nuclear weapons is unconscionable and makes mockery of the Judaism Israel claims to embrace. Read Avrahm Burg, The Holocaust is Over. Yes the holocaust was horrific and will never happen again, whatever the rhetoric of insane people.

  7. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Dershowitz is an expert in demagoguery and slamming dirt at his opponents, and his name reveals that “Dirt-show-its” really what his message is all about. I’ll just call him “Dert”.
    He and his extremist Zionist allies want to nip BDS in the bud, no mater how young a movement it currently is. It is a typical Israeli policy to squash any Palestinian, or pro-Palestinian success, no matter how modest it might currently be, in order to kill hope. It seems to me that “Dert” and his partners in crime are alarmed about the potential effect of BDS and about young Americans finding track where justice and freedom truly lie.

    As to a “One-State”, versus, a “Two-State” solution, this is an imaginary choice. it is not Mr. Ali Abunimah who is calling for for a One-State solution. It is, rather, the extremist Israeli policy and daily action of colonizing the vast bulk of the West Bank that is making the One-State the only reality. The other is pure mirage. The Israelis leave no question about that whatsoever. Of course, what Israel and AIPAC want is a “One-State” solution with no Palestinians in it whatsoever.

  8. Rev. Bob Hannum says:

    How sad that Dershowitz and others, including the president of U. of Penn are so paranoid about defending the State of Israel, that they don’t see the present situation as it progresses, really hurts Israel (as well as the Palestinians.) With the increase of settler outposts in West Bank, and, now, the new “green circle” around East Jerusalem – in the name of “parks”, which simply squeeze any Palestinian expansion there, the State of Israel has a tiger by the tail. This settler tiger will eventually bite the hand which feeds it, and those hard-liners who support it. The settler movement now runs the State of Israel, and Israel’s client state, the US, continues in its ignorance, to pledge “unwavering support” for this illegal activity.

  9. John Kane says:

    I take issue with Ed McCarthy’s response (# 3 above). He’s right that decisive US action in support of a 2 state solution would be the most effective way to help the Palestinian people, but wrong to say that BDS is irrelevant to and even counterkproductive for such US action. What kind of dreamland do you live in, Ed? What signs do you see that an Obama government or any Republication administration would provide such decisive action? There is need for international and national nonviolent action such as BDS not only to bring pressure on Israel (which probably will not be very effective) but to bring widespread attention to the Palestinian plight and thereby at least some growing pressure on the US government. Irrelevant? Hardly.

  10. James Meeker says:

    America supports Israel because Americans support Israel.

    BDS was, is, and will be an abject failure because Americans don’t agree with you.

    They also prefer to use their computers with their Israeli-designed and made Pentium chips, their Israeli-developed VoIP technologies, their Israeli developed instant messaging, their Israeli-enhanced cellular technology, etc.

    If you really want to boycot Israeli products, you better shut down just about everything. Also your Kindle.

  11. Arthur Preisinger says:

    This is the first Wall Writing that has evoked an anti-Wall, anti-Palestinian response (no. 10 above). This tells me that you are on the map, Jim. The forces of reaction have dis(un)covered you. Expect more attacks in the future.

  12. James Meeker says:


    I just happened upon this blog by chance. It doesn’t “mean” anything.

    How’s that Israeli-designed and manufactured Intel Pentium chip working out for ya?

  13. Arthur Preisinger says:

    About as well as the oppression of a “non-people” under the fraudulent guise of “security.”

    Or about as well as one nation illegally stockpiling nuclear weapons while demanding another nation not do so.

  14. James Meeker says:

    The Palestinians are victims of their own aggression. It didn’t have to be that way, but they made it that way.

    As to the 2 nations to which you refer, the civilized one where all of its citizens have full rights has done so legally. The other one-the one that openly calls for the first country’s being wiped out- where gays are hanged, where raped women are stoned, where a Christian minister is presently being forced to either convert to Islam or die, clearly can’t be allowed to have nuclear weapons.

    I mean, even the Arab world supports Israel over Iran in this. They even offered to help Israel if Israel needs to stop Iran.

    It sure is swell to see Israeli-Arab cooperation against such a barbaric regime.

  15. Arthur Preisinger says:

    Just one thing: all citizens do not have full rights. Arab Israelis are second-class citizens. Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East! Really? As long as Israel is a “Jewish” state, and as long as Netanyahu presses for that nomenclature and its reality, Israel is not a democracy in the proper sense of the word. It is an ethnocracy.

  16. Harris W. Fawell, Memer of Congress (retired) says:

    Jim:BDS must raise their voices under the only banner that is available to them, or to Palestine, i.e., by the fine art of strictly non-violence. It is the only course of action available to BDS or to Palestine. Israel has practiced the fine art of apartheid with heavy hitters like Mr. Dershowitz.not to mention most of the members of the U.S. Congress. That makes it a very up hill battle for peace.I am convnced that all of the Palestinian leaders must dedicate themselves to non-violence as the only way open to achieve peace. Harris Fawell, Member of Congress (Retired).

  17. Connie says:

    The reason BDS is so feared by the pro-Occupation groups is that it is already working.

    1. Businesses are responding – Israeli businesses are moving out of the occupied territories and international companies are ending their participation in the brutal occupation in response to BDS.

    2. As a financial concern, people in the pews are paying serious attention. They are asking questions about the half-truths they have been told leading them to understand that the U.S. supported the ethnic cleansing of “a land without people” (All those houses and no one living in them – imagine!) followed by support of a brutal occupation and continued ethnic cleansing via enormous colonial no-Palestinian cities on land cleared of Palestinians then appropriated using laws intended to wash the illegal and make it legal.

    3. BDS is non-violent – It was so easy to label those who opposed the occupation as supporting terrorism before they actually acted, unfortunately for the pro-Occupation groups; the action is non-violent.

    4. Delegitimization isn’t working – The stated decision last summer by pro-Occupation groups to respond to BDS by attempting to “delegitimize” is simply not working because people have stopped listening to their attacks and are asking why kind, intelligent people they have known all their lives continue to brave these attacks and public insults. The reaction by the pro-Occupation groups is to become nastier and more hateful in their attempts to defame defeating their purpose of showing that their opposition is evil.

    5. Non-violence supports non-violence -Through BDS we non-violently support the Palestinian protestors who like their Egyptian brothers go out every week to brave arrest, tear gas and rubber bullets as the means of ending their oppression instead of terrorism. Non-violent actions are a bigger threat to the oppressors than terrorism will ever be. This is why BDS is so feared. This is why BDS works – it shows the world exactly who supports violence and hatred and who doesn’t. In the same way that the world was taken by surprise with the end of the Egyptian dictatorship, and the end of Apartheid in South Africa, the oppression of the Palestinian people will also end and it will come about through non-violent means.

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