Updated 12:30 pm
Alan Dershowitz presented his new book at a packed West Tisbury library amid protests condemning him for his association with his past client, Jeffrey Epstein. Dershowitz, a high-profile lawyer and academic, spoke on his new book “Defending Israel: The Story of My Relationship with My Most Challenging Client.”
He was met at the library steps by protestors holding signs saying “Brilliant lawyers defend the victims, not the rapists,” and “14 or 15 is not the age of consent anywhere or anytime.”
A larger sign read “We stand for Jane Doe.” representing Epstein’s victims.
As Dershowitz entered, the protesters began to shout “shame.”
One woman asked Dershowitz if he thought Epstein was a terrible man, to which he replied “yes.” Dershowitz then said he supports the right to free speech, and would defend the protesters even for protesting at his own event. “If the police tried to remove you I would defend your right to free speech, unlike you not defending my right to free speech,” Dershowitz said.
Inside the library conference room, the environment was antithetical to the demonstration going on out front. Dershowitz said the central topic of his new book “closely relates” to the protests being held against him in that “defending Israel today, particularly on college and university campuses, has become very challenging.” “Whenever I speak on school campuses, even before I represented Jeffrey Epstein, I was protested,” Dershowitz said. “I was protested in New Zealand, I was protested in Germany, I was protested in Israel.”
He said the Israel-Palestine debate is inherently controversial, and the divisiveness of opinions is a “microcosm of what’s going on in the country.” “We have become a terribly divided and polarized country. And I have to tell you, without getting too political, the current president of the United States is largely responsible for that,” Dershowitz said.
According to Dershowitz, he is pro-Palestine and pro-Israel. He said the last time he chose sides “was when [he] was a kid playing stick ball,” apart from when he is required to defend a client. “Ok, when I represent defendants I choose sides. I obviously have to defend them zealously and to the best of my ability,” Dershowitz said.
He said Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and in the Declaration of Independence of Israel, it calls for equal rights for all. “Has that promise been kept in reality? No. Has our promise been kept in reality? No,” Dershowitz said.
The two-state solution, according to Dershowitz, is the best solution for both Israel and the Palestineans.
Before starting the question and answer part of the discussion, moderator Judy Crawford asked the audience to be respectful and think carefully about the questions they would ask. “Some of you may be asking questions like, why does he defend this person or that person, but I want to say up front, that everyone in our system deserves a good defense, otherwise the system breaks down,” Crawford said. “Remember that we are here on the Vineyard, in the Vineyard culture. Please be your best self, I ask that of Alan, as well as the audience. I trust we can agree to disagree, without being disagreeable.”
Dershowitz said his general policy is to take critical questions first. “If you want to say something nice about me, tell me afterward. If you want to say something really negative or critical, raise your hand,” Dershowitz.
Audience member Stewart Simms asked about justice within the legal system in Israel and how that relates to Palestineans. Dershowitz said the Israeli legal system is “far from perfect.” He said he has been a “gentle critic” of the Israeli justice system and preventive detention. But he said no justice system is perfect. “Look what we did in Guantanamo, look what we did after 9/11 — we were not a model of perfect justice,” Dershowitz said.
Despite calling himself a “great patriot” in America, Dershowitz said he is critical of many aspects of the American legal system.
One audience member switched the conversation to America, and asked if, under President Donald Trump, anti-democractic ideals are being proliferated in order to suppress minorities.
“In this country, under our current president, there is a group of people who support him who I believe are afraid of minorities becoming the majority, and that they will lose power in this country,” he said.
He wondered whether Trump’s affinity for dictators and recent actions, like diverting funding for the border wall despite the wishes of Congress, is catering to anti-democratic ideals shared by power holders. “I am very concerned about that, but I don’t see the parallels between Israel and the United States. Israel is struggling for its survival, while the United States fortunately has no such existential threats,” Dershowitz said.