We really wanted to sit this one out. About two weeks ago, a reader tweeted at us about Alan Dershowitz’s appearance on Newsmax, where he claimed he was being “canceled” on the Vineyard.
It felt like the same old story, new summer.
Then Dershowitz went on Steve Bannon’s podcast and said pretty much the same thing — specifically calling out the Chilmark Free Library, and its very capable and respected director, Ebba Hierta.
And early last week, an interview Dershowitz did with a New Yorker writer was published online, where Dershowitz doubled down on the Chilmark library specifically.
During his appearances, Dershowitz threatened to sue the library, saying that as a taxpayer-funded institution, it could not refuse to allow him to speak. That prompted the library board of trustees to schedule a meeting. One of the agenda items was listed as: “Discussion of threat by Alan Dershowitz to sue the library if he is not guaranteed a speaking engagement.”
That meeting was subsequently postponed, and has not been rescheduled.
The threat of a lawsuit, and Hierta telling us that she was the recipient of hate mail from a Proud Boy after Derhsowitz appeared with Bannon, was enough for us to deem this newsworthy.
Hierta and the library have been clear. They used to welcome Dershowitz. He’s a gifted off-the-cuff speaker, and obviously, whether you like whom he’s defended or not — Claus Von Bulow, O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Epstein, and Donald Trump, among others — he’s had a distinguished career offering up criminal defense for the seemingly undefendable. That’s a bedrock of our judicial system.
As Hierta tells it, the crowds had become too much. The library has a meeting room with a 40-person capacity. He drew crowds of more than 250 people. Something had to give. The library board decided to introduce a policy that if a speaker would attract more than the library could handle, they would pass.
We see no evidence that the library has allowed someone else to speak in the meeting room who would draw a large crowd, so it would appear to be a tough case for Dershowitz to claim he’s being treated unfairly by Hierta and the library board. (Hierta is even on record saying that if former President Barack Obama, a seasonal resident of Edgartown, came knocking, the same rule would apply.) Not that Dershowitz couldn’t still try to make that claim in court, and cost the Vineyard town he lives in a considerable amount of time and money defending against his baseless lawsuit.
We have no doubt that some people have stopped inviting Dershowitz and his wife to dinner or events because of his defense of Donald Trump. They’re no different from the families we’ve seen ripped apart by Trump and his divisive leadership of our country for four years.
And while it’s unfortunate that Trump has done so much to pull people apart, it’s not Hierta’s fault, and it’s not the Chilmark library’s fault. Dershowitz has found a scapegoat, and sadly, is attempting to hurt her and the library over his own hurt feelings.
There are options open to Dershowitz should he want an audience on the Vineyard. The Performing Arts Center at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School is available for rent. He could even sell tickets, and either keep the proceeds or perhaps donate some of them to an Island cause.
He also has the option of going on Martha’s Vineyard Community Television to share his thoughts with the community.
While Dershowitz insisted to us that this isn’t about hyping his new book, the cynic in us can’t help but feel like that’s part of the motivation. He says he wants to talk about his defense of Trump, but haven’t we all heard that before during his appearances at the Katharine Cornell and a couple of years later at the West Tisbury library?
This isn’t a free speech issue. In fact, Dershowitz has benefited more than most to be able to have his voice heard. He appears to have endless access on Newsmax, Fox News, and Bannon, and even the New Yorker wrote a strongly one-sided piece sharing Dershowitz’s views while ignoring many of the facts. We provided him a forum as well.
Dershowitz, by claiming his alleged snub is a freedom of speech issue, has trivialized it to draw attention to himself. His constant claims of being canceled and shunned — and then threatening to sue his neighbors because he can’t get his own way — is doing nothing to help restore the respect he once earned. He’s bullied Vineyarders into standing up for our institutions, which we will strongly do. He appears too mean-spirited to care or too self-involved to notice. Dershowitz would do well to look around and see how real Islanders — year-round and seasonal — take care of each other. He seems to have grossly underestimated the resolve of Vineyarders. (We’ve even heard there are some Islanders ready to donate to a legal defense fund should Dershowitz follow through on his threats.)
Hierta shouldn’t be taking any heat. It’s Dershowitz who needs new friends, and he would do better by supporting Island institutions, instead of attempting to tear them down.