Lawrence Summers's Dishonest Opposition

The academic coup d'etat engineered against Harvard's president Lawrence Summers has broad implications beyond Cambridge and even beyond the Ivy League.
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The academic coup d'etat engineered by hard left members of the faculty of arts and sciences against Harvard's president Lawrence Summers has broad implications beyond Cambridge and even beyond the Ivy League. It represents a major victory for hard-left censors over reasoned discourse about controversial issues. The political correctness cops won a big victory, and reasoned discourse suffered a significant defeat. If you don't believe me, just listen to the chief architect of the putsch, Professor J. Lorand Matory, who introduced the original resolution of no confidence that eventually led to Summers's ouster. Taking a victory lap last night on a local PBS talk show, Matory explained some of the reasons why he insisted on getting rid of the controversial and sometimes acerbic president. Listen carefully to Matory's words:

"He [Summers] was telling us we should be more patriotic. He was telling us that people who insist that Palestinians have rights should be quiet because they're being anti-Semitic."

The idea that a president should be fired because he believes in patriotism should shock every American. Moreover, Summers never defined patriotism as uncritical support for one's government. He himself was highly critical of many governmental policies and urged others to express criticism as well.

Now listen to what Summers actually said about Israel and the Palestinians, and you will see that Matory's statement about what "he was telling us" is an outright and categorical lie. Here's what Summers actually said:

"Of course academic communities should be and always will be places that allow any viewpoint to be expressed. And certainly there is much to be debated about the Middle East and much in Israel's foreign and defense policy that can be and should be vigorously challenged.

"But where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities."

"Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent."

Summers then gave several examples of academics who have "called for an end to support for [only] Israeli researches," who force Israeli scholars off the board of an international literature journal, and who "single out Israel for divestiture." He also pointed to students who equate Hitler and Sharon and who raise money for organizations that support terrorism. This is a far cry from demanding silence from those "who insist that Palestinians have rights."

The Matorys of Harvard now feel empowered. Indeed when I confronted Matory after his television show and offered $1000 to his favorite charity if he could prove that Summers had ever said that people who insisted that Palestinians have rights should be quiet, he began shouting at me that I was a terrible professor and suggesting that I was not qualified to teach at Harvard.

This is the sign of things to come. If you believe, as I do, in both Palestinian and Israeli rights, and support the two-state solution, while opposing the singling out of Israel for boycotts and divestiture, then you are not qualified to teach at Matory's Harvard. Of course no reasonable academic would want to teach at any academic institution over which Matory and his political correctness cops had any control.

Let's hope that no American university becomes what Matory and his ilk want Harvard to become.

Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. His latest book is Preemption: A Knife that Cuts Both Ways (Norton, 2006).

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