The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, February 3, 2013

What the Hell, Hero?

When I was in high school, I read Alan Dershowitz's The Best Defense (1982), which strongly influenced me in my desire to do criminal appeals for the defense. I'd previously read about Clarence Darrow, and read some opinions by William O. Douglas, but Dershowitz helped give me a realistic goal. And, indeed, I did do criminal appeals for the Legal Aid Society for three years after I graduated law school, an experience which was formative for me. Likewise, Dershowitz's strong First Amendment advocacy in The Best Defense was one of the earliest things I read on the subject, and between Darrow, Douglas and Brennan, Dershowitz helped shape my ideals. All of which is to say that I have an abiding affection for Alan Dershowitz, and owe him much.

I was aware of his profoundly disappointing advocacy of torture warrants, but while vehemently disagreeing with it, accepted (and continue to accept) Dershowitz's statement that his goal was to reduce the amount of torture that would in fact take place by defusing the "ticking time bomb" argument for torture, and to create accountability for torture. Wrong, grievously wrong, in my view.

One of my morning blog reads led me to the rather embarrassing to both e-mail exchange between Dershowitz and Glenn Greenwald (in fairness, Dershowitz begins the descent into rancor by his response to Greenwald's civilly-worded initial post.) In the article to which the e-mail thread is linked, Greenwald refers to, among other reasons for Dershowitz's "controversial and polarizing" status, his "chronic smearing of Israel critics such as author Alice Walker as 'bigots.'"
Perhaps rashly, I followed the link, not having encountered Walker the bigot in my own admittedly far from complete reading of her oeuvre.

In June 2012, Dershowitz indeed wrote an op-ed piece titled "Alice Walker's Bigotry," which makes its case as follows:
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, who has a long history of supporting terrorism against Israel, has now resorted to bigotry and censorship against Hebrew-speaking readers of her writings. She has refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew.

This is the moral and legal equivalent of neo-Nazi author David Duke disallowing his books to be sold to Black and Jewish readers.
Well, no. It isn't, really. because David Duke's books would be, one thinks, promoting bigotry in the text, and Walker isn't stopping anybody from buying the book in English. Or, for that matter, in Hebrew, if they buy the previous Hebrew translation published in the 1980s.

Dershowitz has a proposed remedy for Walker's refusal to license a new Israeli Hebrew translation:
There is an appropriate moral and legal response to Walker’s bigotry. The publisher who had sought permission to publish Walker’s book in Hebrew should simply go ahead and do it – without her permission and over her objection.

Walker could then sue for copyright infringement, and the issue would be squarely posed whether copyright laws, which are designed to encourage the promotion of literature, can be used to censor writings and prevent certain people from having access to it, based upon the language they read.
And how does Professor Dershowitz think that case would turn out:
The laws of copyright were certainly not designed to encourage or even permit selective censorship based on national origin or religion.

I am confident that reasonable courts would rule against Walker if she sought to sue a publisher who refused to go along with her bigoted censorship. Inaction in the face of bigotry is unacceptable. Alice Walker’s bigotry should be responded to by turning her own weapon – the written word – against her. Her writings should be published in Hebrew, whether she likes it or not, and the royalties should be contributed to the NAACP and other civil rights organizations that understand the true meaning of fighting against bigotry and real apartheid.
Now let me be clear: I have not studied Alice Walker's history as an activist, and do not know whether her opposition is principled and admirable or as unpleasantly motivated as Dershowitz believes. But that the man who once vigorously defended Stanford Stalinist Bruce Franklin can advocate government-enforced expropriation of an author's intellectual property--complete with forced donation of the royalties therefrom--says nothing good about Dershowitz's current views on free speech, and where his intellectual journey of the past dozen years has led him.

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