Alan Dershowitz became one of the most famous lawyers in America by representing high-profile clients such as Jeffrey Epstein, Mike Tyson, and O. J. Simpson, and enmeshing himself in political debates on subjects such as torture and the Israeli occupation. (He has defended both.) In recent years, however, his career has taken even more controversial turns, notably his public campaign against the Mueller investigation and his decision to join President Trump’s legal team. In 2019, Connie Bruck profiled Dershowitz for The New Yorker, and looked into allegations that he had sexually abused Virginia Giuffre, who was trafficked by Epstein. (Dershowitz denies the accusations.)
Dershowitz has lately been going on television and Twitter to discuss cancel culture, specifically how he has been shunned on Martha’s Vineyard, his longtime summer getaway. He even released the text of what he said was an e-mail from someone who had been beaten up on the beach for reading one of his books. I recently spoke by phone with Dershowitz, an emeritus professor of law at Harvard and the author of the new book “The Price of Principle: Why Integrity Is Worth the Consequences.” It was released last week and happens to be about the very subject of the e-mail he received: cancel culture, and an unwillingness to hear differing opinions. (He describes the book as “the story of my cancellation.”) During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed what has happened to his social life since he defended Donald Trump, his fallout with Larry David, and why he compared the January 6th committee to McCarthyism.
Can you tell me a little bit about this letter you received?
It’s part of a pattern. I was the most popular speaker in the Chilmark Library series.
I can imagine.
Every year, they would have an overflow crowd to hear me speak about whatever book I was writing, or whatever I was doing. But suddenly, after I represented the Constitution on behalf of President Trump, the library found excuses for never having me. Their first excuse was that my crowds were too big. So I said, “Well, why don’t you limit the crowds?” They said, “Oh, we hadn’t thought of that.”
Can you imagine if Ed Sullivan had done that with the Beatles? It’s a ridiculous excuse.
Yeah, of course. So I’ve been cancelled, basically, by the Chilmark Library. That has resulted in lots of people in Chilmark calling me and calling the library and saying, “We’re being deprived of Alan’s annual speech.” [Ebba Hierta, the Chilmark’s director, disputed Dershowitz’s characterization, and said, “Not one single person has contacted me to complain that they haven’t had a chance to hear Alan speak.”]
Where is Chilmark?
Martha’s Vineyard, the Chilmark Library.
So they’re being besieged with phone calls?
No, no. I wouldn’t say that. I’m being besieged with phone calls.
I’m being besieged with phone calls from people saying, “Well, how come you’re not speaking this year? We look forward to it every year.” The same thing is true of the Martha’s Vineyard book fair. Every year, I was invited to speak at the Martha’s Vineyard book fair. Suddenly it stopped when I defended the Constitution on behalf of Trump. Then it happened at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, where I was a frequent speaker. Suddenly I’m no longer allowed to speak there.
First they come for the library speeches, and then eventually it’s the Hebrew Center.
Yeah. The same thing is true of the Chilmark Community Center. I’ve been on the Vineyard almost fifty years. I would say every single year up until January, 2020, every single year I spoke in multiple venues on the Vineyard, always for free, so this is not about me. Obviously, it’s about the audiences. The audiences are being deprived of my voice as the result of a deliberate cancellation decision. So it’s not me who’s being cancelled. It’s the audiences who are being cancelled. [The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center said that there has never been any discussion about not allowing Dershowitz to speak. The Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, which is run by the Chilmark Community Center, said, “We have who we think are the most important writers.”]
Tell me about this letter you received. It’s a fascinating document. Basically, a guy just wants to read your book in peace on the beach. What happens next?
Well, you read the letter. All I have is the letter. I haven’t spoken to him.
For people who haven’t read it, can you describe it? The guy’s reading the book, and then a group of thugs—
Well, I don’t know if they were thugs. I don’t even know whether they were left or right people. The book he was reading is called “The Case for Liberalism in an Age of” . . . whatever. I’ll get you the exact title. It was “The Case for Liberalism.” It wasn’t the most recent book. The people either didn’t like the title or, more likely, didn’t like me, because he was beaten up only after he said he has admiration for the author and he wanted to read what I wanted to write. So he got beaten up.
I’m just reading his letter. It says, after the letter writer is punched in the face, “I asked why was that called for, and I was told that it’s because his political view point and mine differ.” So, this guy gets punched because of a difference in political opinion and because he was reading your book.
We don’t even know. I’m a liberal Democrat. I never voted for a Republican Presidential candidate in my life. I voted once for a Republican who’d been a gubernatorial candidate, Bill Weld—the only time I’ve ever voted Republican in my life. All my contributions, I mean if you go through my list of contributions, they’re all Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, all that kind of stuff.
It’s not even the political point of view. It’s the fact that I dared to defend the Constitution on behalf of Donald Trump. I took my position and I argued it, I thought, quite thoughtfully in front of the Senate, and the response has been this. I’ll give you just one more example. The other day there was a fund-raiser event on the Vineyard sponsored by Democratic Jews. The Jewish Democrats is the name of the organization, the Jewish Democrats. Now, if you ask a hundred people to name the five most well-known Jewish Democrats on Martha’s Vineyard . . .
You want me to do that now, or are you saying hypothetically?
No, hypothetically. Many would say I was one of them. I was essentially told not to come to this event. Either I wasn’t Jewish enough, or I wasn’t Democratic enough. But it reflects what’s going on between the Democratic Party and Jews. The Democratic Party is losing Jewish support, particularly among the pro-Israel people. So I was cancelled from that event as well. [Through a spokesperson, the Jewish Democratic Council of America said that “no representative of the organization has been in touch with Alan Dershowitz about this or any other event.”]
Another situation, which may sound petty: a friend of mine for forty years, my former student, every year sponsored a concert. Of course, I was always invited and sat in the front row. This year he didn’t invite me. So I spoke to him. He said he really wanted to invite me, I’m his friend, but he was told that if I came others would leave or refuse to come.