A couple of weeks ago, former Israeli Health Ministry Director-General Yoram Lass began his weekly radio show with a resounding apology to American legal scholar Alan Dershowitz. In a conversation with a listener on Sept. 10, Lass had said that Dershowitz “raped girls along with Jeffrey Epstein. He actually raped girls. He’s a rapist, and admitted it himself.” Dershowitz did not hesitate. Within days, he filed a slander lawsuit against Lass and Radio FM103 in the Tel Aviv District Court, seeking NIS 4 million (nearly $1.18 million) in damages. The apology followed the lawsuit.

“These remarks were based on a mistake of mine. I would like to apologize to professor Dershowitz. I’m very sorry if he was offended,” said Lass.

But for Dershowitz, 82, the apology wasn’t enough. Not when the matter touched on what he calls the fight of his life, to discredit claims by Virginia Roberts Giuffre that she was one of the victims of billionaire sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein and that Epstein trafficked her and ordered her to have sex with his associates, including Dershowitz.

“[Lass] made outrageous, lying statements about me. He defamed me, and he kind of apologized, but not enough,” Dershowitz said via Zoom from his vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, in an interview after Yom Kippur.

‘Willing to lie for money’

As part of the war he is waging, Dershowitz published a book, “Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo,” about the affair that includes evidence claims proves his innocence.

“All my friends told me not to write this book. My friends told me, don’t write this book, it will just bring more attention to the accusations. Just let them go away. That’s not my goal. I don’t want to end my life with people thinking I let an accusation like this just slide. My goal is to completely, totally, categorically, disprove the allegations. Not for my sake, but for the sake of everybody who has been falsely accused.

“My determination is also to see that there are consequences for those who got together and conspired to try to destroy my career and life by willfully and deliberately falsely accusing me of something they know I didn’t do.

“This was a deliberate, willful conspiracy by a group of sleazy lawyers, unethical lawyers, and a client willing to lie to make money, to destroy my reputation.

“The plan was a very elegant and simple and disgraceful plan—we’ll accuse Dershowitz in public of having sex with a woman he never met, seven times, in places he was never at during the relevant time period. We’ll do that in public, and they can go to [others] and say ‘We can do to you what we did to Dershowitz.'”

Dershowitz’s book opens with a note to readers: “The #MeToo movement has generally been a force for good, but as with many good movements, it is being exploited by some bad people for personal profit. Supporters of the #MeToo movement must not allow false accusers to hurt real victims by hiding behind its virtuous shield, turning it into an exploitative sword against innocent people.”

Q: Why was it important to you to write that introduction?

A: Because the #MeToo spirit made it possible to attack me. I would never want to attack the #MeToo movement. It’s a good movement, but when abused, it has to be exposed. Because people who make false accusations under the #MeToo movement endanger the #MeToo movement and endanger the credibility of real victims.

When I win my lawsuits, I’ll donate the money not only to causes to defend the wrongly accused, but to causes that create opportunities to go after people who are correctly accused. For women who have truthfully accused, I want to put money there, and also put money for people who have been falsely accused. They’re not inconsistent. They’re completely consistent, because both sides should be in favor of emet [truth].

If I win the money from these people I’m going to give it to Aleph, and other organizations. to aid for sexual assault victims and victims of false accusations, because they are on the exact same side: the side of the truth. Along with them, I’ll donate to groups that fight BDS, to the Aleph Institute that helps get Jewish and Israeli prisoners all over the world released, and [United] Hatzalah.”

‘My voice was silenced’

Dershowitz is one of the most prominent, eloquent, devoted and influential advocates for Israel, but he said that Giuffre’s accusations have resulted in him being “canceled.”

“I can no longer go on college campuses and speak in defense of Israel. And that’s had a big impact, because with people like the ‘Squad’ going on college campuses and talking against Israel, normally they would ask me to come and respond. But I’m no longer allowed to speak on college campuses because feminists will protest that I’m an accused rapist, child molester, whatever you want to call it. So it’s resulted in me being silenced and canceled in my defense of Israel, and that’s one of the reasons I’m fighting back so strongly against this. I want to be able to go back on campus,” he said.

Jewish organizations, too, he said, are no longer inviting him to speak.

“It started with the accusation, but it’s become much worse after the Netflix [series],” he said.

People say “we know you’re innocent, but there are too many protesters, too much trouble. Temple Emanu-El in New York, the largest synagogue, canceled me. I am no longer getting invitations to speak at Jewish book fairs, or book fairs in general,” he said.

“It’s like McCarthyism. During McCarthyism, people were not allowed to appear, not because they were guilty, but because [people] didn’t want trouble. It’s an absolute disgrace that the 92nd St. Y, a Jewish place for speakers, would cancel me after 25 years. I was the second most frequent and popular speaker after Elie Wiesel. And I have to tell you, if Elie Wiesel were alive today, he would never again speak at the 92nd St. Y. He would be so appalled at them canceling me he would never speak there. I know that.

“It just shows you what can happen to a good person who’s lived an honorable life and tried his best never to do anything immoral or improper. It can be destroyed by one accusation by a woman with a long history of lying.”

On the office wall behind him dozens of pictures are hung close together. There is a drawing of a pioneer that he was given by the Jewish National Fund, a caricature of him from when he was defending Claus von Bulow (about which the film “Reversal of Fortune” was made), honorary doctorates, and pictures of him with American and Israeli leaders, including one with Golda Meir in her office.

 

Arthur Goldberg speaking with Golda Meir. Credit: Moshe Milner, GPO.

“I met with Golda many times,” he said, looking at the picture with a smile. “She made me tea, and she invited me to her house, tea, and we just sat around and schmoozed.”

“In 1970, her best friend in America, Arthur Goldberg, who she grew up with, was a justice on the Supreme Court. Arthur told me that she loves unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes. He told me to smuggle a carton of Lucky Strikes to her and she would be forever grateful. So I took the cigarettes and put them in the bottom of my leg. I strapped them to my leg, because they told me her security wouldn’t allow me to bring her cigarettes. So as soon as I walked into her office I picked up the leg of my pants, took the cigarettes and presented them to her. She said, ‘Arthur and Dorothy, right? They always send me cigarettes.’

“I’ve known all the prime ministers of Israel since Golda Meir. I’m there for Israel.”

In the past few decades, Dershowitz has been involved in attempts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as other issues pertaining to Israel, like Iran’s nuclear weapons program. More recently, he was involved in authoring the Trump administration’s peace plan and promoting normalization between Israel and Gulf Arab states.

At the start of 2018, he says, President Trump reached out to him to hear his opinions, and for a few days he joined Trump’s team members who were talking about the details of the Trump peace plan, including Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz.

“Since 1970 I’ve consistently expressed the opinion that the two-state solution must be promoted, but on the condition that the Palestinian state be demilitarized, the Jordan Valley remain under Israeli sovereignty and Israel’s security interests are carefully upheld. I’ve met with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas] and [PLO Executive Committee Secretary General] Saeb Erekat a few times, and I felt that we could reach an agreement. I still believe that. I’ll always be the first to enlist to help preserve the strong ties between Israel and the US and to protect Israel and its interests,” he said.

The start of the trial against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the District Court in Jerusalem. May 24, 2020. Photo by Amit Shabi/POOL.

Q: You spoke up in defense of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said he should not face trial.

A: I do not believe that Netanyahu committed any legitimate crimes. Prime ministers always negotiate with the media about good coverage and bad coverage. If you wanted to start indicting people, how about indicting the 45 members of the Knesset who wrote against Israel Hayom in order to get good coverage in [competitor] Yedioth Ahronoth?

You don’t want to criminalize that.  I go back a long time with [Israeli Attorney General] Avi Mandelblit, who I also like very much. I believe he’s a man of integrity. He’s made a mistake. He’s wrong about prosecuting Netanyahu.

About receiving personal items, if you want to make it a crime to accept personal gifts, you have to have a specific number in the statute. Anybody who accepts gifts worth more than 10,000 shekels has to report them. That’s the way it is in the United States. But to leave it up to the discretion of the prosecutor whether a certain number of bottles of champagne is too many, whether a certain number of cigars is too many—that gives the prosecutor too much discretion.

Every time I go to see the prime minister, I give him a gift, one of my books. It’s worthless, but it’s still a gift. If you want to change the law and have a specific amount, that would be a good thing to do. But absent that, I don’t think it’s proper to use the criminal law to say “it was too much.”

Q: Are you still a Democrat?

A: I’m still a Democrat. I’ll remain a Democrat as long as I can have influence within the Democratic Party to marginalize the anti-Israel extreme left. That’s why I favored the nomination of Joe Biden over the only Jewish person to ever run seriously for president, Bernie Sanders, who I didn’t support because of his attitudes toward Israel.

Q: What are Biden’s positions on Israel?

A: I’m satisfied that both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are generally pro-Israel. You don’t know what influence the hard left will have on a Democratic president. Remember that this [congresswoman] from Queens, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, refused to even speak at Americans for Peace Now, a left-wing pro-peace organization, because she doesn’t want to be perceived in any way as supporting Zionism. She’s very hostile to Israel. Many on the American left have reached out to her to try and get her to go to Israel, to meet with Israeli officials. She has adamantly refused.

She is the young, new image of progressives and “woke” people in the Democratic Party. My voice is needed to fight back against that, along with the voice of young people and others. We need to make sure that the Democratic Party retains its bipartisan support for Israel.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a bilateral meeting at the White House on Jan. 27, 2020. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead.

Q: Do you think the strong connection between Trump and Netanyahu weakened the pro-Israel voices in the Democratic Party?

A: It did in some respects, but not in others. I think the real pro-Israel voices in the Democratic Party are still there. There have been some who say, “Anything Trump is for, we’re against.” Most take the view that “we’re for Israel, we don’t support a particular government or oppose a particular government, we’re just going to be supportive of Israel, but not of all of its policies.”

If Obama had recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, every Jew in the world would support it. But because Trump did it, a significant number of Jews said no, it shouldn’t have happened, or it was the wrong time.

The big issue that divided Democrats and Republicans was the [2015] Iran deal. Many, many Jewish Democrats opposed the Iran deal. I strongly opposed it; I wrote a book, “The Case Against the Deal,” and that ended my relationship with Obama. The year I wrote my book, Obama for the first time didn’t invite me to the White House Hanukkah party.

A demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coronavirus lockdown measures in Tel Aviv on Oct. 10, 2020. Photo by Gili Yaari /Flash90.

‘Violence isn’t freedom of speech’

Q: Do you support anti-government protests, like the ones in Israel, which are about both Netanyahu’s policies and his handling of the COVID crisis?

A: We’re seeing the same thing in the United States, and it will get worse. When the election is over, there will probably be street riots. No matter who loses, one side or the other will go to the streets and riot, and there will be violence and demonstrations. I favor protests. Protests are protected by free speech. But violence is not. We’re seeing the same thing in the United States, a combination of protesting President Trump’s policies toward COVID and protesting his general policies, including his nomination of a Supreme Court justice [Amy Coney Barrett], and it will get worse.

We live in a world in which people are more divided than ever. In America, we’re more divided than we have been since the Civil War, and I think Israel is more divided than they have been in my memory. I’ve been to Israel 100 times since 1970. I’ve never seen that kind of division. I had a birthday party in Israel some years ago, I think it was when I was 70. I invited all my friends. There were people from the right and left who’d never met each other. Netanyahu was there (he wasn’t prime minister at the time), Aharon Barak was there, he was the president of the Supreme Court. …Today, I probably could not have a birthday party to which I invited both Prime Minister Netanyahu and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Q: Some claim that the leadership in both the United States and Israel is fueling the divide.

A: I think both sides are fueling the divide. As a result of defending President Trump in front of the Senate, I’ve lost many of my friends on Martha’s Vineyard. Who fueled that? It’s both sides. I’ll continue to advise prime ministers or presidents if they ask me for advice. That’s the obligation of a lawyer and a public citizen.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett delivers remarks after U.S. President Donald Trump announced her as his nominee for Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Rose Garden at the White House on Sept. 26, 2020. Credit: Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks.

Q: What is your opinion of Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court?

A: She would not have been my choice. She is very anti-abortion, and the question is, will she allow her religion to interfere in any way with her judicial decisions. She has written about it herself, saying orthodox Catholic judges might have to recuse themselves in cases involving capital punishment and abortion. Senators will ask her questions about that.

The timing is very problematic, and once could argue hypocritical. When President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland eight months before the election, the Republicans wouldn’t vote on his confirmation. But now, it’s only a few weeks before the election, and for the president to nominate somebody who will shift the balance of the court for the next 50 years is problematic. It’s constitutionally permissible, but it’s politically and morally problematic.

Q: So it’s kosher…

A: But not glatt.

Q: Judge Coney Barrett could play a critical role given that Trump has not promised to honor the result of the election and the Supreme Court could decide the matter.

A: If the whole thing is decided for Trump by a judge he just appointed there will be a major constitutional crisis. But I don’t think that will happen, because right now the polls show that the result will be decisive and Biden will win. On the other hand, there’s no way of knowing. Hillary Clinton led in the polls, too.

Q: What is your opinion of Trump’s opposition to mail-in voting?

A: It’s a mistake. I think that we need to allow voting by mail, even if a small number might be fraudulent, the vast majority won’t be, and it’s important to take into account.”

Q: Which method of appointing judges do you think is better, the Israeli or American one?

A: The Israeli system is in danger, it’s been challenged. I like the Israeli system generally, where highly professional people are picked for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has really been an excellent institution. I think that it’s a big mistake to allow too much political involvement in the appointment of judges. It should be a professional decision. I think the Israeli Supreme Court has proved its credibility. Justices like [Meir] Shamgar, and Barak, and [Dorit] Beinisch have been jewels in the Israeli system. I’m friends with them all. I miss president Shamgar a lot. I first met him when he was the [IDF] Advocate General.

The Israeli system, like every legal system, has problems. There are selective prosecutions. I think the prosecution in the Netanyahu case is wrong, and I think it may be politically motivated. I’m critical of it. But that doesn’t mean you criticize the whole concept. The Israeli legal system in general is quite good. The Supreme Court is superb. Do I agree with all of its opinions? Of course not. That doesn’t mean I would criticize the entire idea.

The Israeli public should support the Israeli legal system. It’s very important that a legal system have credibility.

This is a condensed and edited version of an article that first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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