The storied 92nd Street Y on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which presents itself as a paragon of free-speech dialogue and openness, is engaging in McCarthyite censorship—and trying to hide it.
For the last quarter-century or more, I have been one of its featured speakers. The director told me that second only to the late Nobel Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, I have been the most frequently invited participant in its events. I have lectured, dialogued, participated in panels and moderated on dozens of occasions about a range of subjects. I debuted my best-selling books about Israel and Jewish life—Chutzpah, The Case for Israel and others—at the Y. It became something of a tradition.
This summer, we called to arrange for me to debut my new book—Defending Israel: The Story of My Relationship with my Most Challenging Client—which chronicles my 70-year relationship with the nation-state of the Jewish people and its leaders. It is hard to imagine a more natural topic for the 92nd Street Y to discuss. But the Y would not allow me to speak this year because I had been accused of having sex with a woman associated with Jeffrey Epstein, who I represented 13 years ago.
We explained that I had never even met the woman, and that her accusation had been completely disproved: the former head of the FBI had conducted a thorough investigation and found the accusation to be false; her own emails proved that she had never even met me; her own lawyer said in a recorded conversation that it was “impossible” for me to have been in the places she claimed to have sex with me, and that she was “wrong, … simply wrong.” The representative of the Y acknowledged that the accusation was unfounded, but said that didn’t matter. “We don’t want protests or trouble.” So suddenly, I found myself blacklisted—or as its now called de-platformed—by an institution that I had worked closely with and supported for so many years.
What is even worse is that the 92nd Street Y is now denying what they told my agent. When I wrote to Susan Engle, who runs the speaker’s program, asking for an explanation of the Y’s decision not to allow me to speak, here is the email she wrote me:
As you can imagine, over the course of the year, we received many proposals for appearances on our stage. Given this, we are unable to provide a forum for every author seeking to promote a book. We are sorry you felt you had been disinvited. Over the summer we informed Karen [my agent] that we were unable to schedule you. This has not changed. If it does, we will contact Karen.
This was clearly a cover story designed to deny the public the real reason behind the decision to blacklist me. The best evidence that it did so was because of fear of #MeToo pressure, rather than a belief in the false accusations, because they had invited me to speak several times after the accusation was first made in 2014 and disproved. Only when the #MeToo movement started to demand the de-platforming of all accused speakers did they respond to that pressure.
It reminded me of my days at Brooklyn College, when professors were blacklisted based on accusations that they had been Communists or fellow travelers. Institutions that had blacklisted them often claimed that they didn’t believe or support the accusations, but they, too, didn’t want protests or trouble. So the easy way is to censor, de-platform or disinvite instead of standing up for principle, due process and truth.
The public, particularly those who support the Y, have the right to know the truth. They have the right to express their views as to whether a longtime speaker should be denied a platform at the Y based on false and disproved accusations. I would be happy to debate this issue at the Y. I have just written a new book—Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo—in which I discuss about how false accusations can destroy a career. I challenge the Y to have a public discussion of this important issue.
In my book, I recount how the editor of the New Yorker—a virulent anti-Zionist who has said that the creation of Israel was a mistake—commissioned a hit piece in order to silence my voice on Israel. The anti-Israel website, Mondoweiss, has admitted that they, too, are using the false allegations against me as an excuse to reduce my pro-Israel “influence.” The 92nd Street Y is now joining these efforts to silence my support for Israel by refusing to provide a platform for my defense of Israel.
I will not allow my life’s work—on behalf of Israel, the Jewish community, Soviet Jewry, human rights, civil liberties, teaching students, writing books and defending the accused—to be “cancelled” by a totally false accusation by a woman I never met and by the cowardly McCarthyism of the 92nd Street Y. I will fight back against the sexual McCarthyism of the current age with the same determination with which I fought against the political McCarthyism of my college days. I will continue to fight for truth and justice, as I have during my entire life. I will not remain silent, even if the 92nd Street Y tries to silence me.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of “Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo.”