Letter: The state of debate

The recent column criticizing Alan Dershowitz’s talk on campus sends a dangerous message about the integrity of debate at Yale (“Just rude or talking truth?” Oct. 9).

Just recently, the News covered Queen Rania Al Abdullah’s speech on campus (“Queen of Jordan promotes peace,” Sept. 23). What the flattering article did not reveal was that not only were all questions screened and selected by President Levin, but they were also submitted before she even gave her talk. This rule effectively prevented students from challenging the substance of her speech, which included heavy, and often controversial, criticisms of Israel — and omitted any mention of Jordan’s ongoing oppression of Palestinians.

Is this how we want to promote peace, let alone true dialogue about Israel on Yale’s campus?

By contrast, Dershowitz fielded questions directly from the audience following his presentation, specifically calling for disagreement. Even when the moderator tried to move on to a new questioner, Dershowitz insisted that critical students receive a chance to have the last word.

Dershowitz’s tough responses to his challengers should have been taken as an invitation to refine their arguments. Instead they were taken as an insult and prompted one student to storm out of the auditorium. Perhaps the reaction shows that Dershowitz has unfortunately become a rare example of a speaker willing to take his challengers seriously, instead of catering to an exclusively friendly audience. It’s alarming that the News celebrates the restricted “dialogue” of Queen Rania as a path to peace while denouncing Dershowitz’s open forum as “rude.”

Those who condemn Dershowitz’s style should ask themselves which format is more conducive to true dialogue on the Middle East conflict: One in which a student can tell the speaker to check his facts or one in which the final question — chosen by President Levin — is, “Queen Rania, I’m your biggest fan. Can I get your autograph?”

Danielle Sassoon and Aaron Voloj Dessauer

Oct. 10

The writers are second-year students at Yale Law School and former research assistants for Dershowitz.

Comments

  • TB

    You guys are right that Dershowitz’s event was more conducive to dialogue than Queen Rania’s (which was terrible) but there has to be a happy medium.

  • Friendly Student

    This letter is a series of straw man arguments. The authors ask us to compare Queen Rania to Alan Dershowitz, and to conclude that Dershowitz offers a format that is more conducive to questions. However, whether or not Dershowitz is “better” than Queen Rania does not negate the possibility (and in my opinion the fact) that both are pretty useless and counter-productive; nor does it negate the fact that both are on the side of oppression in the Middle East, the one (Dershowitz) for being the chief apologist of every Israeli crime; and the other (Rania) for whitewashing the Jordanian government’s anti-democratic repression. So, kudos to Sassoon and Dessaeunur for making the brave claim that a standing monarch was less receptive to questions than a professor of law and published author. But strange that their interest should be so aroused to defend a defender of human rights violators.