Rabbi Michael Barclay
An Open Letter to Alan Dershowitz
Dear Professor Dershowitz:
Since you are both a legal and theological scholar, I am confident that you are familiar with the repeated phrase, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20). Although I have often disagreed with your conclusions and the causes/people you have supported in your career, I have always held the highest respect for your integrity and pursuit of justice based upon your values.
You have recently been experiencing the vitriol of the left and cancel culture in your home of Martha’s Vineyard, and it is profoundly sad that you are being degraded by your local community members. But if we are honest, you should not be surprised by this development. As long as you were a champion for their causes, you were a celebrity. But you are now realizing what many of us “former Democrats” have sadly already experienced in recent years: the Democratic Party is currently controlled by an extremist faction that not only allows but encourages behavior that is disgusting and repulsive to any human being of ethics.
You have always presented your opinions with dignity and respect for your opposition: a quality that goes back to the roots of this nation. Our Jewish tradition is based on the respectful debates between the Talmudic sages two thousand years ago. Both our nation’s earlier leaders and the rabbis of old understood the importance of hearing divergent opinions in the search for deeper meanings and higher truths.
Nowhere have I seen respect for opponents more clearly than in your debate with Robert Kennedy regarding vaccinations. You both exemplified mutual respect, and this is the behavior of the leaders of this nation that both you and I grew up with.
But Professor Dershowitz, I implore you to embrace honest reflection. With a party that has leaders like Maxine Waters encouraging people to publicly attack all those who do not agree with her, are you really shocked that you are being treated so badly? With a speaker of the House, Democratic leaders, and even a president refusing to condemn the assassination attempt on Justice Brett Kavanaugh, are you honestly surprised that Larry David would scream at you during your lunch?
Professor, although I am now a rabbi who stands with other clergy fighting Governor Gavin Newsom, writes for conservative publications, and supports the freedom of choice of individuals, I was once a proud member of the Democratic Party and even worked on Jerry Brown’s 1990 presidential campaign. But at a certain point, I had to be honest and realize that the ethics of the Democrats had changed in a way that was antithetical to my core beliefs, and I allied myself with conservatives. I encourage you, Professor, to do the same for the benefit of your soul and this nation: reject the hate of the left and recognize that you may currently have more in common with the ethics and values of conservatism than you currently do with the left.
Consider, Professor, that within the conservative world, your differing opinions on social issues would be respected, if disagreed with. Through internal debate with other conservatives, you may be able to manifest the policies you believe in through dialogue much more effectively than fighting against the decayed values of the Democratic Party.
You have repeatedly demonstrated that you strive to express your values in your actions. I invite you to realize that you (and all those like you) can no longer attach yourself to a organizations, movements, or individuals who do not share any of your core values. And I encourage you to recognize that the healthiest thing for you (and any person) is to align yourself with people of shared values, even if they manifest those values in ways contrary to your own. Within a group based on shared values, you can effect the change you seek; without those common values, change will never occur.
My friend and teacher Rabbi Elijah Schochet is fond of saying that we can disagree without being disagreeable—a quality that you have always embodied but that the left now disdains. I remind you of the words of Rabbi Hillel, who said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Those who are persecuting you in Martha’s Vineyard are a reflection of the group that is really not “for you.” They can only be disagreeable and have rejected the wisdom of dialogue. And the time for you to be self-honest and make a change is, as always, now.
May you take these words to heart, and I look forward to being one of many who will embrace you and your opinions with respect.
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