Renowned lawyer Alan Dershowitz confirmed to speak at UC Berkeley despite setback with guest speaker policy

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After his plans to deliver a pro-Israel speech at UC Berkeley were put on hold, renowned civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz confirmed Monday that he had received a personal invitation to speak on campus from UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

Dershowitz’s talk, titled “Liberal Case for Israel,” is co-sponsored by the Chabad Jewish Student Center and pro-Israel student group Tikvah. The groups had initially invited Dershowitz, also a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, to speak at UC Berkeley on Oct. 10, but difficulties arose in light of the campus’s recently instituted interim policy for major events hosted by nondepartmental entities.

Effective Aug. 14, campus student groups inviting speakers must notify administrators eight weeks in advance about planned events with an intended audience larger than 200 individuals to allow time for security assessment. Chabad and Tikvah failed to give the campus eight weeks’ notice about Dershowitz’s event, so the administration asked them to either reschedule the event or reduce their target audience to 199 people to maintain compliance with policy.

“I want (my talk) to be open to everybody,” Dershowitz said.

Adah Forer, co-president of Tikvah, said she felt one of the main issues with the policy is that the eight-week rule would have required students to make arrangements for guest speakers before the semester began.

“It has been a frustrating experience trying to plan a large event with the new policies, as there are many intended roadblocks in the interim policies that are simply there to stop students from hosting their desired speakers,” Forer alleged in an email. “I understand the administration’s desire to keep the campus community safe, but these policies are a setback.”

The eight-week rule does not apply to invitations extended to speakers by campus departments, schools, colleges or units, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. Dershowitz said he tried reaching out to relevant departments but was turned down or ignored.

Dershowitz alleged that these same departments had previously sponsored speakers from the pro-Palestine Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. According to Dershowitz, the content-neutral eight-week rule, when combined with departments’ ability to invite speakers with select viewpoints, is “unconstitutional.”

“It’s a point of principle,” Dershowitz said. “There will be other pro-Israel speakers that will be affected by these policies.”

According to Berkeley Law spokesperson Susan Gluss, Chemerinsky heard from the law school’s Jewish Students Association that Dershowitz wanted to speak on campus. Chemerinsky, a long-time proponent of free speech, called Dershowitz to personally invite him to campus.

“(Chemerinsky) has known Dershowitz for a long time and thinks very highly of him,” Gluss said in an email.

The law school is still working out the details and date for Dershowitz’s visit. Chabad and Tikvah will continue to serve as co-sponsors for the event, Forer said.

Ani Vahradyan covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anivahrad.