March 29, 2020

Dershowitz and Shrum Debate Impeachment, #MeToo and BDS

From left: Rabbi David Baron, Alan Dershowitz, Alex Kozinski and Robert Shrum. Photo by Ryan Torok

Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and Democratic strategist and Director of the Center for the Political Future and professor of political science at USC Robert Shrum engaged in a heated debate over Dershowitz’s role serving on President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team.

The duo faced off at the Saban Theatre on Feb. 17 in a wide-ranging discussion organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition and hosted by Rabbi David Baron. 

“I worked hard for the election of Hillary Clinton. I worked hard for the defeat of President Donald Trump in an election, but I strongly, strongly, strongly opposed his impeachment,” Dershowitz said to applause in front of the 800-strong crowd. “I believe that a duly elected president should be removed from office only when there is a broad-based consensus and bipartisan support for impeachment and removal.” 

Dershowitz went on to condemn CNN for its coverage of his statements during the impeachment trial, saying the cable network took his remarks out of context. “My question to you,” Dershowitz asked the audience, “Should I sue CNN?” The response was a standing ovation.  

Shrum, a former Democratic strategist who worked on Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign and John Kerry’s 2004 campaign, called Trump the “single most reprehensible person ever to sit in the Oval Office as president of the United States.” The crowd booed. 

Responding to Dershowitz’s claim that his defense of the president was a defense of the U.S. Constitution, Shrum said, “You did not defend the Constitution of the United States. You kicked the Constitution of the United States into the gutter.”

As Dershowitz and Shrum went back and forth, the moderator, former Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, remained mostly quiet, leaving it to Baron, whose congregation, Temple of the Arts, meets at the Saban, to walk onstage and ask the speakers and crowd for
more civility.

At the end of the tense 75-minute back and forth, Dershowitz and Shrum shook hands. “We can violently disagree, but I think we have some common respect for each other.” — Robert Shrum

Baron moderated the second and third parts of the evening, featuring Dershowitz and Shrum discussing the #MeToo movement and “Rising Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism.”

Dershowitz spoke about his personal experience with #MeToo, including accusations against him involving an underage girl. His book “Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo” was released recently. Dershowitz said that after the accusations, his upcoming talk to promote the book at the 92nd Street Y in New York City was canceled. 

Shrum noted the irony of three men onstage discussing the #MeToo movement without any women present. “I would not roll back this movement,” Shrum said, adding the public should be careful before making up its mind about somebody based on one person’s account. “One accusation does not prove a whole case,” he said.

Shrum and Dershowitz did agree on one thing: They both oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Dershowitz called it an “anti-free speech movement.” He said he supported the right of people to speak out but drew a distinction between advocacy and action, saying BDS fell into the latter category. 

Shrum is not Jewish but he has had Jewish clients, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, with whom he worked on his 1999 prime ministerial election campaign. “I entirely disagree with BDS,” Shrum said. “I do not and cannot imagine supporting it under any circumstances,” adding that he disagreed with rhetoric comparing Israel to apartheid-era South Africa. 

“I think BDS is wrong on the whole notion that somehow or other we are going to dictate a policy of a state like Israel, single them out, make them the bad people,” he said. “South Africa deserved to be singled out. Israel does not deserve to be singled out.”

Toward the end of the evening, the speakers returned to the topic of Trump and the 2020 election. Shrum said, “My view is Trump can’t win the election, but the Democrats can lose the election,” eliciting more boos from the crowd. 

Dershowitz condemned the Democratic Party for what he called its leftward views on Israel. He singled out Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his supporter Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

He said, “Let me announce here today, I have never ever in my life voted against a Democratic candidate for president [but] I will not vote for Bernie Sanders.” 

Shrum downplayed the influence Ocasio-Cortez and her followers have had on the Democratic Party, saying, “I think the press is fascinated with AOC. I think she is a bit player in the Democratic Party. I do not think she will become a major force in the Democratic Party.”

At the end of the tense 75-minute back and forth, Dershowitz and Shrum shook hands. “We can violently disagree,” Shrum said, “but I think we have some common respect for each other.” 

However, as the speakers headed offstage, the audience chanted “Four more years!”