Zionist stirs up debate on freedom of speech in Doha


Alan Dershowitz at the 2015 Len Mazur Memorial Lecture. Photo from The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee on Flickr


Thirty-year-old Palestinian photojournalist Yaser Murtaja dreamt of traveling. On March 24, he posted a picture of the blue ocean and Gaza City’s port taken from his drone.

Al Jazeera English reported that on his Facebook account he wrote in Arabic, “I hope the day that I can take this image when I am in the sky instead of on the ground will come! My name is Yaser, I am 30 years old, live in Gaza City and I have never traveled before in my life!”

On April 6, Murtaja was shot and killed by Israeli forces while reporting on a protest despite wearing a blue flak jacket that identified him as a member of the press.

With Murtaja, the death toll from “The Great March of Return” protest has reached 45, as of April 28, according to Al Jazeera news. The march is a series of protests by Gazans on the Israeli border demanding the right of return for all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to the land that was taken over by Israel in 1948.

Palestinians who exercise their freedom of speech to oppose the Israeli occupation pay a heavy price.

Giving someone like Alan, a known defender of Israel and a staunch Zionist, a platform in Qatar is somewhat like giving a white supremacist a platform in a historically black university.

But according to Alan Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and author, the Israelis “have been deeply concerned about protecting the lives of Palestinian civilians.”

Dershowitz was invited by Qatar Foundation to give a lecture titled “Law and Media” on March 4. It was held at Northwestern University in Qatar’s building, although the university did not sponsor or host the event.

His lecture generated a strong reaction from many members of Education City who found the event problematic due to the guest speaker’s views on the Palestine-Israel conflict. Dershowitz is known for his vocal support of Israel and identified as a “proud Zionist” at the event.

The event was not publicized and was only announced through a selective email sent from the Qatar Foundation IC Network to its staff on March 1. The email stated that “Northwestern University in Qatar will be holding a lecture by Professor Alan Dershowitz.”

Screen capture of email from Qatar Foundation IC Network to its staff, taken by GU-Q student Chaimaa Benkermi.

On March 4, NU-Q administration responded to an email from an NU-Q alumnus Osama Alony, which questioned the university’s dean about NU-Q’s involvement in the event. NU-Q staff responded, denying any involvement in the event except for providing a venue.

Screen capture of email from Christy Marianta, executive assistant to the COO at NU-Q, to Osama Alony, NU-Q alumnus who emailed the dean to inquire about the event.

Education City students and staff members found out about the event after QF personnel who are also administrative officials at Georgetown University in Qatar forwarded the email announcement to their students and faculty to invite them to the lecture. Screenshots of the email started circulating online and created a buzz not only within the EC community but also among the nationals and residents of Qatar.

“Giving someone like Alan, a known defender of Israel and a staunch Zionist, a platform in Qatar is somewhat like giving a white supremacist a platform in a historically black university,” said Sami Hermez, an assistant professor at Northwestern University in Qatar.

In the email invitation, Dershowitz is described as a “vocal supporter of Qatar.” However, in 2014 he described Qatar as “supporters and facilitators of terrorism” and “the worst villains in the Gaza tragedy.”

Screenshot from Haaretz of Dershowitz’s op-ed

However, his views on Qatar seem to have changed after he accepted a fully-funded invitation from the Qatari emir to visit the country. After this visit, he published an opinion piece on Jan.12 about the Gulf blockade, stating that “the Qatar issue was more complex and nuanced.”

He also wrote, “I observed that Qatar is quickly becoming the Israel of the Gulf States, surrounded by enemies, subject to boycotts and unrealistic demands, and struggling for its survival.”

Before his lecture, many activists and students took to social media to express their opposition to Dershowitz’s lecture with a trending hashtag that stated “Do not defile Qatar with normalization” in Arabic: #لا_تدنسوا_قطر_بالتطبيع

However, others in the Education City community say his lecture is a normal aspect of academia.

“In the abstract, it’s not problematic in the tradition of academia to invite or host speakers who have dissenting points of view,” said Abraham Abusharif, an associate professor at NU-Q.

“However, in this case, it seems that the event was not broadcast early enough to the larger campus community to encourage another tradition of academia, namely, debate and the thoughtful contestations of ideas.”

An anonymous audience member told the news site Electronic Intifada that “Qatari police in civilian clothes were present at the event, monitoring and harassing students who filmed the walk-out.”

According to Mennatallah Ibrahim, a journalism student at NU-Q, there was a heavy presence of security and QF staff. Security also went through the bags of attendees before letting them into the auditorium. QF did not provide any statement about the presence of security guards and the no-camera policy when asked by The Daily Q.

The Daily Q reporter of this article was not allowed to take her camera inside the lecture hall by QF officials at the event. Other students say they had similar experiences.

Below is a statement that Qatar Foundation emailed on March 7 to The Daily Q reporter regarding the choice of guest and the protest at the event:

Screen capture of email from Qatar Foundation Press Office to the reporter on March 7.

Minutes into the lecture, activists protested by walking out when Dershowitz started speaking. They chanted “Zionists are not welcome here” and held up Palestinian flags. This walkout protest was organized by Qatar Youth Against Normalization, an informal youth group in Doha that boycotts Israel.


“I am a proud, proud, Zionist,” Dershowitz said in response to the walkout.

Danna Takriti, a freshman at NU-Q, said, “[Dershowitz] called the people who got up and left ‘hard leftists’ and against the notion of free speech, whilst not realizing that what he’s saying is in itself ridiculing that right.”

When asked about the protest, Dershowitz told The Daily Q, “The protests were not directed against my ideas since protesters didn’t wait to hear what I had to say. They were directed against me, as a Jew who supports the two-state solution. I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestine supporting two states for two people, as the UN recognized in 1947.”

He also accused those who walked out of “censoring” him and reaffirmed his belief of the importance of freedom of speech.

Joud Al- Ghalayini, a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and one of the protesters, said, “I don’t think that a proud Zionist should be welcome in this country. As a Palestinian who has family back in Palestine and who hears about people being killed there all the time on the news and through my family connections, I was so angry to be there.”

However, other attendees disagreed. Shafaq Zia, a freshman at NU-Q, said, “I don’t think this was particularly problematic as it is normal to face people you disagree with in life and academics.”

During the lecture, Dershowitz emphasized that Israel is a democracy and said, “Of course, anti-Zionists are welcome in Israel and have complete freedom of speech.”

Basel Hummos, a first-year medical student at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, disagreed with Dershowitz’s claim.

“Dr. Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, who have been pro-Palestine in several speeches of theirs, have been denied entry to Israel simply because they oppose Israel and what it stands for. What Dr. Dershowitz refers to as a ‘democracy’ prevents Jews from entering just because they simply speak a different mentality,” he told The Daily Q.

In 2007, Dershowitz successfully blocked Norman Finkelstein, a political science professor, from gaining tenure at DePaul University in Chicago. Finkelstein is a strong critic of Israel. After Dershowitz published “The Case for Israel” in 2003, Finkelstein published “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History” in 2005; one section of his book is devoted to countering Dershowitz’s stance. Dershowitz attempted to stop Finkelstein’s book from being published but failed.

During the Q&A, Danna Takriti, a freshman at NU-Q, defended those who walked out. “This isn’t an issue of listening to your speech or an issue of freedom of speech anymore, Alan,” she said. “This is an issue of children being murdered, of people being murdered.”

Dershowitz cut her off and started to talk about Israeli children getting killed by Hamas.

We assert our rejection to hosting extremist Zionists in our country who promote a discourse that justifies the killing of civilians and the use of violence against the innocent.

In an interview with The Daily Q, Dershowitz said that Takriti’s statement about Palestinians being murdered by Israelis is “libel and a defamation against the Jewish people” and that he “wanted to make sure that nobody believes that by my silence I was accepting that outrageous, bigoted, anti-Semitic statement.”

Anti-Zionism is not to be confused with anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is “hostility to or prejudice against Jews” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. While anti-Zionism stands for the “opposition to the establishment or support of the state of Israel,” according to Merriam Webster.

On March 13, Qatar Youth Against Normalization released an official statement in response to the event: “We assert our rejection to hosting extremist Zionists in our country who promote a discourse that justifies the killing of civilians and the use of violence against the innocent.”




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