By Prof. Alan Dershowitz
(DECEMBER 2, 2021 / JNS) I have been called “Israel’s best defender.” Yet New York’s Temple Emanu-El, the most important Reform synagogue, has silenced my voice while amplifying the voice of one of Israel’s most toxic detractors. Here are the facts:
For several years, I was the “defense lawyer” for biblical characters who were put “on trial” at Temple Emanu-El. The trials—of Abraham, Moses, David, Noah and others—were the most popular and well-attended events at the temple. Upwards of 1,500 people would attend, listen to the evidence and then vote “guilty” or “not guilty.” I was the “defense attorney,” and different “prosecutors” were selected to present the case against the “defendant. They included former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, cable-news TV commentator Chris Cuomo, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and others. King David was found guilty; all the others were found innocent. The audiences loved these trials, and the expectation was that they would continue for many years, culminating with “the Trial of God” Himself.
In the fall of 2019, the Trial of Joseph’s brothers for selling Joseph to the Egyptians was scheduled and announced. A prosecutor was selected, and I was preparing my case. Then the temple decided to be “cute” and make the trial relevant to current headlines. So they advertised it (without consulting with me) as the Trial of Joseph’s brothers for “trafficking” Joseph. After some objections were raised to a trial of trafficking in light of the Jeffrey Epstein case at the time, I suggested putting a different biblical character on trial. Instead, synagogue leadership decided to “postpone” the event. Rabbi Joshua Davidson assured me that the trials would soon resume.
The coronavirus hit the following year, and no in-person events took place. When events resumed this fall, I called asked the rabbi to schedule another trial; he said there would be no more. I asked why. He told me that the president and the board had decided against any more trials involving me. I then offered to speak on other issues—I had recently written books on Israel, freedom of speech and the vaccine mandates. He said he would get back to me.
A few days later, he informed me that I could not speak there on any subject, pursuant to a decision made by the president of the board, Harris Diamond, a retired executive for a company that advertised petroleum, surgery soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and big pharma. He assured me that no one—certainly not he—believed I had done anything wrong. He said there were media reports that I had been accused of having sex with a woman connected to Jeffrey Epstein, and that the synagogue didn’t want to be identified with or tainted by any accusation, even if false.
I assured him that there was no truth to the accusations—that I had never met or heard of the accuser, reminding the rabbi that this is exactly how McCarthyism worked back in the 1950s. The institutions that banned people accused of being Communists did not necessarily believe the accusations or think that they justified the ban, but they feared being tainted even by false accusations. So, they went along with the ban, just to be safe.
The rabbi told me: “Rabbis don’t make these decisions; the board and president do.” He implied that if it were up to him, I would be invited. I responded that rabbis have an obligation not to accept unjust decisions by the lay president, and I offered to present my case to the board. He said that would not be possible. The board had made up its mind. Had I been permitted to present my case, the board would have heard the following:
When I was first falsely accused of having relations with Virginia Roberts Giuffre in Epstein’s New Mexico ranch, his island and other specified locations, I stated categorically that I have documentary records that conclusively prove I could not have been in those locations during the relevant time periods. I produced cell-phone records, American Express charges, travel documents, recorded TV appearances, teaching schedules, calendars, court appearances and other documents that persuaded Giuffre’s own lawyers that it was “not possible” for her account to be true, and that—in her lawyer’s own words—she was “wrong … simply wrong” in accusing me.
We subpoenaed any emails that referred to me, but she denied under oath that there were any. We later found several “smoking gun” emails that proved she never met me or even heard of me. She had to be told by a journalist friend that I was a famous lawyer and that my name “was a good name for your [book] pitch,” even though there was “no proof” I had done anything wrong. Giuffre then followed the journalist’s advice and included my name in her book manuscript, but as a person she had seen, but never met, and certainly never had any relations with.
She told her best friend that she didn’t want to accuse me but “felt pressure” from her lawyers to do so. She also told her best friend’s husband that she never had relations with me. I have recordings confirming this.
She also told her best friend that she was going after the owner of Victoria’s Secret for “at least half his money.” He is Leslie Wexner, worth close to $10 billion. We learned that at the same time Giuffre publicly accused me, her lawyers privately accused Wexner of nearly identical sexual misconduct and demanded a meeting to resolve her “claims” against him. Both Wexner’s wife and lawyer told me it was a “shakedown” (the word is recorded on a tape). It seems obvious that I was being used as a stalking horse to send the unmistakable message to Wexner that if he didn’t want to happen to him what happened to me—namely, a very public accusation—there are ways of resolving the matter.
After the lawyers for Giuffre and Wexner secretly met, and presumably resolved the matter, Giuffre’s lawyer appeared on TV and stated categorically that Wexner did not have sex with Giuffre, despite Giuffre’s sworn testimony that she did on multiple occasions in multiple locations.
She also lied about how old she was when she met Epstein. At first, she said she was 15—well below the age of consent in any American state. She provided a vivid and detailed description of spending her “Sweet Sixteen” birthday with Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, and receiving gifts from them. When employment records proved she was 17, which is above the age of consent in New York and other states, she admitted she had been “mistaken.” She also admitted that she was “mistaken” when she said she had dinner with Al and Tipper Gore on Epstein’s Island.
Giuffre has obtained millions of dollars from accusing numerous men and women. Among those she has accused are former Sen. George Mitchell, former Ambassador Bill Richardson, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Jacque Cousteau’s niece, a president of a foreign country and several other prominent billionaires. She has also said she was paid $15,000 by Epstein to sleep with Britain’s Prince Andrew when she was above the age of consent. But her own lawyer has said on TV that based on his 11-year investigation, he does not believe that “any high-profile people” had sexual relations with Giuffre. All of these high-profile people have categorically denied her accusations.
If her own lawyers don’t believe her sworn accusation—and they have said they do not—how can others credit them? That is probably why the U.S. Attorney’s office that indicted Epstein and Maxwell deliberately omitted Giuffre as a witness. She had provided deposition testimony and media statements that were extremely incriminating of Epstein and Maxwell. She would have been the key witness against both of them, if she were credible. But it is unethical for prosecutors to call a witness who they know or believe is not credible. So, they crafted the indictments carefully to charge misconduct unrelated to her. Nobody who has seen the evidence believes Giuffre, yet Temple Emanu-El nonetheless canceled me.
The immediate result of the cancellation is that more than 1,500 people were denied the opportunity to see trials they loved and learned from. They were also denied the opportunity to hear my constitutional analysis of vaccine mandates. Most disturbingly, they were prevented from hearing—and having their children hear—my arguments in defense of Israel at a time of increasing anti-Zionism and anti-Jewish attitudes in universities and among the hard left.
I offered to speak on how to combat these dangers, but the synagogue preferred to hear from Peter Beinart, who advocates the end of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and who supports boycotts against Israelis. At the same time that I was canceled, Beinart received a substantial speaker’s fee from the synagogue to make his case against Israel.
Moreover, my cancellation by a prominent Jewish institution gives cover to non-Jewish institutions, such as universities, to cancel me as well, without being accused of anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism. Temple Emanu-El has thus contributed to the silencing of my pro-Israel voice where it is most needed today.
Silence is not the option in the face of unjustified McCarthyite censorship by a synagogue that claims to be a house of study, open-mindedness and Jewish values of dialogue and dissent. So, I will not quietly accept Temple Emanu-El’s hypocrisy and cowardice. Nor should you.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of “Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo.”
This article was originally published in JNS and can be viewed here.