By: Elishama Marmon  | 

Controversy at Cardozo Over Dershowitz Speech, Protest: Dershowitz Encourages Pulling Donations to Cardozo

Professor Alan Dershowitz (YUHSB ‘55) delivered a speech at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law last month which was met with protests and heckling by students. Dershowitz has since told people not to donate to Cardozo.

Dershowitz is a prominent lawyer and former Harvard law professor known for acting as a criminal defense attorney to a number of controversial figures, including OJ Simpson, Jeffrey Epstein and President Donald Trump during his first impeachment trial. During his speech, Dershowitz spoke about the attacks of Oct. 7, American groups supporting terrorism, democracy in Israel and the issues with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies, saying they have “made antisemitism much more pervasive on many university and college campuses.”

A significant number of the attendees were protesters, holding signs with messages such as “No Sex Traffickers at Cardozo,” “No Pedophiles at Cardozo,” and “Boo! Pedophile,” referring to allegations of sexual assault raised against Dershowitz in connection to Epstein in 2015. The case was settled when the victim later doubted her initial identification of him. The event and the protests that followed triggered an online debate over the propriety of the event, the protest and the issues that were raised.

The event was organized by the Cardozo Federalist Society, a chapter of the national Federalist Society. Dershowitz’s speech, which ran for about 25 minutes and was followed by a 35-minute question segment, was bookended by protests, including a walkout.

During the Q&A, protesters questioned both Dershowitz’s morality and that of his clients. Dershowitz responded by reiterating his commitment to defending anyone, including those he considers morally evil. He has since offered to defend Yahya Sinwar, the orchestrator of the Oct. 7 attacks, if he were to turn himself over to Israel. His comments were met with both cheers and boos from the crowd. He also mentioned that the woman who had accused him of sexual assault had since retracted her accusation.

Cardozo Dean Melanie Leslie addressed the controversy in an email sent to the whole law school the next day, reaffirming DEI principles and condemning hostility and intimidation tactics.

“[D]iversity, equity, and inclusion are bedrock principles at Cardozo and [that] we are committed to ensuring that the community here respects and reflects those values,” she wrote. “Moreover, DEI efforts are not antisemitic and are indeed consistent with combating antisemitism … While principled disagreement is a feature of any great academic institution, personal attacks, open hostility, and intimidation tactics, such as recording people without their consent or sharing private or identifying information with malicious intent, are destructive, alienating, and unacceptable at Cardozo.”

In response to a request from The Commentator for comment, the Cardozo Communications Department responded, stating that “all student organizations may use Cardozo space for meetings and events” and that “Cardozo must be a place where we can disagree and have difficult conversations without losing sight of our core values, which include a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Leslie did not respond to The Commentator’s request for comment on allegations that Dershowitz was previously barred from coming to speak on campus, the online debate that flared up among students or the school’s view on the substance of the critiques of Dershowitz and legal defense of unsavory people. 

Dershowitz later appeared on a podcast where he addressed the controversy and told people not to donate to Cardozo as long as Leslie remains as dean. He also denounced Leslie's statement against recording the talk and challenged her to debate DEI and antisemitism at Cardozo, and her responsibility for it.

Dershowitz did not provide a quote following The Commentator’s request.

A Cardozo student who attended the event as one of the protesters later posted pictures of the event and alleged that Dershowitz had tacitly stated support for the rape of Palestinian women and engaged in “targeted harassment of Black students.” The student further claimed that “Jewish students were threatened with Nazis” by members of the Cardozo Federalist Society at the event, saying that Cardozo “is NOT SAFE for Jews or any other ethnic minority, despite its Jewish affiliation or DEI marketing.” 

The president of the Cardozo Federalist Society issued a statement in his personal capacity in response to the allegation.

“This is a complete mischaracterization of what happened at the event today. As an Orthodox Jew, I find it particularly hurtful that someone would suggest I support Nazism … I strongly support the right to protest FedSoc events so long as it’s done respectfully, and I hold no ill will toward this individual otherwise,” he said. “We are adults in law school, there’s no reason to resort to fighting and falsehoods.”

Leslie has since engaged with leaders from both sides of the dispute, seeking to address the issues, sources familiar with the matter told The Commentator. She highlighted the importance of respectful dialogue and reminded them that free speech includes the right to voice opinions that may seem disagreeable and host controversial speakers.


Photo Caption: Professor Alan Dershowitz (YUHSB ‘55) delivered a speech at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law last month which was met with protests and heckling by students.

Photo Credit: Cardozo School of Law