Should have seen this coming – Dershowitz defends Paterno

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The Dersh

In spite of the huge odds against it, I suppose that we should have seen this coming.

While fellow PILPUL-meister David Brooks went after those of us who are attacking Penn State’s football coaches and administrators for acting in clearly immoral ways, here the great Dersh does the unthinkable and defends Joe Paterno. Though he does not defend Jerry Sandusky, he shows a blatant disregard for the moral obligation of those who witness criminal activity, or who know about such activity, and do nothing. Dershowitz says:

The moral question, therefore, is whether Paterno did enough by simply conveying the information one step up in the hierarchy to the athletic director, and doing nothing further. Reasonable people can, and do, disagree over the answer to this question. Some take the view that Penn State is a rigidly hierarchical organization, and that in such an organization, it is sufficient to report to one’s superior. Others point out that the Catholic Church too, is a hierarchical organization, and when priests reported abuse to their bishops and the bishops reported the abuse up the hierarchy, the problem persisted. Yet others take the view that if Penn State is a hierarchy like the Vatican, then Paterno was “the Pope,” and the buck stopped with him. He, not his superiors, was the person responsible for reporting the episode to the police. That seems unfair in light of the fact that popes can’t be fired, and yet Paterno was discarded like a bag of putrid garbage, when it served the interests of the Board of Directors to distance themselves from him. The President, who was also fired, was apparently the highest official to whom the information was transmitted, although it isn’t clear precisely what he was told by the time it got to him through the filter of several others. It was the president who was ultimately responsible for the misguided decision to “resolve” the “problem” internally instead of reporting the crime to the police, as should have been done.

This defense is interesting in light of Dershowitz’s stated position on collective guilt.

Alan Dershowitz, as is well-known, is a proponent of collective punishment for those Palestinians who are related in any way to perpetrators of terrorist actions even if they did not commit such actions.

Here is the full quote of Dershowitz’s position on how Israel should deal with such terrorism from his March, 2002 Jerusalem Post op-ed “New response to Palestinian terrorism”:

Israel should announce an immediate unilateral cessation in retaliation against terrorist attacks. This moratorium would be in effect for a short period, say four or five days, to give the Palestinian leadership an opportunity to respond to the new policy. It would also make it clear to the world that Israel is taking an important step in ending what has become a cycle of violence. Following the end of the moratorium, Israel would institute the following new policy if Palestinian terrorism were to resume. It will announce precisely what it will do in response to the next act of terrorism. For example, it could announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings. The response will be automatic. The order will have been given in advance of the terrorist attacks and there will be no discretion. The point is to make the automatic destruction of the village the fault of the Palestinian terrorists who had advance warnings of the specific consequences of their action. The soldiers would simply be acting as the means for carrying out a previously announced policy of retaliation against a designated target.

As we can clearly see from the passage, Dershowitz is not at all timid about laying the blame for criminal actions to those who are not directly connected to those actions. In fact, in the case of Palestinians whose property and land are seen as fair game for Israeli punitive action, there may be no connection whatsoever between the terrorist action and the individual civilian. This tactic has been known throughout history as “imputation of sin”; a Christian concept that promotes collective guilt and denies individual responsibility.

That is why they call it “collective punishment”; it means that the collective is held responsible for the actions of others.

But for Joe Paterno there is no responsibility, collective or otherwise.

That Paterno is alleged to have engineered a massive cover-up allowing this criminal action to continue is of no import to Dershowitz, the same Dershowitz who in November 2001 wrote in the Los Angeles Times in justification of torture:

Any interrogation technique, including the use of truth serum or even torture, is not prohibited. All that is prohibited is the introduction into evidence of the fruits of such techniques in a criminal trial against the person on whom the techniques were used.

Dershowitz approves of torture to get information about criminal activity, but sees Joe Paterno as not culpable for the information he allegedly received from Mike McQueary in 2002.

The Dershowitz legacy will be that of PILPUL run amuck. There is no logical or moral consistency in his positions. He uses his formidable legal intellect and his celebrity status in order to pervert morality and the law. He has no fidelity to truth and no concern at all for the noble Torah of the Jewish tradition. In spite of his frequent assertions of his Jewish beliefs, he is a shameful example of a Jew who professes Judaism when in reality he is working diligently to undermine the most basic principles of God’s Word.

He is a public embarrassment.

About David Shasha

David Shasha is the director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York. The Center publishes the weekly e-mail newsletter Sephardic Heritage Update as well as promoting lectures and cultural events. His articles have been published in Tikkun magazine, The American Muslim, the Christian Progressive and other publications. To sign up for the newsletter visit the Sephardic Heritage Google Group at

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