Simon Hardy Butler
Simon Hardy Butler

The Dershowitz question

“What do you suggest I do?”

That was the query from eminent attorney Alan Dershowitz that I found in my e-mailbox a few days ago in response to a message I sent him relating to the scheduled appearance this month of notorious anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon at New York’s Theatre 80 St. Mark’s. Dershowitz has, in the past, referenced Atzmon in his writing, and I thought he might be interested in this latest Big Apple adventure—which I wrote about in a recent blog post for the Times of Israel. I sent him a link to my article as well.

“What do you suggest I do?” he asked. The question lingered in my mind. Suggest? Wouldn’t it be up to Dershowitz to know what the right course of action would be?

His inquiry surprised me, to say the least. But I suspect it probably shouldn’t have. Dershowitz is one of those folks who may need recommendations, solutions, rather than problems posed to him. He may need something spelled out.

So I conveyed out to him what I thought would be appropriate: writing. Writing an editorial in a major New York publication, such as the New York Daily News. He has done this sort of thing before. Why not do it again … this time, addressing the issue of Atzmon being able to broadcast, at a local Gotham venue, the hate speech he so frequently issues?

The truth is, I was disappointed in Dershowitz’s interrogative. I shouldn’t have to tell him what he should do in this case. He should already realize it. And the fact that he responded to my email instead of leaving it unanswered puzzled me. What was the point? If he didn’t want to do anything, why send his message to me at all?

Lorcan Otway, Theatre 80’s owner, did me the courtesy of addressing my dismay about Atzmon’s event in an eloquent fashion, and although he didn’t persuade me to agree with him, he made a powerful point about the need to allow for freedom of speech and not to censor others. Atzmon allegedly paid for the opportunity to speak at Theatre 80, and I did raise that issue, yet the institution does have the right to take whatever customers it wants. Otway, in this case, stayed consistent with his beliefs, and I respect that. He’s a good man.

Atzmon, on the other hand, is not, and the public denigration of Jews and all things Judaic on his website,, as well as in his Facebook and Twitter postings, is problematic to say the least. I don’t believe he should be given a forum to vent his anti-Semitic nonsense, but I understand Otway’s perspective … and for the record, Otway is not anti-Semitic. He disagrees completely with Atzmon’s outlook. Still, he is doing what he considers to be the right thing. I can’t argue with what he thinks.

I can, though, with Dershowitz, who seemed reluctant to address the problem I brought up in his message to me. Maybe that’s just as well. There is a protest apparently scheduled for the day Atzmon will host his event at Theatre 80, April 30, and it appears we, the people, need to address this hate speech the way we should: legally, peacefully and by ourselves. For no other individual can do it.

That is, I believe, the way it should be. That is, I suspect, the real answer to the Dershowitz question.

Isn’t it?

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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