Jewish Charity Honors Dershowitz

At a lighthearted roast that included testimonials from singer Carly Simon, President Bill Clinton and “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David, the Jewish National Fund honored Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz for his legal acumen and “unshakable” advocacy for Israel.

In a video prepared for the event last Thursday, David kicked off the ceremony by recounting a Martha’s Vineyard poker party last summer in which Dershowitz was unable to distinguish between a straight and a flush.

“I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but he’s not too smart,” David joked in the video, adding that if Law School Dean Elena Kagan ever witnessed Dershowitz playing poker, she would fire him because of his lackluster skill.

The majority of the event—held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston—was dedicated to poking fun at the 67-year-old Dershowitz, but the dinner also had its more serious moments as friends and colleagues praised the celebrity attorney and veteran law professor.

In a letter written by Clinton and recited aloud by a presenter, the former president commended Dershowitz for the “fine example” he has set for others.

“Whether defending the State of Israel with the written word or the rights of an individual citizen in a courtroom, you have challenged assumptions, changed minds, and opened hearts—and our world is better off for it,” Clinton wrote.

Dershowitz joined the Law School faculty in 1964—the youngest tenured professor at the time—and has written 24 books during his career. He has also acted as a defense lawyer for many high-profile clients, including O.J. Simpson.

Upon accepting the award, Dershowitz said his mission in life is to bring justice “to a world which has had too much injustice.”

He also discussed the prospect for peace in the Middle East and reiterated his support for separate Israeli and Palestinian states.

“Justice is on the side of Israel, it is on the side of a two-state solution, and it is on the side of peace,” Dershowitz said to the audience of more than 240 people. “This is the time for peace.”

University President Lawrence H. Summers lauded Dershowitz in a letter that was read aloud to the crowd.

“If vigorous debate and a relish for ideas are the lifeblood of a university, then Alan Dershowitz is a vital part of Harvard’s blood supply,” Summers wrote.

Members of Dershowitz’s family also spoke at the event, including his brother Nathan, two of his children, and his wife, psychologist Carolyn Cohen.

Dershowitz’s son Elon presented a list of the “Top Ten Reasons Why It’s Good to Be Alan Dershowitz’s Son” in his speech.

The number one reason: “Every time a celebrity kills his wife, you say to yourself, ‘Hey, I’m gonna meet that guy,’” he said, alluding to his father’s role in defending Simpson and British tycoon Claus von Bülow.

Mitchell D. Webber, a Law School student who works as a research assistant for Dershowitz, said the famed attorney inspired him to become a lawyer. But he also poked fun at Dershowitz’s teaching style and notorious outspokenness.

“Letters addressed to ‘Asshole, Harvard Law School’ get to him,” Webber joked, prompting hesitant laughter from the audience.

The event also included a video produced by actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, and a video performance of a song written for Dershowitz by Carly Simon.

The Tree of Life Award is the Jewish National Fund’s highest honor and is given to acknowledge “outstanding community involvement, dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship, and devotion to peace and the security of human life.”

Previous recipients of the award include former dean of the Kennedy School of Government Joseph S. Nye, Jr. and former Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis.

—Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at