Alan Dershowitz seems nervous. That was clear in his interview in the new Netflix documentary, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, that chronicles Epstein's sex trafficking operation. Dershowitz challenged his accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, to say on camera that she was forced to have sex with him 'six or seven times'. She did just that. It does not look good for him. He is now suing Netflix about it. Giuffre said simply, "Only one of us is telling the truth." My bets are that she is telling the truth and that Dershowitz is lying.
There are many compelling reasons to believe Giuffre over Dershowitz's denials. First of all, the four-part series compiled mountains of evidence and testimony backing the stories of the victims – as did the police and prosecution that sent Epstein to prison twice for these offenses, despite the many efforts of men in high places to keep the story hidden.
Second of all, Dershowitz, who is considered one of the most powerful defense attorneys in America, has made a living out of using rhetorical manipulations in order to hide the truth and protect the guilty. With this particular record and skill set, we have no reason to believe Dershowitz when he defends himself. He is exceptionally trained to make the guilty look innocent, even if he is currently doing a mediocre job on himself. He knows how to manipulate facts, divert attention back onto victims, and plant false narratives. He is using all those tactics right now to make the victims look guilty. But these are just tactics. The truth is, the victims have overwhelming evidence supporting their stories. Dershowitz' tactics are not working.
Plus, look at who Dershowitz hangs out with. In addition to defending Epstein, he has defended a celebrity wife-murderer, a celebrity rapist, and most recently the current president during his impeachment. Significantly, Trump is not only the most powerful liar in America, with an astounding record of over 20,000 lies according to the Washington Post; he is also an admitted sexual predator who attended Epstein's sex parties and very publicly ogled little girls. They say if you want to know a guy, look at who his friends are. Dershowitz is not only comfortable with the world's biggest scumbags – he also successfully defends them even when the truth is that they are guilty.
Certainly everyone has the right to a defense, even rapists and sex traffickers. But Dershowitz was more than just Epstein's lawyer. They also played together. Dershowitz was at Epstein's island, where he admitted to getting a "massage", hung out with Epstein at Harvard get-togethers, exchanged donations to their favorite charities, hobnobbed with Epstein's friends, and attended Epstein's infamous parties. They were buddies. In a small sea of rich and powerful buddies.
Well, it takes a village, so to speak. Sexual assault by high profile offenders requires an intricate network of connections to cover up. The Epstein story demonstrates this well. According to the documentary, Epstein had detectives, prosecutors, judges, and politicians in his pocket. It was why he was able to get away with this for so long – decades, it seems – even though there were dozens of victims and possibly hundreds of witnesses over the years. Time and again, investigations were stalled or sabotaged, despite the accumulation of cartons of indisputable evidence. Epstein operated in a web of high-profile men protecting other high-profile men from being held accountable for sexual violence against girls.
And this network has a lot of Jewish men in it. Dershowitz, who is not only a well-connected yeshivah graduate from Brooklyn but also a frequent commentator on Jewish life who writes books with names such as "Chutzpah", is one of many powerful Jewish men who boost each other and cover for each other. Epstein himself got his financial start via personal connections with Jewish men in Wall Street – such as the late Jewish philanthropist Alan "Ace" Greenberg, who hired Epstein despite his lack of credentials and introduced him to the head of Bear Stearns, where he made his first illegal fortune and even then managed to avoid jail. Epstein was located in the center of the Jewish boys' network from the outset.
That network served him throughout his career. The first time Epstein was tried in 2009, he was defended by another high-powered Jewish lawyer Jay Lefkowitz, among others. Lefkowitz, along with Dershowitz successfully manipulated the system to get the dozens of charges of sex trafficking reduced to a light solicitation charge, for which Epstein spent a mere 13 months in prison (if you can call his experience prison -- he was allowed to leave and come back every day.)
Another Jewish man in Epstein's orbit is the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was a frequent visitor of Epstein's and was also reportedly named in Guiffre's deposition as a "client". Barak has vehemently denied that he ever had sex with one of Epstein's girls (which, by definition, would not have been sex but rape.) Like Dershowitz, however, Barak's defense comes across as weak. This newly revealed information would explain why Barak took a low profile this year during his much-coveted political comeback – number ten on the list that he headed. Perhaps he was afraid of what was coming out about him.
Barak was not the only former Israeli Prime Minister to attend Epstein's parties. The New Yorker reports that Shimon Peres was Epstein's friend, too -- who he introduced to none other than Alan Dershowitz.
The most significant Jewish man in Epstein's circle was Jewish billionaire Les Wexner, a giant in the world of Jewish leadership development and philanthropy. Wexner, who made his fortune sexually objectifying women for profit – that is, through his soft-porn lingerie company, Victoria's Secret – bankrolled Epstein to the tune of tens of millions of dollars for over twenty years. Epstein bragged about being a financial advisor, but his only "client" was Wexner. This "financial" relationship also enabled Epstein to approach women as a "talent scout" for Victoria Secret modelling.
Last week, Dershowitz's attorneys revealed that Wexner is named in Guiffre's deposition as well. This news has been received relatively quietly. Wexner was not taken to task in the documentary, and he has not been yelling about lawsuits like Dershowitz. But if we take the victim's testimony at face value, Wexner was sexually exploiting Epstein's victims, too. It might explain why Wexner blindly bankrolled Epstein for so long: Perhaps Epstein was protecting Wexner's big secret.
These connections raise some pressing questions about money, power, and gender in the Jewish community. After all, Les Wexner is not just a businessman but also a prominent name on Jewish buildings, so to speak. His most celebrated Jewish activity is his Wexner Foundation, which trains a cadre of Wexner Fellows to go out and lead the Jewish people. The Wexner Fellowship is considered one of the most prestigious leadership programs in the Jewish world, and is known to open doors in high places. Of course it does.
One question is whether the Jewish organizational community has any accountability about where funds come from. It raises the very uncomfortable question about whether we should be using donations that come from unethical sources – sex traffickers, slumlords, opiate distributors, or Russian mafia hitmen, all of whom can be found on donor lists in major Jewish organizations. We are overly accepting of the process that I call "reputation laundering", where we forget what the guy did and only talk about how great he is because he is, well, you know, a donor.
Another major question is just how prevalent sexual abuse is among high-profile members of the Jewish community. We do not lack examples of abusive leaders and rabbis – Marc Gafni, Motti Elon, Jonathan Rosenblatt, Ari Shavit, Steven M. Cohen, Larry Bach, Michael Steinhardt and on and on, as well as so many whose deeds have not yet been revealed publicly. Considering how hard predators work to keep this hidden, I think it's very possible that we are barely seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Many high-profile abusers also have access to deep pockets, whether their own other others'. Shavit, for example, received over a million dollars from Hillel for his book tour, even as his book revealed his problem with women, and after he confessed and was fired, he was still invited to headline at major Jewish events. Similarly, Steven Cohen had control over millions of dollars in Federation and communal funding for his work, through which he also controlled communal priorities, conversations about gender, and the very real professional lives of female sociologists in his field.
For me, one of the biggest questions is about the role of the Jewish Boys' Club in not only keeping women from locations of power but also in many cases abusing and hurting women. We all know the dire statistics about the dearth of women's leadership and clout in the Jewish world. We all shake our heads at the near absence of women as community heads, Federation directors, leading rabbis, or powerful donors. There is obviously a connection between these processes. The dynamics of the community are such that in many places, women and girls are seen first as sexual objects rather than as professionals and leaders. Men in power throughout the community who share this patriarchal value system connect with each other to maintain the network, the secrecy, and the suppression of women.
To be sure, there are also women involved in this story -- especially Epstein's longtime girlfriend, who is also Jewish, Ghislaine Maxwell, who was finally arrested this week. The story of women who abuse others, or women who assist men who are abusing women, forms its own set of dynamics that deserve a separate analysis.
It is time for the Jewish community to crack open the boys' club and evaluate the underlying value systems that stifle the needs of women while keeping abusive men on top.
Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is a feminist thought-leader, anthropologist, and writer whose research and ideas help shape a vision for a compassionate society. She has published five books on gender in society, and today helps women amplify their own voices and find their power through Lioness Booksand Media. She coaches women through the writing process, edits, and ghost-writes women's books, and publishes women's writing through Lioness. She also speaks and consults with groups and organizations around the world on gender issues and women's experiences in the world. Would you like to schedule a chat? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org