Forward defends antisemitic cartoon

November 1, 2017 by Alan Dershowitz
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When the official newspaper of Berkeley published a color caricature of me as a spider-like creature with one leg stomping on a Palestinian child and another holding an IDF soldier spilling the blood of an unarmed Palestinian, there was universal condemnation of what was widely seen as a throwback to the antisemitic imagery of the Nazi era…writes  Alan M. Dershowitz.

The chancellor condemned the cartoon, stating that, “its antisemitic imagery connects directly to the centuries-old ‘blood libel’ that falsely accused Jews of engaging in ritual murder.”

Writing in the Daily Cal, students from a pro-Israel organization at Berkeley debunked the claim that the cartoonist and the student paper editors at the Daily Cal could not have known that this cartoon was seeped in traditional antisemitic stereotyping, when considering its deep roots in European, and even American, publications.

“In the cartoon, Dershowitz is depicted with a hooked nose and a body of a large amorphous black sphere. His exaggerated head and contorted legs and hands evoke images of a spider. The rhetoric of Jews as ‘invasive’ insects in society, trying to take over resources and power, has long been used to justify violence, persecution and murder. The two elements of the cartoon, with Dershowitz’s face in the front and the black body in the back, plays into the antisemitic trope of Jews as shape-shifting, sub-human entities using deception and trickery in order to advance their own agendas. This rhetoric is nowhere more common than in Nazi propaganda, and can be traced far beyond WWII in European and American media.”

The students also wrote about the “pain” the antisemitic cartoon had caused them:

“To a Jewish student on this campus, seeing this cartoon in the Daily Cal is a reminder that we are not always welcome in the spaces we call home…Telling Jews that we can or cannot define what is offensive to us, because of our status as privileged minority in the United States, is antisemitic.”

Some students also pointed to the swastika that had defaced my picture on a poster outside Berkeley Law School, as evidence of a pervasive antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism on that campus.

Not surprisingly, it was only an op-ed writer for the Forward who not only denied that the imagery was antisemitic, but actually justified it:

“The mere appearance of blood near a Jew is not a blood libel. The State of Israel has an army, and that army sometimes kills Palestinians, including women and children. When you prick those people, I am told, they bleed. It is perverse to demand of artists that they represent actual, real Israeli violence without blood, just because European Christians invented a fake accusation.”

But how then does the writer justify my depiction as a hulky black spider with an overbearing shape and twisted spider-like hands – imagery traditionally used to depict Jews as offensive, venomous insects. The Forward also did not show readers the color cartoon. Instead they showed them a black and white version that makes it harder to see the spider-like imagery.

Echoing the editor of the Daily Cal, the op-ed writer published by the Forward also argued that the cartoon was a legitimate criticism of my talk. But the cartoonist has now admitted that he didn’t hear my talk. Nor did the Daily Cal report on it. Had they listened, they would have heard a pro-peace, pro two-state, pro compromise proposal.

Would the Forward publish an op-ed that justified comparable images of women, blacks or gays? The baseball player, Yuri Gurriel, who made a slanted-eye gesture was also reflecting the “truth” about facial differences, but no one would suggest that it wasn’t a racist stereotype.

By publishing an op-ed that defends bigoted caricatures only of a Jewish supporter of Israel –when no college newspaper would ever peddle stereotypes of other ethnic, religious or social groups – the Forward too engages in an unacceptable double standard.

Alan M. Dershowitz, is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School and author of, Trumped Up! How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy, which is now available.


One Response to “ Forward defends antisemitic cartoon”
  1. david singer says:

    Mr Dershowitz:

    The real issue to my mind is your having advocated at the Berkeley meeting for “a Palestinian state; an end to the occupation and opposition to Israeli settlement policies”.

    How so distinguished a jurist can advocate for that view (which you are of course perfectly entitled to hold and express) is both puzzling and very disturbing when in fact:
    1. There is already an existing Arab Palestinian State called Jordan covering 78% of the territory encompassed by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine
    2. Jews were given the legal right to “close settlement” in Judea and Samaria under article 6 of the Mandate and article 80 of the United Nations Charter

    Your prescription for creating a second Arab Palestinian State in former Palestine – in addition to Jordan – and kicking out Jews who have been legally sanctioned to live in Judea and Samaria by the Mandate and the UN Charter – is not the way to resolve the Jewish-Arab conflict.

    Only direct negotiations between Israel and Jordan – the two successor States to the Mandate – can have any hope of resolving the allocation of sovereignty in the last 5% of the Mandate territory remaining unallocated between Arabs and Jews.

    You are – I am sorry to say – barking up the wrong tree.

    It is obviously galling that you received the treatment you did. Your personal hurt and protestations however will not help resolve the conflict.

    Anti-semitism will never disappear. However an end to the Arab-Jewish conflict remains an achievable goal – despite the kind of disgusting reception you received at Berkeley.

    Changing your viewpoint, not spouting the false propaganda of the enemies of the Jewish State and accepting the legal realities of the Mandate and the UN Charter could make a very big contribution by you personally to ending a conflict which has raged unresolved for the last 100 years.

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