Alan Dershowitz was at Brandeis University last week to respond to Jimmy Carter and Carter's latest book. In the course of his remarks
, Dershowitz said:"A few years ago, I offered a $15,000 award...I re-offer it here today, to anybody who can come up with a single prominent Jewish leader who has ever equated the legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Nobody has come to collect the award...because it has never happened."
(Please feel free to tell me if I did not transcribe this correctly, but I listened to and watched the statement several times and did my best to transcribe this with accuracy).
After watching the video originally on C-Span, I emailed Professor Dershowitz (before I was able to find the video recording of Dershowitz's remarks on the web), asking Dershowitz to provide a precise statement of his bet. Here is my entire letter:"I saw you today on C-Span and wanted to understand the precise nature of your 'bet' of $15,000 concerning those who utter statements about Israel that are then called "anti-Semitic." I ask because I thought of a couple of examples that sprang to mind when you made your statement:
"When Leon Wieseltier, in his New Republic essay, 'What is Not to be done: Israel, Palestine and the return of the binational fantasy' (Oct 23, 2003) (sic-Oct 27, 2003 issue), called Tony Judt's position 'anti-Semitic,' did that qualify under your proposed rules? When you called Walt and Mearshiemer's article 'bigoted', did that count, too? Or when Martin Indyk of the Saban Center said Walt and Mearsheimer were alleging a Jewish 'cabal' had taken over American foreign policy, was that a claim that they were anti-Semitic?
"I am not sure, but I think you said the statement have to be uttered by a prominent person in a Jewish organization, which I would presume would include ADL, AIPAC, AJC or Jewish Federation--but maybe the Saban Center would not qualify. Perhaps, in the case of Judt or Walt and Mearsheimer, you may find they are in fact uttering 'anti-Semitic' statements about Jews and/or Israel.
"I also note that Abe Foxman of the ADL has called Carter or at least his book, 'bigoted,' too. Here is a quote from a recent NY Times article about Foxman and the 'anti-anti-Semite' issue (Jan 14, 2007):
"'But, I asked, isn’t slinging the dread charge of anti-Semitism at people like Jimmy Carter and Tony Judt and Mearsheimer and Walt really a way of choking off debate? No, it isn’t, Foxman said. This was at our lunch; Foxman got so exercised that he began to choke on his gratin. I asked if it was really right to call Carter, the president who negotiated the Camp David accords, an anti-Semite.
“'I didn’t call him an anti-Semite.'
“'But you said he was bigoted. Isn’t that the same thing?'
“'No. "Bigoted" is you have preconceived notions about things.'
"The argument that the Israel lobby constricted debate was itself bigoted, he said.
“'But several Jewish officials I’ve talked to say just that.'
“'Are they bigoted?'
"Foxman didn’t want to go there. He said that he had never heard any serious person make that claim...."
(My email to Dershowitz goes on as follows)
"I quote the above and raise these points because, apart from any 'bet,' I am of the view that it is more difficult to express views like, say, Gideon Levy or Amira Haas, in US media than in Israeli media. If Levy or Haas--or Tanya Reinhart or Uri Averney (sic Uri Avnery)--were printed in a prominent US newspaper or allowed to utter their views on American network television or radio, they would immediately be called 'bigoted,' 'anti-Israel,' or perhaps 'anti-Semitic' or 'self-hating Jews.' Certainly, I've heard people in various Temples I've belonged to over the years say 'Gore Vidal is anti-Semitic' for example, though most American Jews in those Temples don't know the others I mentioned in this paragraph.
"Your response is appreciated as I know you are very busy.
"By the way, my son, for his Bar Mitzvah this past November, used your book, 'The Genesis of Justice' for research into his speech which summarized various interpretations of the Abraham and Isaac story. I loved your book too (He found the book on one of my bookshelves, right next to your other great book, 'The Vanishing American Jew'). Then, within a month of his Bar Mitzvah, he read and greatly enjoyed the entire book. I know [you and I] share a similar outlook about religion and Judaism, and we are both lawyers who recognize the importance of debate and argument. On Israel, your opening remarks I heard on C-Span today sounded like mine, but then again, Chomsky himself might even have agreed with your opening statements. Oh well. When all is said and done, we are both Jewish in our spirits--so of course we will have some disagreement with regard to various issues..."
Now back to this post!
Since writing that email, I have come across Deborah Lipstadt's January 20, 2007 op-ed in the Washington Post
where she said President Carter had uttered "anti-Semitic" canards in the course of his defending himself from attacks on his latest book. Lipstadt said:
"Carter's book 'Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,' while exceptionally sensitive to Palestinian suffering, ignores a legacy of mistreatment, expulsion and murder committed against Jews. It trivializes the murder of Israelis. Now, facing a storm of criticism, he has relied on anti-Semitic stereotypes in defense."
One may say Lipstadt
is not a prominent Jewish leader, but of course, she made international headlines and was declared a hero
a Holocaust denier in court, and is a prominent historian of Jewish history--and is herself Jewish.
Again, as to Foxman's comments regarding Carter, Dershowitz may argue that "bigotry" is not "anti-Semitism." Sorry, but that is logically wrong. "Anti-Semitism" is a specific form
of "bigotry". Indeed, the ADL, on its web site
, states as its first mission:
" ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry here and abroad..."
To deny that "anti-Semitism" is a form of "bigotry" is to deny that Judaism is a specific form of religion. One might as well argue that "libel," which is the written form of defamation, is not the same as "defamation."
Therefore, when Abe Foxman, the national leader of the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish oriented organization, calls Jimmy Carter's criticism of Israel "bigoted," then a reasonable interpretation of that statement is that Foxman is accusing Carter of "anti-Semitism." Yes, if Foxman criticized a white person for uttering the "n" word about Michael Jordan, that would not
be "anti-Semitism." It would, however, still be bigoted--just a form of racial bigotry.
Dershowitz may also raise another defense to my potentially demanding $15,000 from him. Note that Dershowitz qualified his bet by talking about what he calls "legitimate" criticism of Israel. What then is "legitimate" criticism of Israel? Perhaps Dershowitz would say Tony Judt
, who calls for a bi-national state
for Arabs and Jews over Israeli territory and the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, is not making a "legitimate" criticism of Israel. Or perhaps, as Leon Weiseltier
, a prominent Jewish writer at the New Republic wrote, Judt, in the course of his main essay on the topic, expressed "an anti-Semitic notion" when Judt wrote that he felt personally "copmlicit," as a Jew, in the conduct of Israeli soliders at Jenin.
Perhaps Dershowitz himself believes Carter's book is not a "legitimate" criticism of Israel. Dershowitz may also believe, as does Debroah Lipstadt, that what Carter specifically says in defending himself is, in fact, "anti-Semitic" and therefore not "legitimate."
If Dershowitz is reduced to these defenses, then one may conclude there is "no beef"
to Dershowitz's bet. Dershowitz had started his brief discussion about his bet by suggesting it is a "canard" that people who criticize Israel are read out of polite company or are called anti-Semitic. I guess he hasn't hung around many Temples where people say "The LA Times is anti-Semitic" or even, yes, "The New York Times is anti-Semitic." I've heard it often enough to know it is more than an isolated feeling among Temple members in the US.
Dershowitz should know that Americans in mass media who criticize Israeli policy similar in either information or tone as particular Jewish writers at Israeli major newspapers do not get invited to appear on many corporate mainstream television and radio programs (Pat Buchanan being an exmaple of the "exception which proves the rule"). In other words, if Dershowitz's bet requires that (1) the specific word "anti-Semitism" has to be used in the critique of a person's statements about Israel, (2) the person calling the Israel critic "anti-Semitic" has to be a specific leader of a specific Jewish organization, and (3) Dershowitz himself is the arbiter of whether the criticism of Israel is "legitimate," then Dershowitz is truly parsing and significantly narrowing the scope of his bet. That is not how the world works, and that is not how critics of Israel are weeded out of the discourse of corporate US mass media--and Dershowitz knows that.
I happen to respect Alan Dershowitz's intellect, and I think I'd like him on a personal level. I wrote about Dershowitz recently here
and discussed his original statements against Carter's book here
I know I don't get much traffic, but I wonder, should Dershowitz pay up to someone who provides the above information to him, as I have largely done?