The Petitioners' Big Lie
There are, however, actions and words that clearly are anti-Semitic, some in intent, others in effect. For example, the malicious claim by New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka that Israelis were warned in advance to stay away from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 is plainly anti-Semitic in intent, despite the fact that it mentions only Israelis and not Jews. The divestment petition, which singles out Israel for criticism in the face of the reality that its human rights record is far better than that of any other nation in the region, is anti-Semitic in effect because it demonizes and delegitimates the only Jewish nation for sins committed far more frequently and grievously by others. As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has written: “criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction—out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East—is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”
A good working definition is taking a trait or action that is widespread and singling out only Jews for criticism for that trait or action. I am reminded of former Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell’s attempt to start a debate at Harvard in the 1920s about whether the number of Jews should be restricted because Jews cheat. When a distinguished alumnus pointed out that non-Jews also cheat, Lowell replied that the alumnus was trying to change the subject, because Lowell wanted to talk about Jews. So too with divestment. When the human rights records of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, China and other countries are pointed to, those who favor divestment say, “you’re changing the subject; we’re talking about Israel.”
I now challenge those who are claiming to have been accused of anti-Semitism to provide evidence that mere criticism of Israel has been labeled anti-Semitic. The time has come to put up or stop misleading your colleagues and students.
Alan M. Dershowitz is Frankfurter professor of law.