I was recently invited to present the liberal case for Israel at UC Berkeley. In my remarks, I advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state and a negotiated end of the conflict. I encouraged hostile questions from protesters and answered all of them. The audience responded positively to the dialogue.
Then immediately after my address, a poster was plastered outside the UC Berkeley School of Law with a swastika drawn on my face.
The dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, Erwin Chemerinsky, sent a letter condemning the swastika.
Shortly after, The Daily Californian – Berkeley’s independent student-run newspaper – ran an editorial cartoon by Joel Mayorga, approved by editors Suhauna Hussain, Dani Sundell, Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks and Karim Doumar. The cartoon depicted an ugly caricature of me sticking my head through a cardboard cutout. Behind the cardboard, I am portrayed stomping on a Palestinian child with my foot, while holding in my hand an Israeli soldier who is shooting an unarmed Palestinian youth. Above the cardboard cutout, the title of my speech – “The Liberal Case for Israel” – is scrawled in capital letters.
In a letter to the editor, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ expressed disapproval of the cartoon, writing that it was “offensive, appalling and deeply disappointing.” She went on to write that “its anti-Semitic imagery connects directly to the centuries-old ‘blood libel’ that falsely accused Jews of engaging in ritual murder.”
It is shocking that this vile depiction was published in Berkeley’s paper of record. The cartoon resembles the grotesque anti-Semitic blood libel propaganda splashed across Der Stürmer in the 1930s, which depicted Jews drinking the blood of gentile children. Canards about Jews as predators – prominently promulgated by the Tzarist forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – were anti-Semitic back then and are still anti-Semitic today, whether espoused by the extreme left or the extreme right.
This sequence of events by hard-left students who originally protested my right to speak at UC Berkeley confirmed what I’ve long believed: that there is very little difference between the Nazis of the hard right and the anti-Semites of the hard left. There is little doubt that this abhorrent cartoon was a hard-left Neo-Nazi expression.
These anti-Semitic displays against me were in reaction to a speech in which I advocated a Palestinian state and an end to the occupation and opposition to Israeli settlement policies. Many on the hard-left refuse to acknowledge this sort of nuanced positioning. That is because their hostility towards Israel does not stem from any particular Israeli actions or policies. Even if Israel were to withdraw from the West Bank, destroy the security barrier and recognize Hamas as a legitimate political organization, it would still not be enough. For these radicals, it is not about what Israel does, it is about what Israel is: the nation-state of the Jewish people. To many on the hard left, Israel is an imperialistic, apartheid, genocidal and colonialist enterprise that must be destroyed.
Nonetheless, just as I defended the rights of Nazis to march in Skokie, I defend the right of hard-leftists to produce this sort of anti-Semitic material, despite it being hate speech. Those who condemn hate speech when it comes from the right should also speak up when hate speech comes from the left. The silence from those on the left is seeped in hypocrisy. It reflects the old adage: free speech for me but not for thee.
To be sure, the students had the right to publish this cartoon, but they also had the right not to publish it. I am confident that if the shoe were on the other foot – if a cartoon of comparable hate directed against women, gays, Blacks or Muslims were proposed – they would not have published it. There is one word for this double standard. It’s called bigotry.
The best response to bigotry is the opposite of censorship: it is exposure and shaming in the court of public opinion. The offensive cartoon should not be removed, as some have suggested. It should be widely circulated along with the names prominently displayed of the person who drew it and the bigoted editors who decided to publish it. Every potential employer or admissions officer should ask them to justify their bigotry.
The artist and the Daily Cal editors who oversaw the decision to publish this cartoon must be held accountable for their reprehensible actions. I challenge them to justify themselves. It will not be enough to hide behind the shield of freedom of speech, because that freedom also entails the right not to publish anti-Semitic expression.
Alan Dershowitz is a civil liberties lawyer and a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School.