Opinion | Civil Rights

Alan Dershowitz: In defense of Chelsea Clinton

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Chelsea Clinton has been a leader among progressive Democrats in condemning the growing acceptability of anti-Semitic tropes from some on the hard left, including Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. After Omar accused American Jews of dual loyalties to the United States and Israel, Clinton tweeted out, "We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism."

For showing this courage in the face of so much cowardice from other Democratic leaders, Clinton has now been accused of contributing to a public atmosphere of anti-Muslim hate that may have caused the horrific Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand. During a visit to New York University to show solidarity with the Muslim victims, a student shouted at her, "After all you have done, all the Islamophobia that you have stoked. This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words you have put out in the world." Then another student, wearing a Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign shirt, shouted at the pregnant former first daughter, "The 49 people died because of the rhetoric you put out there."

Muslim student leaders followed this up with an opinion column on how Clinton had hurt their feelings. They wrote, "We were shocked when Clinton arrived at the vigil, given that she had not yet apologized to Rep. Omar for the public vilification against her. We thought it was inappropriate for her to show up to a vigil for a community she had so recently stoked hatred against ... Chelsea hurt our fight against white supremacy when she stood by the petty weaponizers of anti-Semitism, showing no regard for Rep. Omar and the hatred being directed at her."

Instead of being condemned for her criticism of Omar, Clinton should be praised for standing out among silent Democrats who have refused to single out anti-Semitism as a growing phenomenon on both the extreme left and right. When a resolution condemning anti-Semitism was brought before Congress, the House leadership changed it into a condemnation of all bigotry after caving to the political pressure from hard left members.

Some of those same members who demanded the change had strongly, and in my view correctly, also opposed changing the term "Black Lives Matter" to "All Lives Matter." As Lloyd Blankfein, the former chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, has aptly put it, "The House not focusing on anti-Semitism but condemning 'hate' is like replacing 'Black Lives Matter' with 'All Lives Matter.' In both cases the broadening blunts the history of wrongs done to a particular group and the need to prevent repetitions."

Clinton was particularly courageous in condemning the anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan just weeks after her own father made a serious error of judgment in remaining on the stage of the memorial for Aretha Franklin, when Farrakhan joined him in that place of honor, just two seats away. At the time, I was a vocal critic of President Clinton and his defenders. I had asked rhetorically what the reaction would have been if President Trump attended a memorial for a country singer and sat right next to David Duke.

A month after President Clinton and Farrakhan sat next to each other at the service, Farrakhan showed his true colors again when he tweeted, "I am not an anti-Semite, I am an anti-Termite." Chelsea tweeted in response, "Comparing Jews to termites is anti-Semitic, wrong and dangerous. The responsive laughter makes my skin crawl. For everyone who rightly condemned President Trump's rhetoric when he spoke about immigrants 'infesting our country,' this should be equally unacceptable to you."

Yet even for this, Clinton was condemned by those on the hard left, who sometimes have difficulty distancing themselves from anti-Semitism, especially when it comes from women of color and Muslims. Women's March leader Tamika Mallory, who called Farrakhan "one of the greatest of all time," said the people who criticized Omar are "racist" and "abusive." Mallory tweeted, "I can't sit back silently as a black woman and watch the attacks on @IlhanMN. I am sick and tired of watching black and brown women be used as scapegoat for white nationalism. Enough is DAMN NOUGH. We must all speak up and speak out." This is just one example.

It is a dangerous sign of the times when a courageous young woman is attacked for her willingness to publicly confront the evil of anti-Semitism, especially when the attack comes from other Democrats. All people of good will regardless of their party, ethnicity, or religion should commend Chelsea Clinton for her commitment to fight bigotry no matter the source.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School. His new book is "The Case Against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump." You can follow him on Twitter @AlanDersh.

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