Dershowitz: Anti-Semitic cartoons, anti-Semitic synagogue shootings

One of the weapons of hate against Jews deployed by Nazi Germany were cartoons and caricatures that depicted Jews as subhuman animals, often as dogs or spiders. So when The New York Times international edition published a cartoon over the weekend portraying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE as a dog wearing a Star of David, its editors should not have been surprised at the outraged reaction to the controversy.

The New York Times is not some marginal newspaper that traditionally peddles bigoted cartoons. It is known for its careful editing and sensitivity concerning race and ethnicity. Its international edition is the American newspaper of record around the world, and particularly in Europe. So when it published a cartoon employing anti-Semitic tropes at a time of increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, that decision became newsworthy.


To be sure, the Times has now acknowledged that the decision was wrong and has apologized. But that is not enough. Its editors must explain how this bigoted cartoon made it into the print edition. Which editors approved its publication? What was their reasoning? Has there been accountability for what the Times acknowledges was a mistake? What steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence of this?

The reason this a big deal is not only that this was published in the Times. It is also because the cartoon is a sign of the times. Both in Europe and the United States, but especially in Europe, we see a dangerous phenomenon of increasing tolerance, especially on the left, of anti-Semitic tropes, images, and stereotypes so long as they are directed against Israel.

Even some left-wing Jewish publications are not exempt from this virus. The Forward published an opinion piece justifying a crude cartoon that ran in the official University of California at Berkeley newspaper, depicting me as a predatory spider stomping on innocent Palestinians. The headline on the Forward column was “No, that Alan DershowitzAlan Morton DershowitzDershowitz files multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Netflix over portrayal in Epstein series Why does the hard left glorify the Palestinians? Dershowitz: Maxine Waters used KKK tactics to intimidate Chauvin jury MORE cartoon wasn’t anti-Semitic.” The reason its editors gave is the cartoon is “true” because Israel does kill Palestinians and defenders of Israel, like me, are “deceptive.”

I am sure the editors of Der Sturmer, a Nazi propaganda tabloid published in Germany during World War II, offered similar justifications that there are some deceptive and violent Jews. The real issue, avoided by the Forward and by the Times editors who authorized publishing the cartoon, is the use of Der Sturmer type imagery dehumanizing Jews by depicting them as dogs and spiders that control the world by deception and violence.

Context is critically important. In Europe and in Berkeley, the context is increasing anti-Semitism that is deemed acceptable by many on the left as long as it is directed at the nation state of the Jewish people and its leaders and defenders. Today, Israel is the Jew among nations and has increasingly become the object of historic anti-Jewish stereotyping.

The distance between the offices of The New York Times international edition and the Chabad synagogue in San Diego, which a gunman attacked on Saturday, is growing smaller as the reach of the internet is growing larger. Both the extreme right and extreme left dehumanize Jews, and it is far easier to kill a dehumanized stereotype than a real person.

Jews have been killed by extremist right wingers and by extremist Muslims, but not by hard left haters, at least not yet. Why focus so much attention on the “benign” anti-Semitism of anti-Israel extremists on the hard left? For one obvious important reason: The violent anti-Semitism of the hard right, as represented by the murders of Jews at prayer in San Diego and Pittsburgh, is universally condemned by all decent people, including conservatives. The “benign” anti-Semitism of the hard left, which often is disguised as anti-Zionism, get a pass from many liberals.

Consider the anti-Semitic remarks of Representative Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarGreene apologizes for comparing vaccine rules to Holocaust House Republicans introduce resolution to censure the 'squad' The Memo: Democratic tensions will only get worse as left loses patience MORE of Minnesota, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, South African bishop Desmond Tutu, or British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin. Many liberals have defended them. Senator Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders won't vote for bipartisan infrastructure deal Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right Politics of discontent: Who will move to the center and win back Americans' trust? MORE of Vermont, who is among the worst offenders, actually went to London to show support for his fellow socialist Corbin despite the history of anti-Semitism by Corbin.

This tolerance for anti-Semitism from the left is most pronounced at universities, where our future leaders are studying. For that reason, hard left tolerance of anti-Semitism, disguised as anti-Zionism, is our future, unless we can stop it. Hard right anti-Semitic violence, no matter how destructive, is hopefully a discredited remnant of the dark past. Both are dangerous. But we cannot allow the condemned violence of hard right anti-Semites to close our eyes to the tolerated hard left anti-Semitism.

We cannot wait until some nut with a gun is incited to violence by a dehumanizing left wing cartoon depicting Jews as dogs and spiders.

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.