Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Berkeley student newspaper apologizes for cartoon depicting Alan Dershowitz stomping a Palestinian

October 27, 2017 at 5:48 AM

Alan Dershowitz speaks at a conference in New York in May. (Michael Brochstein/SIPA via AP Images/)

The editors of the University of California at Berkeley’s student newspaper apologized Wednesday after publishing an editorial cartoon that depicted lawyer Alan Dershowitz, with blood on his hands, stomping on a Palestinian.

The newspaper, the Daily Californian, published the cartoon last week, days after Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and an ardent champion of Israel, delivered a lecture on campus titled, “The Liberal Case for Israel.” The illustration depicts Dershowitz on stage, smiling in front of an audience. He is sticking his head out of what appears to be a cardboard cutout displaying the title of his lecture, along with an Israeli flag.

But behind the cardboard cutout, there is a grim scene: Dershowitz, seemingly stomping his foot on a person holding a Palestinian flag. In his palm, he holds an Israeli Defense Forces soldier, aiming a firearm at an unarmed person bleeding from a gunshot wound, the blood dripping off Dershowitz’s hand.

The editorial cartoon, created by Joel Mayorga, is titled, “Behind the scenes.” The artist intended to send the message that Dershowitz’s arguments in his recent lecture were hypocritical, the newspaper editor wrote.

But Dershowitz, along with a number of campus and Jewish leaders, interpreted it very differently.

Carol Christ, the university’s chancellor, condemned the cartoon in a letter to the editor, calling it “offensive, appalling and deeply disappointing.”

“Are you aware that its anti-Semitic imagery connects directly to the centuries-old ‘blood libel’ that falsely accused Jews of engaging in ritual murder?” Christ wrote. She called on the editors to consider whether they would publish a similar “assault on other ethnic or religious groups.”

“We cannot build a campus community where everyone feels safe, respected and welcome if hatred and the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes become an acceptable part of our discourse,” she said.

On Wednesday, Dershowitz himself responded to the cartoon with a letter to the editor. The civil liberties lawyer defended the students’ right to publish the cartoon but said he was shocked to see the “vile depiction” published in Berkeley’s paper of record.

Echoing Christ, he wrote that the cartoon resembled anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda that appeared in the weekly German publication Der Stürmer in the 1930s. Such anti-Semitic images, false propaganda known as “blood libel,” depicted Jews drinking the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes. These rumors helped fuel violent riots, known as pogroms, against Jews.

“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,” Dershowitz said in his letter to the editor.

The illustration, and the backlash to it, come amid continued anti-Israel sentiment on liberal campuses and controversy about boycotts of Israel.

Last year, a Berkeley student led a one-credit course aimed at analyzing Palestine through “the lens of settler colonialism.” It was suspended after just one class following criticism that it promoted anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views, according to the Los Angeles Times. Campus officials reinstated the class after critics complained the decision violated academic freedom.

“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,” Dershowitz said. “There is little doubt that this abhorrent cartoon was a hard-left Neo-Nazi expression.”

Dershowitz argued that if the cartoon had directed “hate” against women, or gays, blacks or Muslims, the newspaper would not have published it.

“There is one word for this double standard.” Dershowitz wrote. “It’s called bigotry.”

The cartoon still appears on the online opinion section of the Daily Californian. But the editor in chief, Karim Doumar, responded with an editor’s note apologizing for the “pain and anger” caused by the illustration.

“We regret that the artistic rendering distracted from the discussion the artist was trying to start,” Doumar wrote. “The criticism we have received reaffirms for us a need for a more critical editing eye, and a stronger understanding of the violent history and contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism.”

Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, the executive director of Berkeley Hillel, also weighed in on the cartoon, saying it was a “reminder that as a Jew living in our open society, we are still plagued by undertones of historical anti-Semitism.”

“There should be no excuse or rationalization for why this cartoon is ‘simply’ a critique of Israeli policy or the speaker’s opinion,” he wrote in a letter to the editor.

Dershowitz has represented some of the country’s most high-profile criminal defendants, among them O.J. Simpson. He has been called “American’s most public Jewish defender” and “Israel’s single most visible defender — the Jewish state’s lead attorney in the court of public opinion.”

The New York Times wrote in a 2015 profile, that he “thrives on controversy and relishes taking on opponents in and out of the courtroom.”

Dershowitz is a regular commentator on prime-time news networks. He has also become somewhat of a darling for the right-wing, as he has defended the legal grounds for some of President Trump’s controversial actions. A number of conservative outlets, such as the Daily Wire, Fox News and the Blaze, jumped on the news about the student newspaper illustration this week, with Breitbart’s headline calling it a “Nazi-Style Anti-Semitic Cartoon.”

In his speech at UC Berkeley School of Law last week, the lawyer said in his letter to the Daily Californian, he “advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state and a negotiated end of the conflict.” He encouraged those in the audience to challenge him on his views, he said, and felt the lecture led to a civil debate.

But shortly after he spoke, he found a flier for the event on a law school bulletin board. On it, a swastika had been drawn over Dershowitz’s face. The flier was quickly removed, according to the Daily Californian, but not before Dershowitz posted a photo of it on Twitter:

More from Morning Mix:

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Samantha Schmidt is a reporter covering gender and family issues.

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