Alan Dershowitz has responded to my Forward article about whether a cartoon of him was anti-Semitic. Much of his response repeats points previously made. And most of them are specious. From the fact, for instance, that the cartoonist did not attend Dershowitz’s talk, literally nothing follows about the anti-semitism of the cartoon. Ditto the swastika at the Law school—definitely anti-Semitic, but no connection to the cartoonist. As far as I can tell, there are three substantive points here:
1) This is supposed to be a drawing of a Dershowitz spider, and that’s anti-semitic.
2) I covered this up by dishonestly using a black-and-white version of the image.
3) This is a double standard because if were another ethnic, religious, or gender minority, I would not accord the cartoonist the benefit of the doubt.
Well, as to 2, that’s just not true. The black-and-white image was, on Friday, available on the Daily Cal’s website. I downloaded it from that site and worked from it. I had not seen the colored image until reading Dershowitz’s response. I cannot see any reason to privilege his version over mine interpretively. I also think it’s a sign of the weakness of his claim that he thinks it evaporates in a widely available alternate version of the image.
As to 1, I must admit I simply don’t see the spider. I see an arm and a leg, both recognizably human. I see black, which is indeed the color of suit Dershowitz is wearing in the photo that accompanied the Forward article. I understand this to be a poorly drawn representation of a man doing ideological contortions to say one thing while doing another. I take the circle to be his hunched back, in both versions of the drawing. I do recognize that other people see it differently. But had the artist wanted a spider, he could easily have included more than two limbs, or hairs on the limbs, or whatever. And Dershowitz et al ignore the perfectly natural alternate account of the contortions of his body.
Secondly, I’d note that his initial letter to the Daily Cal claims that this is a blood libel. Much of my piece focussed on the implausibility and danger in that suggestion, which I think leads to the un-representability of Palestinian suffering. Dershowitz is shifting the topic and shifting his objection to the cartoon. He is not addressing my central substantive critique.
As to 3, I don’t think that’s a double standard. I think the cases are unlike. We are rightly hyper-sensitive about sexist speech on campus because women are sexually harassed and abused in large numbers on college campuses, and because such abuse is part of a broader pattern of patriarchy. Similarly, black students face regular, ongoing racism at Cal, as they do on other campuses and in American society more broadly. I know that Jews are called nasty names and occasionally assaulted, but there is simply no parallel phenomenon of structural anti-Semitism in American society, or at Berkeley. In the absence of such, it is inappropriate to apply the heightened standard that Dershowitz recommends.
I am grateful to Professor Dershowitz for his response and engagement.