For decades, civil liberties lawyer and Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz has been a riveting and sometimes polarizing public figure, speaking out forcefully and provocatively on a long list of issues, many of them unpopular and controversial. A self-described liberal Democrat, he is a fearless debater and a staunch supporter of Israel.
It was this last point that apparently got under the skin of a college cartoonist at the University of California at Berkeley, who penned an editorial cartoon criticizing Dershowitz and his support for Israel that appeared Oct. 13 in the school’s Daily Californian student newspaper.
The cartoonist is no Mike Lukovich or Herblock, and he clearly doesn’t like Dershowitz. The drawing depicts a grinning Dershowitz with his head poking through a cardboard cutout bearing an Israeli flag and the silhouettes of happy children. The sign reads “The Liberal Case for Israel,” which was the topic of Dershowitz’s recent speech on the campus. Hidden behind the sign, Dershowitz’s foot crushes a man with a Palestinian flag and his hand cradles an Israeli soldier shooting an unarmed man soaking in a puddle of blood.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, in a letter to the editor, called the cartoon “offensive, appalling and deeply disappointing.” We agree. The cartoon seems to imply that Dershowitz is a front, a distraction and an enabler of the deaths that unfortunately sometimes occur in confrontations between the Israeli military and Palestinians, many of them wielding weapons. Appalling as well is the implication that Dershowitz himself is somehow crushing Palestinian nationalism.
But Christ also decried the cartoon as anti-Semitic. “Its anti-Semitic imagery connects directly to the centuries-old ‘blood libel’ that falsely accused Jews of engaging in ritual murder,” she wrote to the newspaper. Dershowitz seconded the accusation. The newspaper’s editor, Karim Doumar, wrote a letter of apology: “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.”
We see how the cartoon reduces Israel to the (cartoonish) image of oppressor of the Palestinians. It likewise turns Dershowitz into a cartoonish figure. Both are offensive and deserve to be called out. But frankly, we don’t see the blood libel, even as we see the element of anti-Semitism inherent in the cartoon’s grossly unfair depiction of the Jewish state. Dershowitz is not depicted using any of the familiar anti-Semitic tropes (hooked nose, haredi garb), and there is nothing resembling ritual murder going on. But that doesn’t excuse the offending product.
We wish the cartoon had not been published. It was poorly executed and its message is jumbled. It is, in a word, sophomoric. This unfortunate experience presents a good opportunity for the student contributors and editors of the Daily Californian to learn a bit more about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians. We hope they take their lessons seriously.