BY PROFESSOR DERSHOWITZ
Tragedies bring out the best in some and the worst in others. We know of some of the heroes of 9/11 – the firemen, the policemen, the victims – but there were villains as well. The perpetrators themselves were the arch villains, but there were others as well. Among the most villainous was the then-poet laureate of New Jersey, Amiri Baraka, who used the tragedy as an excuse for a “blood libel” against Israeli Jews. This very bad poet – whose long-term anti-Semitism did not change with his name change from LeRoi Jones – wrote the following in one of his very bad poems:
Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers
To stay home that day
Why did Sharon stay away?
Though posed as a rhetorical question, the implications of these poisonous words is unambiguous: Israel and its Prime Minister knew of the planned attack and warned 4,000 Israeli workers to stay away from the World Trade Center. There is, of course, no truth to this anti-Semitic fantasy. Israelis and Jews, along with people of almost every national and religious background, were murdered on 9/11. Yet this mendacious bigot is still treated as something of a hero in some quarters.
Baraka was invited to Harvard, but he never showed. I wish he had. I would have loved to confront him with the widows and orphans of Israeli and American Jews who died on 9/11.
What could possibly motivate a relatively intelligent person to promote such an anti-Semitic canard in his poetry? The “blood libel” has a long and disastrous history, especially in Europe. Jews have been blamed for virtually every evil – real and imagined – in the world. In my home I have an original blood libel from Nuremberg Germany dated 1490, accusing “the Jews” of murdering Christian children and using their blood to make matzah for Passover. Recently Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, a Honduran Catholic Cardinal, blamed the “Jewish media” for the scandal involving sexual abuse by some priests. A Brazilian journalist has reported that many of her countrymen blame Israel for blowing up a U.N. facility in Iraq. In parts of the Middle East, Israel is blamed for 9/11. Throughout Europe and on some American university campuses, Israel and “the Jewish lobby” are blamed for everything bad that is happening in the Middle East and petitions are circulating demanding the divestiture from and boycott of Israel, but no other nation.
Much, though not all, of this renewed anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism began following 9/11. The world was looking for a scapegoat, and historically the “Jews” have served that function. Today the Jewish nation also serves that function, as it is widely treated as the Jew among nations.
This is not to say that Israel should be spared legitimate criticism. As Harvard President Summers put it last year:
“Of course academic communities should be and always will be places that allow any viewpoint to be expressed. And certainly there is much to be debated about the Middle East and much in Israel’s foreign and defense policy that can be and should be vigorously challenged.”
But where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities. Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.
Many Israelis and American Jews are sharply critical of specific Israeli policies. But to single out Israel (and the Jewish lobby) for singular criticism and sanctions is an exercise in bigotry. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times got it exactly right when he wrote:
“Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction -out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East – is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”
Those, like Baraka, who use 9/11 to whip up anti-Semitism, are part of a long tradition of bigotry. They should be called to account by all people of goodwill. On this anniversary of 9/11, we must praise the heroes and condemn the villains.
Professor Dershowitz’s latest book is The Case for Israel.