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Stand up to campus anti-Semitism

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Oct. 14 (JTA) — I applaud the 300 college and university presidents who signed the ad — organized by the former president of Dartmouth, James O. Freedman — that expressed concern over “intimidation and hatred” directed against Jewish supporters of Israel on many campuses. I wish that more presidents had been willing to join in this condemnation of a dangerous and spreading form of bigotry that is now prevalent on campus. As a professor long identified both with human rights and with support for Israel, I have received numerous phone calls, letters, e-mails and faxes from Jewish students around the country fearful for their safety and worried that anti-Israel professors would punish them for their support of Israel. This is especially true since the campaign to divest from Israel and to boycott all Israeli Jews has heated up over the past several months. Any professor immorally willing to punish Israeli colleagues just because of their national origin may well be willing to punish students who vocally support Israel. The fear is real. There are some who argue that the presidents’ ad will chill campus debate. Quite the opposite is true. The ad, along with Harvard President Lawrence Summers’ statement that the divestiture campaign is anti-Semitic in its effect, has stimulated healthy debate. Those who argue that these presidential statements chill debate rely on the red herring that any criticism of Israel is immediately labeled anti-Semitic. Susannah Heschel has made the following claim: “We often hear that criticism of Israel is equivalent to anti-Semitism.” That is simply not true. I challenge Heschel to back up that falsehood with hard evidence. Let her produce proof that “criticism of Israel” is often characterized as anti-Semitism. I have never heard that accusation made. I am often critical of Israeli actions, most recently of Ariel Sharon’s dumb decision to attack Yasser Arafat’s compound. I have never been accused of being anti-Semitic. Nor are other critics of the Sharon government nor supporters of Palestinian statehood “often” accused of being anti-Semitic. President Summers went out of his way to make it clear that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, either in intent or effect. No one I know is seeking to stifle criticism of Israel or of the current government, or to chill support for Palestinian statehood and human rights. What is the equivalent of anti-Semitism is the singling out of the Jewish nation for divestment, boycott, U.N. condemnation or other sanctions, despite its far better record on human rights than any other nation in the Middle East and most other nations in the world. A good working definition of anti-Semitism is criticizing only Jews for a trait that is universal. For example, in the 1920’s, then Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell decided that the number of Jews admitted to Harvard should be reduced because “Jews cheat.” When a distinguished alumnus, Judge Learned Hand, pointed out that Protestants also cheat, Lowell responded “You’re changing the subject, we’re talking about Jews.” The same is true about the debate over divestiture. When opponents point out that other countries in the Middle East have far worse human rights records, proponents of divestiture respond, “You’re changing the subject; we’re talking about the Jewish state.” That is the equivalent of international anti-Semitism writ large. It is certainly possible that some who have signed the divestiture or boycott petitions do not believe that their actions are anti-Semitic. They may be ignorant of the reality that they are being used by enemies of Israel who would delegitimate and isolate the world’s only Jewish nation. The recent campaigns for divestiture and boycott grow out of two earlier campaigns that were undoubtedly motivated by a desire to destroy the Jewish state. The first was the Arab boycott, which lasted for many years and was finally defeated. The second was the now discredited U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism. The current efforts to equate Israel with the apartheid regime of South Africa will also fail, because the analogy is demonstrably false. The goal of this campaign is not actually to achieve divestiture, but rather to miseducate young and impressionable college students into believing that Israel is among the worst human rights violators in the world, despite its generally superb record on human rights and its great concern for minimizing civilian casualties by exposing its own soldiers to the risks of door to door “retail” fighting, rather than “wholesale” bombing of the kind done by many other countries, including our own. The fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with freedom of expression, an independent judiciary, a commitment to the equality of women and gays are all ignored in this effort to isolate Israel. Ignorance may be a defense to bigotry, but it has no place on a university campus. The immoral campaign on campuses against Jews who support Israel must be combated in the marketplace of ideas. The presidents’ letter is an important component of this struggle against bigotry. Too many good people are remaining silent in the face of anti-Semitism. It is time to stand up and be counted.Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard Law School and author of “Why Terrorism Works.”