Bigotry Outside Faneuil Hall
The legal expert and professor responds to his first encounter with violent anti-Semitism and to being compared with Hitler.
The other day, I experienced violent anti-Semitism for the first time in my adult life. It took place in front of Faneuil Hall, the birthplace of American independence and liberty.
I was receiving a justice award from the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and delivering a talk on Civil Liberties in the Age of Terrorism from the podium of that historic hall. When I left, award in hand, I was accosted by a group of screaming, angry young men and women carrying virulently anti-Israel signs. The protest was denominated a peace event and was sponsored by a group calling themselves by the vague name ACT-MA. Their website describes them as promoting peace and justice and associated with larger solidarityorganizations, but there was nothing peaceful or just about this protest. Although the signs they were carrying were not anti-Semitic, the sign carriers were shouting epithets at me that crossed the line from civility to bigotry: "Dershowitz and Hitler, just the same, the only difference is the name."
The sin that, in the opinion of the screamers, warranted this comparison between me and the man who murdered dozens of my family members was my support for Israel. It was irrelevant to these chanters that I also support a Palestinian state, the end of the Israeli occupation and the dismantling of most of the settlements. They also shouted "Dershowitz and Gibbels [sic], just the same, the only difference is the name"--not even knowing how to pronounce the name of the anti-Semitic Nazi butcher.
One sign carrier shouted that Jews who support Israel are worse than Nazis. Another demanded that I be tortured and killed. It wasn't only their words; it was the hatred in their eyes. If a dozen Boston police were not protecting me, I have little doubt I would have been physically attacked. Their eyes were ablaze with fanatical zeal. The feminist writer Phyllis Chesler aptly described the hatred often directed against Israel and supporters of the Jewish state by some young people as eroticized. That is what I saw: passionate hatred, ecstatic hatred, orgasmic hatred. It was beyond mere differences of opinion. When I looked into their faces, I could imagine young Nazis in the 1930s in Hitlers Germany. They had no doubt that they were right and that I was pure evil for my support of the Jewish state, despite my public disagreement with some of Israels policies and despite my support for Palestinian statehood. There was no place for nuance here. It was black and white, good versus evil, and any Jew who supported Israel was pure evil, deserving of torture, violence, and whatever fate Hitler and Goebbels deserved.