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.
I do not believe that criticism of Israel, or even of Zionism, is tantamount to anti-Semitism and I have so written over the years. But what happened in front of Faneuil Hall went beyond criticism. To be sure, it was constitutionally protected speech, just as the Nazi march through Skokie was constitutionally protected speech. But the shouting was plainly calculated to intimidate.An aura of violence was in the air, and had the police not been there, I would not have been able to express any views counter to theirs. As it turned out, I was not actually able to express any of my opinions, even in response to their outrageous mischaracterization of my views or their comparisons of me to the most evil men in the world. When I turned to answer one of the bigoted chants, the police officer in charge gently but firmly insisted that I walk directly to my car and not engage them. It was an order, reasonably calculated to assure my safety, and it was right. The officer got into my car with me and only got out a few blocks away. The intimidation had succeeded. I was silenced, and their horrible message went unanswered in the plaza near Faneuil Hall. That is not the way the marketplace of ideas is supposed to work. It is not the conception of liberty for which Sam and John Adams spoke so eloquently and controversially in and around Faneuil Hall more than two hundred years ago. It was far more reminiscent of rallies conducted by Nazi thugs in Berlin seventy years ago.
I will not be silenced nor intimidated. The shouters know that. Their goal is to silence and intimidate others, who do not get police protection and do not have access to the media. Let the debate about Israel and the Palestinians continue unabated. Let all views be heard. The shouters in front of Faneuil Hall wanted no views but their own to be seen and heard. They succeeded that day in front of Faneuil Hall, as they have on some university campuses, but the marketplace of ideas is far too vibrant to be shut down by a bunch of self-righteous thugs shouting ugly and bigoted epithets.