Amidst a controversy over supposed anti-Semitism, Breitbart editor Stephen Bannon has found a prominent defender in former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz thinks that because accusations of anti-Semitism are so serious, they should be only be lodged extremely cautiously. As he says:
I think we have to be very careful before we accuse any particular individual of being an anti-Semite…. He has been supportive of Israel…. But it is not legitimate to call somebody an anti-Semite because you might disagree with their policies.
Dershowitz believes that the evidence against Bannon and his website does not warrant a charge of anti-Semitism.
Let’s be clear what that evidence is. First, Bannon’s ex-wife stated that Bannon “doesn’t like Jews,” and that Bannon wouldn’t send his children to a certain school because he didn’t like “the number of Jews that attend” because Jewish children are “whiny brats.”
But since Bannon has denied the statement, Dershowitz thinks it shouldn’t count. Fair enough. We want, after all, to make sure our allegations are well-founded before we go ruining reputations.
The more serious part of the accusations against Bannon concerns his website’s fostering of the alt-right. Alt-right political circles have a pronounced tendency to attract neo-Nazis, and comment sections on alt-right websites are shot through with derogatory remarks about Jews and Zionists. Jewish conservative pundits like Ben Shapiro receive torrents of anti-Semitic abuse from alt-righters, and Shapiro says the Breitbart wing of conservatism features online harassers “calling for me, my wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chamber.” It has been disturbing, then, to hear Bannon boast that Breitbart has served as “the platform of the alt-right.” Breitbart has defended the anti-Semitic tendencies, the gas chamber memes and pro-Nazi tweets, as part of a kind of harmless cultural subversion.
Breitbart states that the “origins” of the alt-right can be found in “thinkers as diverse as… Oswald Spengler, H.L Mencken, Julius Evola, Sam Francis, and… Pat Buchanan.” It’s an odd collection of forerunners, with a few unknown figures. But note that every single one of the “diverse” thinkers from which alt-right ideas originate has one thing in common. The editor of Mencken’s works found him “clearly and unequivocally” anti-Semitic, calling Jews “the most unpleasant race ever heard of.” Julius Evola was also a notorious anti-Semite, and wrote an introduction to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Sam Francis thanked Billy Graham for daring to point out the Jewish “stranglehold” on American media and believed Jews were the technocratic operatives of a managerial class that dominated society. Pat Buchanan has long been notorious, and watched closely by the Anti-Defamation League, for his statements on Jewish political dominance. And while Spengler personally disowned anti-Semitism, he was the favored philosopher of the Third Reich and his theories have a prominent place in neo-Nazi thinking.
Thus it’s curious that this should be the entire list of thinkers Breitbart itself posits as inspiring the alt-right. After all, it’s a fairly eclectic and obscure group of writers to cite… unless you’re an anti-Semite. To lay it out step-by-step, then: (1) Bannon says openly that he wishes Breitbart to be a platform for the alt-right. (2) Breitbart’s own guide to the alt-right cites only five intellectual influences. (3) Four out of five of these influences are openly anti-Semitic, and the other is beloved by Nazis.
The Breitbart world’s feelings about Jews surface overtly sometimes, and not just in a headline like “Renegade Jew.” Breitbart‘s (part Jewish, though practicing Catholic) tech editor, Milo Yiannopoulos, has said that Republicans sold out “all for a few shekels from their globalist paymasters in banking and industry.” (Thanks to Bannon’s patronage, Yiannopoulos may even soon be denouncing shekel-grubbing financiers from a White House podium as Trump’s press secretary.) Yiannopoulos and fellow Breitbart writer Allum Bokhari have also defended as “funny” the alt-right’s use of anti-Semitic caricature “Shlomo Shekelburg,” and said (again, in Breitbart itself) that “Nazi propaganda” can be good for “lulz” if used against people like, for example, “a Commentary editor.” Yiannopoulos, defending the notion that “Jews run everything,” has insisted that “it’s not anti-Semitic to point out statistics.” (He has also previously been seen sporting an Iron Cross.)
Yet none of this is sufficient for Alan Dershowitz to cast doubt on Bannon’s sincere opposition to anti-Semitism. This is because anti-Semitism is such a serious charge, with such devastating social consequences for the wrongfully accused, that we would only want to use it in cases where it is clearly warranted. After all, it is “not legitimate to call somebody an anti-Semite because you might disagree with their policies.” It is not, Dershowitz says, a term we would wish to toss around loosely unless there’s “overwhelming evidence.”
Who, then, meets Dershowitz’s extremely lofty, cautious, and totally unpoliticized standard? Let us explore a partial list of the justly accused:
Those Who Have Been Very Carefully And Responsibly Deemed Anti-Semites By Alan Dershowitz
- Bishop Desmond Tutu — “Were he not a Nobel laureate, his long history of bigotry against the Jewish people would have landed him in the dustbin of history.”
- Physicist Stephen Hawking
- Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States and Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize — “Jimmy Carter has always had a problem with Jews and it borders on anti-Semitism.”
- Supporters of Keith Ellison for DNC chairman
- Black Lives Matter — “To give Black Lives Matter a pass on its anti-Jewish bigotry would be to engage in racism. Black anti-Semitism is as inexcusable as white anti-Semitism.”
- International humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders
- (Jewish) UN Human Rights jurist Richard Goldstone — whose report accusing Israel of war crimes was “comparable to Jew endorsing Protocols of Elders of Zion.”
- Progressive media watchdog Media Matters
- Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York
- (Also Jewish) Alternet journalist Max Blumenthal — “He is a despicable anti-Semite and a horrible person and he should be marginalized completely.”
- (Also Jewish) political scientist Norman Finkelstein — “Like other anti-semites, Mr Finkelstein generalises about ‘the Jews'”
- Slate — “[Slate] has become one of the most anti-Israel and indeed, crossed the line to anti-Semitic, publications in America”
- Harvard students who signed a divestment petition
- Harvard University President Nathan Pusey
- Anyone paying attention to the (since withdrawn) allegations that Dershowitz had sex with an underage girl
Once again, one would hesitate to condemn Steve Bannon without evidence. It would be unfair to call him an anti-Semite merely because his website defends using “Shlomo Shekelburg” caricatures, his tech editor says that “Jews run everything,” his movement’s intellectual influences unanimously think Jews are human poison, and his ex-wife flatly insists he doesn’t like Jews. It would be extremely unfair to leap to conclusions, because allegations of anti-Semitism should never be made merely for reasons of political convenience.
Fortunately, Alan Dershowitz always exercises responsibility when it comes to determining who is and isn’t an anti-Semite. He would not, after all, wish to be careless.