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November 6, 2018 10:55 am

Alan Dershowitz on Trump, Israel, and Antisemitism

avatar by Hannah Grossman

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US President Donald Trump on 2018 midterm elections campaign trail. Photo: Reuters.

I recently spoke with Alan Dershowitz at the ZOA Gala at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan, where he was set to make a prominent speech. 

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Hannah Grossman: Mr. Dershowitz, can you give us a little preview of what you will be talking about tonight?

Alan Dershowitz: I’m talking about how important it is to have dialogue among people who may not agree. Mort Klein and I don’t agree about a great many things. He’s way to the right of me, but we talk to each other. We dialogue with each other. And I’m here to promote dialogue between the right, the left, [and] the center — not only within the Jewish community, but the more general political community. It’s a tragedy that we now shout at each other, demonize each other, [and] yell slogans instead of having reasoned discourse. We can learn from each other, and I think we ought to.

HG: Where do you think that changed, between the right and left, where the divide became so extreme that it seems that it is impossible to have some dialogue or commonality?

AD: Well, I think there a lot of contributing factors. I think the movement of the left to the hard left in the Democratic Party. I think the movement of the right to the hard right within the Republican Party. I don’t think President Trump has helped with his choice of language, and I don’t think that some of the Democrats have helped with their choice of language. I crave the old days when my friends Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch could sit together, and when Senator McCain could sit and work together with Joe Biden. Those days seem long gone, and I want to do everything in my power to bring them back.

HG: Bret Stephens said today at a panel that Donald Trump’s rhetoric has an effect on the culture. Can you describe that; what you think that is?

AD: I think that’s right. Look, I think President Trump has a mixed record. I think he’s done some very good things. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem was a terrific thing. I think his tough negotiating stance toward Iran has been very good. I don’t approve of his policies toward immigration. I certainly don’t approve of separating families the way he did early on, but you know, I’ve never agreed with anything any president did 100 percent.

I disagreed with a great deal of what President Obama did and if Hillary Clinton had been elected, I’m sure I would’ve disagreed with a lot of what she would do. But you don’t demonize, and he’s still the president, and you respect the office of the president. I was appalled at the so-called leaders in Pittsburgh who refused to welcome the president. I think everybody should welcome the president when there’s a tragedy and allow him to serve in his role as a mourner or bereaver-in-chief.

HG: Can you describe the antisemitism that comes from the left and the right, and the differences?

AD: Oh, they’re very different. The antisemitism from the right is the typical fascist antisemitism that we remember from the bad and dark old days. The antisemitism of the left is quite different; it disguises itself as anti-Zionism, but it quickly morphs into antisemitism. When students yell there’s no room for Zionists at Hunter College, they don’t mean Zionists. They mean Jews. When they attack the Zionist president of Hunter, they attack the woman who happens to be Jewish. I don’t even know what her views on Israel are. So, it’s a new form of antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism. We have to fight it hard.

HG: Can you give me a key indicator of when you can distinguish between antisemitism and anti-Zionism?

AD: Look, I think disagreeing with Israel’s policies is completely legitimate, but demonizing Israel, applying a double standard, and trying to delegitimate the nation state of the Jewish people is a form of antisemitism.

Hannah Grossman is a writer living in New York.

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