Dershowitz Calls On Media Matters To Fire Critic Of Israel

In a controversial interview, Harvard University professor Alan Dershowitz has called not only for the White House to sever ties with Media Matters, but has called upon Media Matters to fire staff member M.J. Rosenberg for this criticism of supporters of Israel. Clearly, this is not a first amendment issue that arises when the government is asked to engage in censorship or coercion with regard to critics. However, the demand for Rosenberg’s termination does raise serious concerns over the freedom for writers to raise often controversial topics and positions. Rosenberg was voicing a common objection over Israeli policy and the demands for his termination sends a chilling message for anyone who voices such positions.

For the record, Dershowitz and I often agree, though we have diverged on subjects like torture. However, Dershowitz has previously been criticized for his comments against other academics and students for their views of Israel or the Jewish community. The issue of criticism of Israel on campus has produced a number of intense academic fights in the last couple of years, here and here and here.

Dershowitz insisted that Media Matters “crossed the line into anti-semitism” by not firing Rosenberg over his alleged “bigotry.” Rosenberg has questioned the basis for military action against Iran and used the term “Israel firster” to describe American leaders and advocate who put the interests of Israel before the United States.

However, Dershowitz insists that this term is anti-Semitic when applied to Jews. In addition to calling for him to be fired, he has campaigned to discourage donors of Media Matters over Rosenberg’s views.

Rosenberg is a critic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, in a column last month, asserted that “Israel firster” is an “accurate” term for “those people (of whatever ethnic background) who invariably support Israel’s policies over those of the United States.”

Dershowitz insisted that “[t]he tent is not big enough to include people who have engaged in bigotry against the Jewish people.”

Rosenberg has also criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as having a name “giving it credit for one more loyalty than it holds.” Notably, Rosenberg was editor of AIPACs weekly newsletter Near East Report and was, from 1998-2009, the director of policy at Israel Policy Forum.

As both an academic and columnist, I have a serious problem with this type of campaign against a writer. I believe Dershowitz and others have every right to denounce the term “Israel firster” in their own writings and to denounce Rosenberg for what they view as irresponsible rhetoric if that is what they believe. However, to campaign for his firing runs against the grain for those of us who live under the guarantees of either academic freedom or freedom of the press, or both. It is no way to win such an argument to demand the silencing of a critic. Instead, it leaves the impression of an effort to create a chilling effect for any writers who are considering voicing similar views.

I cannot claim much exposure to the writings of Rosenberg. However, these comments are not enough to make such a case for me. I do not believe that you should ascribe racist or anti-Semitic motives when there are other explanations for an argument. In this case, Rosenberg was arguing that there are some leaders who put Israel first — leaders of various backgrounds and religions. The same argument has been made against some Irish politicians over support for the IRA and other groups. The point that he is making is that the current policies vis-a-vis Israel are harmful to U.S. interests and fueling global instability. There are plenty of good points to be made on either side of that debate.

In a column, Dershowitz detailing past positions of Rosenberg. Dershowitz notably has also claimed that Obama is the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st Century — comparing him to a weak man who tried to appease Hitler because of his attempts at appeasement. Of course, that compares those on the other side as akin to Nazis.

Rosenberg is known for super-heated rhetoric — which is present by writers on both sides including (as noted above) Dershowitz. His critics (and this debate) would be better served by addressing the underlying point on why our current policies are in the best interests of the U.S. rather than attacking those expressing such views.

71 thoughts on “Dershowitz Calls On Media Matters To Fire Critic Of Israel”

  1. The first amendment restrains the feds, and lately the states as well. Everybody else can go at it. Dershowitz has thrown elbows before, at Finkelstein, as others have noted. That’s the American way.

    More troubling to me is the notion that the state, as employer, owns the mind and heart of the employee. The employee can be fired for publicly agreeing with a criticism of a policy (P J. Crowley) and if he leaks privately, a charge of treason can be manufactured (Thomas Drake).

    The knife in the back in the alley is a more serious problem than the elbow in the jaw on the court.

  2. Dershowitz is out of line and should crawl back in the hole he came from…

  3. Curious,
    It was a Cook County Circuit court judge. I found an article about it. I will be curious (no pun intended!) to see if it gets appealed.

  4. Mike Spindell
    1, March 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm
    Alas poor Alan Dershowitz, we once knew him well. This was a man who once was among the great civil libertarian lawyers in this country.

    True. I remember his early career with fondness as working to overturn obscenity laws. I don’t recall many of his later cases being that impressive in breaking new ground though the Von Bulow trial was fascinating. I’m really surprised at this position of his though, in fact I’m shocked, shocked. And I’m not using that line as sarcasm this time, I’m really shocked.

  5. Although I was harsh on Alan Dershowitz in my comment above, I must state that he is a fine writer on animal rights. As a dog I must recommend his book to you all: Rights from Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights (2004), You must know that a secular theory is a step removed from the notion of Natural Law or similar concepts of American and British jurisprudence beginning with the British Bill of Rights circa 1688. So ;those of us democrats who scoff at the divine right of kings may likewise promote the rights of animals as well as the rights of individual humanoids.

    Now getting back to Israel. As one who travelled across the Sinai and through the checkpoint in the Gaza into Israel when they first opened the border, I must say that I was aghast at the challenges facing the Israelis. This trip across the Sinai was a brand new thing. We did it in a speeding cab. As we went through the first xray checkpoint I had yet seen there was an Arab lady trying to get through who had a bomb under her dress. She was next in line behind me. Within Jerusalem I was struck by how well Arabs and Jews got along. In Egypt we had met members of the Muslim Brotherhood who ranted about Zionists. I count myself as a friend of Israel and I count the Israelis as our good allies. America cannot afford to let Iran get an atomic bomb. This is the real deal and we cannot let our faux scares in Iraq make us dumb now in this crisis. The W. Bush guy had the wrong I (eye) country when they went into Iraq. .

  6. Dershowitz has always given the appearance of a smug know it all. Perhaps the epitomy. It does not bode well for him when he comes on as attack dog on this other guy. So the debate over whether to stop the Iranian nuclear program gets sidetracked by him rather than rationally debated. Iran is laughing at him and at the U.S. We do not need Harvard Law types intruding into the great foreign policy issues of the decade and perhaps century. If Alan wishes to pontificate then lets hear about the Confrontation Clause instead of his Confrontation attitudes.

  7. OK. Off topic but a much needed piece of good news… a court in IL found it unconstitutional to bar recording of civilian encounters with cops. Said something like it “criminalized innocent behavior”. Sorry I don’t have better details…too busy reading all this crud about Dershowitz.

  8. Alan Dershowitz. Isn’t he one of the guys who got OJ off? And before that, Von Bulow? (OK, maybe VB was innocent.)

  9. Dr. D,
    The race-baiting, Zionist forever trotting out the shopworn anti-Semitic pablum. The dude needs new material, big time.

    It’s a meaningless epithet anyway. Overused, in the same grating manner as most self-proclaimed “morally superior” nationalists who sees abuses and wrongs behind every tree while turning a blind eye to the genocidal activities within their own tribe.

    I, for one, cannot be anti-Semitic as I fully support the Palestinian people. [You know, the “true” Semites.]

    1. “President Obama is being held hostage by Israel, American Israeli lobby and the neoconservative Republicans as he approaches a final strategic decision concerning Iran.”


      Your heading in the right direction but you have one misapprehension. The American-Israeli lobby AIPAC is held hostage by rich, Jewish, Republican Neocons. AIPAC has been controlled by people who are really Neocons first and Israeli supporters second. Netanyahu got elected by the dollars and support of Neocons and is for all intents and purposes a Neocon stooge. Driving all of this is the Military/Industrial Complex, which includes the Oil Barons. They in turn are in partnership with Saudi Arabia, truly America’s closest ally in the Mid East. The War with Iraq and the drive towards war with Iran help take out the Saudi’s closest Mid East competitors. All we see is sham and stagecraft. The sad thing is that many supporters of Israel in Neocon thrall, are too blinded by their own pre-judgments to understand the harm they do Israel. Think about the fact that the original Neocon manifesto was signed by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush and others all with ties to the MI Complex, with Saudi Arabia and with big oil. Follow the money not the stooges.

  10. Ekeyra.

    Drip drip drip indeed.

    Totalitarianism deters in advance exercise of democracy. Enforcement of anti-democratic laws and rules just drives the message home. I think everyone reading this blog knows that, maybe.

    Shame on our Congress. Wearying the number of times that needs to be said these days.

  11. Yeah, good find, ekeyra.

    That’s a police state abuse waiting to happen.

  12. I find this position odd, and I have friends that hold it, too (that people should be fired over statements like his). Neo-fascists/nazis would have you believe that the Jews are some crazy conspiracy-laden people that run all of the media in America. If this guy gets his way, is that not just making them believe that they are right? And how many other people could it convince? It seems counter-intuitive to being accepted and standing against anti-Semitism to demand someone be fired for their opinion… It simply makes the crazy people look more realistic.

  13. Reading the Nation excerpt ——–thanks Elaine M.
    Here’s my revised take.
    Bibi is pushing for a war as part of a two step strategy.
    ONE he attacks Iran nuclear facilities conventionally. They can’t win a conventional war, and they can’t subdue Iran as a country with nukes.
    TWO, he forces the USA to hop in to stop Iran from gripping its own nuke alternative as a way of answering Israel.
    PAYOFF, we get in. Big oil get theirs. We get the bill. And WS starts the next war drumup, and Israel starts having barbecue parties serving roasted Palestinians.
    Hope you know the last was a joke. And the views were purely OPINIONS.

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