TEL AVIV – Alan Dershowitz, a staunch Democrat and emeritus law professor at Harvard University, is hitting back against the smears claiming White House appointee Steve Bannon is anti-Semitic, arguing it is “not legitimate to call somebody an anti-Semite because you might disagree with their policies.”
Speaking in a telephone interview with this reporter, Dershowitz stated:
I think we have to be very careful before we accuse any particular individual of being an anti-Semite. The evidence certainly suggests that Mr. Bannon has very good relationships with individual Jews. My former researcher, Joel Pollak, is an Orthodox Jew who takes off the Jewish holidays, who is a committed Jew and a committed Zionist, and he has worked closely with him. He has been supportive of Israel.
So, I haven’t seen any evidence of personal anti-Semitism on the part of Bannon. I think the (Breitbart) headline about a Conservative Republican being a renegade Jew was ill-advised. But it doesn’t suggest to me anti-Semitism. It suggests to me a degree of carelessness.
I think the larger problem – and it’s a very complicated one today – is how you assess a person who himself might not have negative characteristics, but who has widespread appeal to people who do. And I think that problem exists on the right and the left. I think there are left-wing candidates who appeal to some of the worst bigots on the hard left. Anti-Semites on the hard left. Anti-Israel people on the hard left. And I think the same thing is probably true of some very right-wing conservatives who appeal vertently or inadvertently to people whose values they probably themselves don’t agree with.
Asked whether the claims against Bannon demean the term “anti-Semitism,” Dershowitz replied:
I think so. And I think one has to be very careful about using the term anti-Semitic in two ways. One, I don’t think anybody should be called or accused of being anti-Semitic unless the evidence is overwhelming. And then the second, more subtle and difficult issue is what about characterizing supporters or people who follow them? Subtle distinctions have to be made.
One has to be concerned about any group, right or left, that has widespread appeal to bigots. And I think they have to look in the mirror and ask themselves why. And that’s a legitimate point to make.
But it is not legitimate to call somebody an anti-Semite because you might disagree with their policies. Or because in one instance, like in the Bannon case, an aggrieved wife in a divorce may have said something which he himself has denied having said. I think you always have to have a presumption of innocence and of good faith. And so, I am not prepared to accept those conclusions based on the evidence that I have now seen.
Bannon, Breitbart’s former executive chairman, was named by President-elect Donald Trump earlier this week as the chief strategist of the new White House administration.
Yesterday, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A. Klein released a statement calling the anti-Semitism claims “painful” while describing Bannon as a defender of Israel:
It is painful to see Anti-Defamation League (ADL) president Jonathan Greenblatt engaging in character assassination against President-elect Trump’s appointee Stephen Bannon and Mr. Bannon’s company, Breitbart media. ADL/Greenblatt essentially accused Mr. Bannon and his media company of “anti-Semitism” and Israel hatred, when Jonathan Greenblatt/ADL tweeted that Bannon “presided over the premier website of the ‘alt right’ – a loose-knit group of white nationalists and anti-Semites.” …
ZOA’s own experience and analysis of Breitbart articles confirms Mr. Bannon’s and Breitbart’s friendship and fair-mindedness towards Israel and the Jewish people. To accuse Mr. Bannon and Breitbart of anti-Semitism is Orwellian. In fact, Breitbart bravely fights against anti-Semitism. Here are a few of the many examples:
Stephen Bannon joined ZOA in fighting the anti-Semitic rallies at CUNY by requiring his Breitbart reporters to call CUNY officials and Gov. Cuomo aides urging them to do something about it.
Mark Levin took to his radio show on Monday to argue that the allegations of anti-Semitism against Bannon are “absolutely ridiculous.”
This reporter made similar remarks, telling BuzzFeed: “These smears are laughable to anyone who knows Bannon, a committed patriot who is deeply concerned about the growing threats to Israel. He has been particularly concerned with the dangerous trend of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment on U.S. college campuses. While at Breitbart, he pitched countless articles on these and other themes in defense of the Jewish state.”
Breitbart’s Joel Pollak stated: “I have worked with Stephen K. Bannon, President-elect Donald Trump’s new chief strategist and senior counselor, for nearly six years at Breitbart News. I can say, without hesitation, that Steve is a friend of the Jewish people and a defender of Israel, as well as being a passionate American patriot and a great leader.”
Pollak pointed to his “credentials” to comment on the matter: “I am an Orthodox Jew, and I hold a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Studies. My thesis at the Isaac and Jesse Kaplan Centre at the University of Cape Town dealt with the troubled status of Jews in an increasingly anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic, post-apartheid South Africa. I believe myself to be a qualified judge of what is, and is not, anti-Semitic.”
Pollak asserted it “defies logic that a man who was a close friend, confidant, and adviser to the late Andrew Breitbart — a proud Jew — could have any negative feelings towards Jews.”
“As I can testify from years of work together with Steve in close quarters, the opposite is the case: Steve is outraged by anti-Semitism. If anything, he is overly sensitive about it, and often takes offense on Jews’ behalf.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.