Dershowitz and Chomsky agree on one thing

US Politics
on 32 Comments

Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky agree on almost nothing politically but both say that anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in the United States in the last century. They made the specific charge about Harvard University speaking in very different settings this spring.

Chomsky reflected on anti-Semitism when he received an award from the Association of American Geographers in Boston in April:

Let’s take anti-Semitism. I mean, I’m in my late 80’s, so I can remember the 1930’s and it was pretty scary. Not just what was happening in Europe, which was terrifying, but what was in ordinary life here. My parents were teachers. So they kind of survived the Depression. They didn’t starve… Around 1937 I guess my father had enough money to buy a second hand car. We lived in Philadelphia, and my parents decided to take us on the weekend out to the nearby mountains, the Poconos, just to spend a weekend’s vacation. We had to get a motel. The motels you had to look at carefully, because there were signs on them that said, “Restricted.” Restricted meant no Jews. You didn’t have to say No blacks. That question didn’t arise. But, no Jews. That’s late 1930’s. I could tell you personal anecdotes of what it was like to grow up on the streets as a young Jewish boy in an Irish Catholic neighborhood. Not very nice.

But when I got to Harvard in the early 1950’s, the antisemitism was overwhelming. There was practically no Jewish faculty. In fact, one of the reasons why MIT became a major university is that outstanding people like say Norbert Wiener and others couldn’t possibly get jobs at Harvard. Well, that was antisemitism in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. There are problems now, but it’s nothing like that. Absolutely nothing like that.

It’s much better than it was. So it’s not something to laugh at by any means. Those who have experienced it and lived through the periods of the hideous atrocities in Europe are certainly not going to disparage it. But we have to recognize that it’s become radically different. By now Jews are one of the most privileged, maybe the most privileged minority in the country. Pretty much the same thing is true of so-called European anti-semitism.

So I think we should certainly not disregard but recognize how far we’ve come, and not only how far we’ve come why the progress was made. That’s what’s critical. Because those are the things that we can continue to carry forward instead of succumbing to futility and despair.

Alan Dershowitz is 78. He reflected on when he became the youngest professor at Harvard Law School in 1964, in a speech at Young Israel of Scarsdale, May 9:

There were roughly a handful of Jews on the faculty. Today the faculty is at least 50 percent Jewish. It depends on how you define a Jew– but 50 percent people of Jewish heritage, at least. When I got there, there were a very small number, and the Jewish faculty were more WASPy, more Brahmin, than the non-Jewish faculty, and when in the ’67 war I was collecting funds for Israel and trying to recruit support, Paul Bator who was one of my colleagues who were supporting me for tenure, he said, You know what, Alan, You have a good shot at tenure, but you’re wearing your Jewishness on your sleeve, that’s not done at Harvard. I said, Paul, That’s who I am. And you have to accept me for who I am. If you don’t want me for who I am, there are schools that do. So I’m not going to change.

And now Harvard is so Jewish it’s amazing.

I’m 61, a generation younger than these men, and I grew up with the communal expectation that anti-Semitism would affect the course of my life and discovered this was utterly not the case. We were welcomed into the establishment in the 70’s and on; we became a significant portion of US elites, with the affluence and status to show for it. That is the central sociological experience of my lifetime– as the Holocaust and its shadow were the historical frame for Chomsky and Dershowitz. The intermarriage rate, 70 percent of non-Orthodox Jews, is a gauge of the inclusion I witnessed, and is the reason I do not refer to my tribe, white Ashkenazi Jews, as a minority in opposition to some imagined non-Jewish monolith (part of which is now my family).

I looked up Norbert Wiener and marveled at his powers; the son of an autodidact in Columbia Missouri, Wiener received his PhD at age 17 and helped transform the study of mathematics and as a professor refused to take government money in the nuclear age. The pride in such achievements that both Chomsky and Dershowitz exhibit was also typical of my childhood. Jews were smarter, we believed; my mother said that the greatest contributions to western culture in the previous 100 years were from three Jews, Einstein, Freud and Marx; and everyone, Jew and non-Jew, consciously or not accepted a historical mantra: the society that does not treat its Jews well cannot prosper. That acceptance enabled the rise of Jews into the establishment and the intermarriage rates and the Jewish names on so many institutions. Today the belief in Jewish brains is an anachronism imho, but it is still a powerful idea inside Jewish life. It fuels ideas about Israel as the startup nation and Zionist ideas of the fitness of Jewish supremacy over Palestinians; and it undergirds the entitlement of the Israel lobby.

Yes, things are “radically different” today, as Chomsky says.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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32 Responses

  1. Emory Riddle
    August 6, 2017, 12:45 pm

    “Today the faculty is at least 50 percent Jewish. It depends on how you define a Jew– but 50 percent people of Jewish heritage, at least.”

    Isn’t the Dersh being anti-Semitic in pointing this out?

    Or, I guess, we are supposed to believe this is the end result of pure meritocracy and not of tribal politics. It seems that this tiny group that comprises @ 2% of the US population produces over half of our best scholars (although grades and test scores indicate otherwise — based on those half the faculty should be Asian and @ 6% of the faculty would be Jewish).

    Still carping about anti-Semitism — real or imagined — from many decades ago but not a peep about Jewish power today. Amazing.

    • catalan
      August 7, 2017, 11:34 am

      “Still carping about anti-Semitism — real or imagined — from many decades ago but not a peep about Jewish power today. Amazing.”
      We don’t carp anymore. Israel will continue to destroy the enemy with an iron fist and without mercy. I love it.

      • Annie Robbins
        August 7, 2017, 12:44 pm

        We don’t carp anymore.

        who is “we”, because there’s certainly lots of commentary/accusation about anti semitism out and about (see hops recent comment downthread — if that’s not carping what is?)

        as an aside, that’s some awesome trolling ability, to segue your glee/genocidal bragging at the top of the thread.

      • Mooser
        August 7, 2017, 1:03 pm

        “We don’t carp anymore. Israel will continue to destroy the enemy with an iron fist and without mercy. I love it”

        “catalan”, you have been nothing but angry since I mentioned that Israel has extradition treaties with the US which cover fraud and financial, uh, lapses, and obviously hoping for a disruption which might abrogate them.

      • Misterioso
        August 7, 2017, 4:09 pm

        @catalan

        “Israel will continue to destroy the enemy with an iron fist and without mercy. I love it.”

        You missed your calling. You would have had a brilliant career serving Germany’s Third Reich.

      • Talkback
        August 7, 2017, 7:14 pm

        catalan: “Israel will continue to destroy the enemy with an iron fist and without mercy. I love it.”

        Instead of iron use “hard as Krupp steel”. That’s sounds even more authentic.

  2. YoniFalic
    August 6, 2017, 1:51 pm

    I wonder whether the belief in antisemitism and appointments to Harvard Professorships during the 50s really holds water.

    It is not my field, but when Chomsky arrived at Harvard, Roman Jakobson (could Chomsky really have missed him?), Harry Wolfson (likewise), Gabriel Marcus Green, and Richard Edler von Mises were on the faculty.

    There were probably many more. I just happened to come across those 4 in my college reading.

    • YoniFalic
      August 6, 2017, 4:06 pm

      Below is an article from Jewish currents. It briefly discusses the history of Jewish faculty at Harvard.

      http://jewishcurrents.org/march-13-harvard/

      To tell the truth, Jewish percentages of 25% and 15% seem more than generous when I read so many articles that indicate the Jewish-Gentile intellectual gap is vanishing.

  3. Mooser
    August 6, 2017, 3:23 pm

    Hmmm, looks like some kind of high-frequency electronic apparatus.

    “Restricted.” Restricted meant no Jews. You didn’t have to say No blacks. That question didn’t arise.”

    There, you see how much easier they had it?

  4. Mooser
    August 6, 2017, 3:42 pm

    “I’m 61, a generation younger than these men, and I grew up with the communal expectation that anti-Semitism would affect the course of my life”

    I’m about the same age, little more, but growing up, we couldn’t afford that expectation. Had to make do without it.

    • catalan
      August 6, 2017, 5:46 pm

      “I’m 61, a generation younger than these men, and I grew up with the communal expectation that anti-Semitism would affect the course of my life”
      Antisemitism, like other racisms, is just dumb. It really doesn’t deserve all that analysis. Are Blacks more stupid than whites? Dumb question. Do Jews control the world? Same. All this analysis of this stupidity is a waste of time. That said, idiots can sometimes rise to the top, become journalists, etc. For example, Bernie and Trump are now are two of the most famous leaders. Is either of them very intelligent? Of course not- they both have the vocabulary of morons, they don’t speak any foreign languages, they don’t have any sort of advanced degrees…
      So while antisemitism is extremely stupid, that doesn’t mean that we should underestimate its adherents. Indeed, stupid people who are also mean make the worst enemies. Idiots can be very shrewd at a gut level- like Hitler and many other uneducated sociopaths.

  5. yonah fredman
    August 6, 2017, 9:09 pm

    Zionism was not born in the 1930’s poconos, and not in1950’s Harvard and certainly not in 2017 america. It was born as an idea, in 1890’s eastern and central europe and became a reality after a remarkable genocide in europe in the 40’s.
    If antisemitism is an anachronism, is the zionism that was born in reaction to it an anachronism as well? But even if so, this anachronism is no longer an idea, but a reality.

    But American Jewish alienation from zionism feels inevitable if its only claim is historical rather than present and future. Israel’s dependence on American largesse has come about largely as a result of an identification ( of American jews with the history that birthed zionism) that dwindles as time progresses. Israel’s dependence seems not attuned to the changing reality.

    • Mooser
      August 7, 2017, 11:31 am

      ” Israel’s dependence seems not attuned to the changing reality.”

      Okay, then, “yonah”, you tell us how Israel can get along without that dependence, on the US in the situation it has made for itself.

      So let’s not have any drek about Israel becoming, well, ‘independent’.

    • Annie Robbins
      August 7, 2017, 1:19 pm

      yonah, for some reason your comment reminds me of something i read earlier today following one of the links in phil’s article in the dershowitz blockquote — specifically the link to paul butor, about him leaving harvard. he said Critical Legal Studies (CLS) “radical” professors were having a “Disastrous effect” on harvard law school but denied it was why he was leaving after 26 years (he died young at 60 only 3 years later). anyway, curious i started reading up on this period at harvard and Roberto Mangabeira Unger. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roberto_Mangabeira_Unger

      For Unger, society emerges not through compromise or the winnowing down of best options, but rather though conflict and struggle for control of political and material resources. The victors of this struggle come to set the terms of social interaction and transaction, which is then institutionalized through law. This emergent order Unger calls formative context. Under a particular formative context, routines are established and people come to believe and act as if their social words were coherent wholes that are perfectly intelligible and defensible. They come to see the existing arrangements as necessary. Unger calls this false necessity. In reality, these arrangements are arbitrary and hold together rather tenuously, which leaves them open to resistance and change. This opposition Unger calls negative capability.[27]

      so these established routines that “people come to believe and act as if their social words were coherent wholes that are perfectly intelligible and defensible. They come to see the existing arrangements as necessary.” reminded me of your question:

      is the zionism that was born in reaction to it an anachronism as well?

      hmm. if people come to see zionism as necessary, intelligible and defensible, when in reality its justification is an anachronism from a previous era and “these arrangements are arbitrary and hold together rather tenuously, which leaves them open to resistance and change”

      unger’s colleague morton horowitz, author of The Transformation of American Law, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morton_Horwitz

      The main argument of his book is that in the first half of the 19th century, many judges self-consciously allied themselves with a rapidly growing class of mercantile capitalists and promoted a series of legal rules which favored those capitalists.

      and this sort of takes us full circle — to the idea of a donor class who seek to set the rules in their favor. anyway, just rambling.

  6. Henry Norr
    August 7, 2017, 12:27 am

    I don’t know how many Jews were on the faculty of Harvard Law School in 1964, but if Dershowitz was talking about Harvard in general in that year when he said “There were roughly a handful of Jews on the faculty,” he was mistaken or lying, as usual. 1964 happens to be the year I got there, and I can testify that there were numerous Jews on the faculty – not as many as now, but I’ll bet the proportion was already larger than the in the US population as a whole.

    • Mooser
      August 7, 2017, 2:34 pm

      “1964 happens to be the year I got there,”

      If I am not mistaken, long before, possibly when those teachers were students, Harvard worked out the whole test-scores-versus-legacy-admissions traditions.

  7. Ronald Johnson
    August 7, 2017, 9:39 am

    I know nothing about faculty politics and pecking orders. I imagine that one could write an interesting paper about that. But what I do see is the threat to academic freedom posed by wealthy donors whose millions come with ideological strings attached, plus Alan Dershowitz and his vendetta against Norman Finkelstein. And don’t forget the erasure of Helen Thomas at Wayne State University, very much like the Soviet Commissars who were erased, ex post facto, from photographic archives, for having thought too much, and talked.

  8. hophmi
    August 7, 2017, 10:11 am

    Isn’t is interesting how talented Phil is at bringing the antisemites out of the woodwork?

    • eljay
      August 7, 2017, 10:26 am

      || hophmi: Isn’t is interesting how talented Phil is at bringing the antisemites out of the woodwork? ||

      Yup, you do regularly appear.

    • Mooser
      August 7, 2017, 11:39 am

      “Isn’t is interesting how talented Phil is at bringing the antisemites out of the woodwork?”

      “Hophmi” is starting his summation to the jury! And the thought that Julius Streicher got convicted gives “Hophmi” confidence.

    • RoHa
      August 7, 2017, 9:08 pm

      “Anti-Semitism” is the only line you’ve got, hophmi. You don’t care about truth, justice, kindness, generosity, or any aspect of common human decency. You just keep whining about anti-Semitism.

      Give it a rest. As I’ve said before, you are all chip and no shoulder.

    • DaBakr
      August 7, 2017, 9:49 pm

      @h

      PW has always been obsessed with two things:

      Being embraced by the dominate, privileged and kooky northeast US wasp culture and jew counting, neither of which is very new or progressive

  9. AddictionMyth
    August 7, 2017, 11:35 am

    Moses pleaded with G-d to enter the Promised Land. But it was not to be. Chomsky and the Dersh, on the other hand, were welcomed in. Harvard is a centuries old institution that was created by WASPs. The Jews were a threat of the new and unknown. Anti-Semitism would not be surprising, though I think it was a very different character than that in Europe. I agree with Chomsky that there was real progress, at least in the US. However our sense of entitlement obscures the contributions of others, who are bound by an ethic of humility and hard work.

  10. pedro
    August 7, 2017, 1:01 pm

    HARVARD DISCRIMINATED AGAINST jEWISH SCHOLARS AND FACULTY DURING THE 1930’S. i DON’T KNOW ABOUT MIT,, BUT PRINCETON WELCOMED A BUNCH OF jEWISH EXEMPLARY SCHOLARS FLEEING THE HITLER ERA 1930’S AND ONWARDS. AS A CONSEQUENCE, PRINCETON HAD THE BEST MATH AND PHYSICS DEPARTMENTS IN THE USA FOR MANY DECADES AND STILL DO. FROM GREAT SEEDS, YOU CAN GROW AN AWESOME TREE. bY THE WAY, i’M NOT jEWISH AND SELDOM ENTER THIS SITE AS I DON’T SEE A SOLUTION TO THE PALESTINIAN PROBLEM .

    • oldgeezer
      August 7, 2017, 1:58 pm

      @pedro

      Palestinian Problem hmm… How quaint and dehumanizing. I have heard a similar expression directed against others before.

      It’s not complicated really. Boycotts and sanctions until Israel obeys the law. Cease being a rogue state and adhere to IL, IL, GC.

  11. The Hasbara Buster
    August 7, 2017, 9:21 pm

    Just like Harvard was antisemitic, other leading universities were anti-Catholic. In 1938-39, the last year when “church affiliation” was tabulated on faculty forms, Stanford had 8 Catholics on a faculty of of 781, while Johns Hopkins had just one Catholic professor among its faculty of 651.

    Since then, discrimination based on identity has all but disappeared, as the wealthy have understood that only one kind of discrimination actually makes sense: that against the poor.

    • DaBakr
      August 7, 2017, 9:51 pm

      @Hb

      Good comment. So how do the poor become rich?

      • Mooser
        August 8, 2017, 12:41 am

        ” So how do the poor become rich?”

        You should take investment advice from “catalan”. He’s always telling us about his ability to make “wealth”.

    • Annie Robbins
      August 7, 2017, 10:01 pm

      Since then, discrimination based on identity has all but disappeared

      i seriously doubt that. try self identifying as an anti zionist. or a palestinian-american or muslim-american, or even a communist. i bet the opportunities are not as forthcoming.

  12. Elizabeth Block
    August 8, 2017, 11:56 am

    When I was an undergraduate (class of 1965), someone asked if Harvard had a Jewish quota. I said, “30%?”
    But in those days women with tenure, or on the tenure track, at Harvard? Forget it.
    Remember when Larry Summers, president of Harvard at the time, said women don’t have the right kind of brains for science? I got – I expect every alumna did – an email from one of the deans. I wish I had replied, saying that Harvard has a number of good qualities, but it has never been on the cutting edge of social change and probably will never be. And Radcliffe women are bright, so don’t try to bullshit us.
    BTW: Why am I one of the few people who comment under our actual names?

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