The Good Dershowitz vs. The Bad Jimmuh

I am less interested in whom to blame than I am in the larger issue -- that a major Jewish university could actually honor a man who calls Israel an “apartheid state,” indeed may have done more than anyone to mainstream that concept through the title of his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

We are only a couple of days past Holocaust Remembrance Day so you will excuse me if this controversy throws me back to my childhood when I first became aware of that horrifying event. That awareness came via the Auschwitz numbers tattooed on the arms of the nurses in my father’s medical office, something very hard for a seven-year old New York boy to wrap his mind around.

I wondered then and still do how anyone could have allowed this to happen. In another part of his interview, Dershowitz pointed out that “Carter during his presidency sat idly by while 2 million Cambodians were killed by Pol Pot.” But that, reprehensible as it was, is not what interests me here. What interests me is how Jews could give an award to such a person. What strange delirium compels it?

And that throws me back not to my own childhood (the 1950s) but to the 1930s when, as we all know, many of the seeds of the Holocaust were being planted (those seeds that had not been planted centuries before that). It strikes me that some German Jewish intellectuals of that time might well have sought to honor the equivalent of Jimmy Carter.

Purely accidentally I am in the midst of reading a book about that era -- A Terrible Splendor -- that narrates the famous 1937 Davis Cup match between the German Gottfried von Cramm and Don Budge. Von Cramm, evidently quite a handsome and charming man, was also a homosexual, a group, as readers no doubt know, not loved by Hitler who sent them to the camps with the Jews, gypsies, and, later, the Catholics. The German tennis star’s sexual proclivities were apparently well known to the Gestapo and he was quite literally playing for his life as he battled the American at Wimbledon.

The book’s author -- Marshall Jon Fisher -- does an excellent job of drawing portraits of the people confronting those incredibly difficult times. Some kept their moral compass. Others didn’t. Just like ours.

I think we can say that Alan Dershowitz has largely kept his moral compass. Jimmy Carter is another matter. The folks at Yeshiva University -- students, faculty, and administration -- would be well advised to search inside themselves for where they stand. And why.