Nobel Peace Prize winner and famed human rights icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu died on December 26. Law professor-cum-MAGA pull toy Alan Dershowitz took all of 24 hours to take to Fox News and start calling the anti-Apartheid hero an “anti-Semite” and “bigot” because there’s literally no situation where Alan Dershowitz can’t find a way to be contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.
Thankfully, I had “ripping dead civil rights leaders” on my annual Alan Dershowitz BINGO card so I made it in just under the wire.
The segment wasn’t even about Desmond Tutu! The Dersh just jumped in there to slander a dead human rights leader before the body was cold. And, look, the whole “cannot speak ill of the dead” taboo is stupid and when awful people die they deserve the criticism they get, but this is just more cherry-picking and cynical mischaracterization to earn the applause of the network that keeps giving him the attention he so clearly needs.
Back in 2016, I got into it with Dershowitz when I flagged a disturbing fixation on attacking and belittling Black civil rights struggles. Specifically, Dershowitz had gone on TV to defend Steve Bannon and downplay the anti-Semitism of a far-right media machine while simultaneously decrying Black Lives Matter as a dangerously anti-Semitic movement.
The point of that exchange was the naked double-standard. Right-wing voices openly flirt with neo-Nazis and caricature George Soros as the face of an international Jewish conspiracy, but they earn the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile the movement to “not murder unarmed Black people during traffic stops” must be rejected because civil rights advocates occasionally express sympathy for Palestinians. That Dershowitz downplays one and catches the vapors when discussing the other is the crux of his popularity with the Fox News crowd.
Which brings us back to Desmond Tutu.
Desmond Tutu was pretty open that “Israel’s integrity and existence must be guaranteed.” But he also said that the creation of a permanent Palestinian refugee class amounted to a human rights problem. This shouldn’t be a controversial opinion, but it’s basically the same opinion that got Dershowitz to write off Black Lives Matter advocates so Tutu was already behind the 8-ball with Dersh here.
In fairness to Dershowitz, Tutu earned a lot of tough criticism for a speech he gave at a Holocaust museum suggesting that the time had come to forgive the Germans, which was admittedly a hell of a stretch. On the other hand, Tutu ran a Truth and Reconciliation effort in South Africa with the express goal of bringing closure and justice while eschewing retribution. Adopting a restorative brand of justice is credited with easing South Africa’s transition to a true democracy. You can debate the merits and general applicability of truth and reconciliation, but it’s disingenuous to read Tutu’s comments without recognizing that perspective.
It’s why so many Jewish leaders drew a line between disagreeing with Tutu and suggesting that he’s a bigot. From Detroit Jewish News:
… Tutu was disinvited from giving a speech at a Minnesota university over remarks he had made about Jews and Israel.
“Tutu has certainly been an outspoken, sometimes very harsh critic of Israel and Israeli policies, and has sometimes also used examples which may cross the line,” Foxman told JTA at the time. But Tutu “certainly is not an antisemite and should not be so characterized and therefore refused a platform.”
But this is the sort of nuanced analysis that won’t get you an open invitation to cable news.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.