Tennessee Congressmen Steve Cohen, who has a long history of one-sided condemnation of Israel, recently called me a Nazi collaborator on MSNBC as the show’s host Alex Witt sat silently by. Here is the context: Several days earlier, I had been on a Fox News show discussing impeachment when the host and another panelist began attacking Lt. Col. Alex Vindman, who was preparing to testify the next day regarding U.S. President Donald Trump’s call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of the Ukraine. When the attack on Vindman occurred, I had never heard of him and had no idea why he was being vilified. Since I had no knowledge to offer, I remained silent about Vindman and continued to discuss the subject at hand, namely impeachment.
As soon as I learned who Vindman was, I did three things: I tweeted a strong statement criticizing the accusation against Vindman and describing him as a patriot who served his country; I went on TV and publicly apologized for my silence, explaining that I knew nothing about the issue at the time; I then wrote an op-ed declaring Vindman to be a patriot and calling on Republicans to “stop their smears.”
It was several days later that I offered these explanations and apologies that Cohen described the attack on Vindman and said that “Dershowitz sat there listening like a quisling.” He said nothing about my subsequent statements.
For those too young to remember who Vidkun Quisling was, let me remind you. Quisling was a Nazi collaborator and strong supporter of Hitler. The name Quisling has become a descriptive noun meaning traitor, collaborator and Nazi. I assume that Congressman Cohen knew all this when he threw that despicable term at me.
The crowning irony is that Cohen was criticizing me for remaining silent while someone else wrongfully called Col. Vindman a traitor. Yet, Cohen himself was prepared to call me—a patriotic American and a liberal democrat—a Quisling. The further irony is that Cohen went on to bemoan how divided we have become as a nation: “We are separated tremendously.” Of course, we are separated, and Congressman Cohen is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
He specialized in divisive name-calling and over generalization. He has said that all those who oppose Trump’s impeachment on legal grounds haven’t even taken “the pre-LSAT,” not the LSAT (law school aptitude test) and “certainly not the bar exam.” Well, I have taken both and strongly believe that the framers of the U.S. Constitution did not authorize impeachment on the grounds alleged by Cohen and others. I am happy to debate him on the merits, but his ad hominem attacks on people who disagree with him contribute to the divisiveness in this country.
Cohen has also accused those who appear on Fox TV of being “in or a” and “co-conspirators with Trump” because these are people “whose future is tied to Trump.” He has attacked evangelical Christians who support Trump and anyone who opposes his impeachment.
For Cohen, the issues surrounding impeachment are one-sidedly simple, and there is no reason for anyone to express or listen to opposing points of view. Therein lies the true road to tyranny: When government officials like Cohen berate people for expressing contrary points of view, free speech and dissent are chilled. When he accuses those of us who support the constitution of being “co-conspirators” with Trump’s “crimes,” he accuses us of criminal complicity.
Shame on Congressman Cohen for calling a fellow liberal Democrat and a fellow Jew a Nazi collaborator. He insults both the memory of the victims of real Nazism and only divides the country even further.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of “Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo.”