Changing the Course Of the Discourse

The New York Times building in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Fear can be a great motivator. And it might explain the surprisingly swift and harsh pushback by mainstream liberal Jewish organizations against recent leftist criticism of Jews and Israel. Better known for their embrace of fellow leftists instead of their rejection of them, the reality of mounting anti-Semitism among their confederates seems to have finally registered.

Some “social justice” Jews are now becoming “woke” to the realization that they might actually be the victims rather than the warriors of their social justice causes. Last month’s anti-Semitic New York Times cartoon was not a surprise to those Jews who have been tracking the paper’s anti-Jewish bias for over 70 years. What was a surprise was the intensity of the Jewish organizational leaders’ criticism of it.

The New York Times crossed a line with its cartoon that drew the ire of the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt, former Obama administration official, who has been far more comfortable denouncing President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu than denouncing the newspaper of choice for most liberal Jews. Greenblatt, who was slow to condemn the Israel-bashing of Keith Ellison but quick to reject Israel supporter Mike Pompeo’s nomination as Secretary of State, forcefully criticized the cartoon, calling it “unconscionable” and “anti-Semitic propaganda of the most vile sort.”

David Harris, Executive Director of the AJC, has loudly denounced Trump’s revocation of DACA and blasted him for his widely misquoted Charlottesville statements. More recently, he accused the American president of stoking the embers of dual loyalty when he called Netanyahu “your prime minister” in an address to the Republican Jewish Coalition. Yet, Harris quickly came to the two leaders’ defense when they were maligned by The New York Times cartoon. “Apology not accepted,” Harris tweeted, calling the cartoon “naked anti-Semitism” that would “not look out of place on a white nationalist website.”

Even leader of the Union of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, notorious for his involvement with the anti-Israel groups J Street and the New Israel Fund, was forced to admit that the cartoon was “an example of classic anti-Semitism.”

One can only imagine the hand wringing that must have accompanied the condemnations of The New York Times by these Jewish leaders. Yet their horror upon seeing a blatantly anti-Semitic image in their media darling’s pages must have triggered an overwhelming sense of self-preservation. With the simultaneous shooting at the Chabad shul in Poway, this realization that hatred against Jews in the media begets violence against Jews could not be wished away. Even if that media is a beloved liberal outlet.

It would be naïve to expect a radical change at The New York Times even after their mea culpa. But it seems that perhaps the widespread backlash against the newspaper, especially by left-wing Jews they took for granted, might have dented their ostensibly impervious approach towards negative reporting on Jews and Israel.

The cartoon fiasco had barely died down when violence against Israel from Gaza flared up. And lo and behold, a headline in The New York Times emerged that was so uncharacteristically balanced that BDS supporter Palestinian congresswoman Rashida Tlaib slammed it, claiming it “feeds into the continued lack of responsibility on Israel.” To which David Harris responded, “Do you endorse attacks of Hamas and Islamic Jihad?”

This exchange does not only highlight the novelty of leftist politicians condemning The New York Times and left-leaning Jewish organization leaders then criticizing that condemnation; it reveals something much more significant. It demonstrates the power that such leaders can potentially exert over the media and thus attempt to take back a poisoned narrative.

No, this is not proof of a Jewish-controlled media conspiracy. This is proof of the ability of democratic citizens to govern their right to freedom of the press and hold it accountable to standards of truth. Especially when distortions of that truth can threaten the lives of those citizens.

American liberal Jews, and specifically their leaders, have been complicit in emboldening the media’s outsized power to shape policies and agendas in a manner threatening to Jews. Either because they mistakenly agree with them or because they seek to cultivate kinship through shared views on other leftist policies. The latest cartoon fiasco was a wakeup call for these leaders to urgently put the brakes on their abdication of responsibility towards the very Jews they are charged with protecting.

A new Pew Research Center survey last week highlighted, among other causes, the damage inflicted by long years of such abdication. Forty-two percent of American Jews think Trump favors the Israelis too much, while 47 percent think he is striking the right balance between Israelis and Palestinians. By comparison, only 26 percent of American Christians think Trump favors the Israelis too much and 59 percent believe he strikes the right balance.

In an increasingly hostile environment, this is an astounding display of ingratitude and stupidity by American Jews for Israel’s best friend. The New York Times debacle, as an example, demands a reversal of such statistics and an increased galvanization of censure by American Jewish leaders. Because, while it is too much to hope for the NY Times and other leftist agitators to dramatically change course, we do have the power to change the discourse.