EDITORIAL: Driven by Hate, Not Facts
We thankfully live in an era in which blatant expressions of hate against a specific group are, for the most part, no longer tolerated in America, and targeted attacks of any sort based on race, religion, or ethnicity rightfully elicit howls of outrage. Were an article to appear in a mainstream publication seeking to besmirch schools serving a minority group such as African Americans, Asians, or Muslims, it would be widely and correctly decried as bigoted and racist.
Yet, even in an age of political correctness, when the focus is the Chassidic community, such a target is still considered fair game. Somehow, when it comes to writing about this minority group, known to the outside world for their distinctive dress and adherence to traditions, no rules of fairness or even basic decency apply.
For months, Chassidic schools in New York state knew that they were in the crosshairs of The New York Times. Last week, the schools and others received an email notification that the article was about to be published, along with an outline of what the article would include.
On Friday, in a front-page editorial in the daily Hamodia, under the title “All the News That Fits the Narrative?” we presented a list of pointed queries for a media outlet that usually prefers to be the one posing the questions and pressed them hard — not merely about what they would be writing but, equally importantly, about which facts would be deliberately omitted from what was supposed to be an investigative report. Two days later, we got all our answers.
On Sunday, September 11, as America marked the 21st anniversary of the most devastating terror attacks in U.S. history, as Ukraine made stunning gains in their attempts to repel Russian aggression, and as the United Kingdom mourned the death of their beloved Queen, the main headline on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times was “Failing Schools, Public Funds,” slamming the Chassidic yeshivah education system in New York. This story got two thirds of the page above the fold; the story next to it, titled “Ukraine Reclaims Key Eastern City, Reshaping Battle,” received only one third.
In their determination to besmirch a community that they clearly made no effort to understand, the reporters and editors of the Times maintained not even a semblance of balance or journalistic integrity. While few in the mainstream Jewish community expected the Times to produce a truly balanced article, the shoddiness of the reporting is astonishing.
A Question of Reliability
During the long decades of cold war between the U.S.S.R. and the United States, more than a dozen Americans defected to Russia. Among them was Arnold Lockshin, who, after getting fired from his position as cancer researcher in Texas, sought and obtained political asylum in the Soviet Union in 1986. He later went on to write a book entitled “Silent Terror: One Family’s History of Political Persecution in the United States.”
No self-respecting journalist, even an amateur, would ever consider someone like Mr. Lockshin to be a source of credible information about life in the United States — especially if the stories of the tens of thousands of Soviets who defected to the United States were wholly ignored.
Yet that is precisely the approach The New York Times took in their article, basing it almost exclusively on interviews with disgruntled individuals with an axe to grind and an agenda to push.
The Times claims it conducted hundreds of interviews with parents and former students. But despite its professed interest in transparency, it declined to explain how and why the reporters chose these interviewees — and which ones to quote — in a way that would fairly represent schools serving about 50,000 students and their tens of thousands of parents.
One of the questions that was posed to the Times in the days prior to the publication of the piece was whether the feelings and opinions of the average parent and student would also be voiced in the article, or whether their viewpoints would be drowned out by the catcalls of detractors who actually represent a minute minority.
The closest the Times came to answering this call was by including a quote by Rabbi David Zwiebel, the Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America.
“Perhaps the Times should tell the stories of some of the many Hasidic school graduates who are highly successful entrepreneurs, businessmen and professionals — and who attribute their success to a rigorous yeshiva education that trained their minds to think.”
It is little wonder that the Times decided against following Rabbi Zwiebel’s advice, as doing so would demolish the premise of their article. Instead, they only told the stories of a small number of malcontents eager to rip into a community that they have abandoned.
As the subsequent statement put out by Agudath Israel notes, “The article is riddled with bias, ignoring the vast majority of Hasidic parents — those who cherish their yeshivas — instead citing a minority of people who have rejected the community’s values, and passing them off as representative of the whole. The true viewpoint of the tens of thousands of parents who send their children to Hasidic schools is represented, in part, by the recent historic 350,000 letters during the state’s public comment period, the vast majority of which plead[ed] for no interference with the yeshiva educational system for which they pay and value. Could The New York Times not speak to one of those parents?
“In this article, everything beautiful is turned ugly. While challenging college classes are lauded in society, our disciplined, rigorous, and intellectually challenging Torah studies are denigrated. Disgusting innuendo abounds. The supposed poverty data, which form the foundation of much of the piece, have been debunked so many times as to become tiresome. And then there are the outright falsehoods, too many to list, being cataloged now by writers, fact-checkers, and defamation lawyers.”
New York State Senator Mike Martucci represents all of Sullivan County and parts of Orange, Ulster and Delaware counties. In a statement responding to the Times article, he stresses the possible political motives at play.
“In Sunday’s article, The New York Times went to great lengths to string together a series of disgruntled former yeshiva students and anonymous sources in order to attack the Hasidic community and its traditions,” Martucci declared.
“Notably, the paper hasn’t run a similar expose on other schools who also accept taxpayer money for mandated services. Instead, a liberal paper focused on a traditional Jewish community with a conservative voting pattern. For The New York Times that is sadly par for the course. I have personally toured many yeshivas and spoken with countless students. I found them intelligent, engaging, and inquisitive.
“Much of the press, and many politicians who regularly display antisemitic tendencies, are on a mission to undermine and malign the Hasidic community. I find their tactics reprehensible and their thinly veiled antisemitism appalling.”
The Power of a Picture
The tactics employed by the Times also included the use of images that were — to put it mildly — perturbing and sinisterly provocative. The picture on the cover of the newspaper was of children peering from the partially open windows of a school bus under the words “emergency exit,” subtly creating an illusion that the students were behind bars.
On pages 12-13, the reader is struck by an oversized, eight-column image of what looks like a Chassidic 13-year-old boy with a pained look on his face, being gently restrained by an incongruous man who clearly is not Chassidic. To his left, his face partially cut off by the edge of the photo, is another boy, presumably 12 years old, his mouth open, and between the two is a third boy who is looking down. The caption simply states, “A Yeshivah in Boro Park.” The Times gives no hint as to when this image was taken. Was it at a funeral? What was the boy on the right trying to say?
While those questions remained unanswered, what the Times was seeking to accomplish — and the way it sought to paint and taint the community — is obvious.
Searching for the Criminals
One of the images that appeared in the Times article was of the newly elected NYC Mayor Eric Adams embracing Rabbi Moishe Indig, a lay leader in the Satmar community. In the article, the Times claimed that “politicians who might have taken action have instead accommodated a Hasidic voting bloc that can sway local races,” and quoted Mr. Adams as having said that he was “really impressed” by what he saw during a visit to a Satmar yeshivah.
But according to Rabbi Indig, it wasn’t the community’s voting power that impressed politicians like Adams, but what the yeshivos produced.
“Some of the city, state, and federal elected officials representing the local Jewish communities know and understand the community’s education system,” he tells Hamodia.
“Mayor Eric Adams has known our community for more than three decades — 21 years as a police officer and NYPD captain, eight years as a state senator representing a part of the Jewish community in Brooklyn, then eight years as Brooklyn borough president. Representing the entire Jewish community in Brooklyn, he visited yeshivos and schools many times during the years. He knows and understands the great values of the Jewish education system, as he publicly stated much before he was even thinking of running for mayor of the city. At a time when the city is in deep trouble fighting crime, the distinction between the graduates of the public system and of the graduates of the yeshivah system is very obvious.
“The Chassidic community graduates represent close to zero percent, if not zero percent, of any of the city’s violent crimes. Whether it’s crimes involving guns, grand larceny, bank robberies, any other type of robberies, assaults, or lootings, it’s at zero or near zero percent. We have the lowest rate of homeless people, the lowest rate of drug abuse, and the highest rate when it comes to family values and respect for each other.
“This is indeed considered a major success — the result of the highest standard of education,” Rabbi Indig insists.
This in turn leads to another question for the Times: Why didn’t the writers of the report talk to law enforcement officials about violent crime among yeshivah students and alumni? When evaluating the results of an education, should crime rates be an important element to consider?
Where Are the Numbers?
What is particularly striking about the Times article is that after long months of research, many of their claims were not backed up by any statistics, reliable or otherwise.
The Times reporters asserted that the yeshivos “turn out thousands of students each year who are unprepared to navigate the outside world, helping to push poverty rates in Hasidic neighborhoods to some of the highest in New York.”
Yet they failed to present a single statistic that would support that claim. In fact, there is no neighborhood in New York City that is exclusively Chassidish (or Jewish, for that matter). As a recent Prime Magazine interview with Yossi Gestetner, Executive Director of OJPAC, revealed, arguably the only source of reliable data on poverty in the Chassidic community is from Kiryas Joel. When factors like family sizes and the ages of the householders are taken into account, those numbers don’t match the narrative of the Times.
In crunching the numbers of government aid to yeshivos in an article supposedly about the level of secular education, why did the Times see fit to include nutrition funding and put so much focus on the yeshivos providing childcare? Only an article driven by hate can insinuate that there is something wrong with being a vehicle for a government program to provide food for children. Only when the sole motive is to sling mud would a reporter be allowed to get away with bemoaning the amount of childcare funding being provided to “Hassidic neighborhoods” in an article ostensibly about the level of secular education.
The answer is obvious. An investigative report seeks facts. The Times sought to write a hate-filled propaganda piece. And that is exactly what they did.
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