The Jewish Problem at The New York Times
The depths of the Jewish problem at The New York Times were glaringly exposed last week, when it published a chart identifying the Jewishness of congressional Democrats who opposed President Obama’s Iran surrender and providing the estimated Jewish population of their districts. Its antisemitic insinuation — that the primary loyalty of American lawmakers, as dictated by their Jewish constituents, is to Israel — prompted a well-deserved cascade of criticism.
The Times’s response to the outrage the September 10 publication elicited was as revealing as the article itself. Its disclaimer conceded only that the published chart “oversimplified a complex aspect of the debate.” Asserting that “the positions of Jewish members of Congress . . . were a legitimate subject for reporting,” it indicated that “under Times standards the religion or ethnicity of someone in the news can be noted” — but only “if that fact is relevant and the relevance is clear to readers.”
Judging by the outcry that ensued, the Times failed its own test. Will it now identify President Obama as the son of a Muslim father whenever his advocacy of the nuclear deal is discussed?
The Times was only prepared to acknowledge that its odious chart did not “make clear that Jewish voters and lawmakers, like other Americans, were sharply divided on the issue.” But noting the barrage of criticism it elicited, “Times editors agreed and decided to revise it,” by removing the column indicating which opponents to the deal were Jewish. It also published a correction noting that the Times had misstated – by nearly doubling – the number of Democratic opponents who are Jewish. So much for atonement.
Deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman, who claimed responsibility for the article, confessed to being “shocked” by the response. Belligerently defensive, he hastened to add that he is “not a self-hating Jew.” He defended the graphic as “informative.” But even Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan conceded that the graphic was “insensitive and inappropriate.” Indeed, she added, it was “regrettably tone-deaf.” Nonetheless, she commended Times editors for taking “the right action in listening to the objections and changing it.”
To be sure, the Times had the decency to remove the yellow underlining of Jewish members of Congress, which reminded more than a few outraged readers of the yellow stars the Nazis required be worn by Jews to identify them. One wondered, “When did publishing lists of Jews come back into style?” Another responded: “I guess we should be grateful the New York Times chose not to illustrate its Jew tracker by awarding a six-pointed yellow Jewish badge to every Jewish opponent” of the Iran deal.
Apprehension over dual loyalty has haunted the Times ever since Adolph Ochs became its first Jewish publisher within months of the publication of Theodor Herzl’s appeal for Jewish statehood. Ochs’s embrace of Reform Judaism expressed religious conviction no less than the abiding fear that Jews might be judged guilty of dual loyalty if they identified with Zionism. His son-in-law and successor, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who launched the family dynasty that still publishes the Times, was a stanch anti-Zionist during the Nazi era, who outspokenly opposed Jewish statehood lest American Jews be accused of divided loyalty.
But as its listing of Jewish lawmakers suggests, the Times remains imprisoned by the same apprehension over divided loyalty that has framed its policy on Zionism for nearly 120 years. That, of course, is a not an insignificant Biblical number (Genesis 6:3). But its recent blunder into one of the hoariest antisemitic stereotypes suggests that its uneasiness about Zionism and Israel, apprehension over dual loyalty and evident cluelessness about its own bias may still have a long life ahead.