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November 16, 2016 12:52 am

At DC Confab, Jewish Editors Weigh in on Trump’s Victory, Alt-Right Movement and Changing Media Landscape

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Tuesday's panel discussion at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Washington, DC. Photo: Barney Breen-Portnoy.

Tuesday’s panel discussion at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Washington, DC. Photo: Barney Breen-Portnoy.

President-elect Donald Trump’s social media prowess enabled him to negate the influence of traditional news entities and proved to be “hugely instrumental” in his victory over Hillary Clinton, the editor in chief of The Algemeiner said on Tuesday during a panel discussion at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Washington, DC.

“The whole media environment has been undergoing democratization,” Dovid Efune said. “Which means whereas for so many years, editors sat in what we might call dictatorial roles, where we could say to our readers what they should be interested in and what they should care about, that is becoming more and more diminished with the rise of social media platforms and the ability that every single person has to engage in the conversation…And Republican candidates saw this as a great opportunity to bypass mainstream outlets, which they considered to be hostile.”

Speaking about how the media has changed in recent years, Jane Eisner — the editor of The Forward — said, “Certainly the idea of ‘I, as editor in chief, knows best’ no longer exists. We do pay attention to what people are reading so we can be in dialogue with them. That doesn’t mean that we slavishly follow that, but we do make that part of our considerations about what we’re covering.”

Efune pointed out, “We have to understand that we are a conduit, as opposed to being in a position to lecture and preach.”

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Talking about how young Jews viewed last week’s election, Sara Weissman — editor in chief of New Voices Magazine noted, “Millenials were extremely divided by this election, just as the entire Jewish community was… Millenials are asking the ‘What’s good for the Jews?’ question, I wouldn’t say for the first time, but with more inquisitiveness than they have in a long time, just because in this election it came up so often, given the rhetoric that came from the alt-right on social media, Trump’s daughter being Jewish and Clinton’s involvement in the Iran deal.”

Furthermore, Weissman said, “Millenials are a generation that are very interested in identity politics. And I’d say in this administration, people really want to know what does it mean to have a Jewish identity under Trump given all the questions that have come up.”

Referring to the harassment Jewish journalists faced from elements of the “alt-right” movement during the election campaign and afterwards, Eisner said, “People need to understand that this is real and it’s serious…This is new and it’s worrying. I think it’s cause for concern for the Jewish community and we’re going to need to do a lot of really hard work to understand that while there have been notable and important efforts to combat antisemitism from the left, we need to also combat antisemitism from the right.”

Efune said that the “alt-right” movement as a whole needed to be further studied by the media.

“To write off everything that it stands for as being illegitimate, I think at this point is premature, because it’s kind of a coalition of the disenfranchised, and that includes different groups with different objectives and different ideas,” he said. “I think it’s important to identify antisemitism when its antisemitic and identify purveyors of antisemitism when they are antisemitic, but there’s often a danger in painting with a very broad brush, especially with groups that are new.”

Eisner stated, “One of the things that has always distinguished the experience of Jews in America from the experience of Jews in Europe and elsewhere is that even if there has been antisemitism from the right or the left in the public, it has never been in the government. And what we have to ask ourselves now is if that is going to change.”

What is strange about the “alt-right” movement, Efune said, is that “sometimes the approach to Jews is one that is different than the approach to Israel.”

“Certain elements of this group see Jews in this country as part of the left establishment and I think that’s part of what motivates their hatred because they hate everything progressive,” Efune said. “And they see Israel in a very different light — as a strong state, maybe as a successfully nationalist state.”

Weissman said, “Millenials are very concerned about this ‘alt-right’ rhetoric and I would like to stress that being pro-Israel does not negate being antisemitic.”

Now that Trump has been elected, Efune said, he “has the responsibility to really kick this thing to the curb and make it clear where he stands on the issue.”

The panel discussion was moderated by Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor in chief of JTA.

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