Tuesday, December 7th | 3 Tevet 5782

December 31, 2017 11:57 am

Second New York Times Obituary of Harvard Figure Again Omits Clashes With Jews

avatar by Ira Stoll


S. Allen Counter. Photo: Harvard University.

Back in July, when the New York Times ran a sanitized, highly laudatory obituary of S. Allen Counter, who was director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, I faulted it for failing to include any mention of his acrimonious relations with the university’s Jewish community.

Now the Times has repeated the error and compounded it. The New York Times Magazine’s annual year-end “The Lives They Lived” issue, which includes essays about some notable figures who died in the past year, has another article about Counter. This one claims:

It was as founding director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations that Counter perhaps found his most powerful voice, trying to improve relations between racial and ethnic groups on campus. He stood up for Peter Gomes, the black minister at Harvard who announced he was gay. He stood up for the idea that Palestinians and Jews, if only at Harvard, must find rapprochement.

That’s the only apparent way that Jews figure in the Times article. It’s astonishing. Again, as I pointed out the last time around, here is the record:

As the Harvard Crimson reported:

In 1982, The Crimson filed a formal complaint with the University against Counter, charging religious discrimination.

Counter had allegedly referred to a Crimson reporter as a “militant Jew” in a conversation with another Crimson staff member. According to the reporter, Adam S. Cohen ’84, Counter had never met him and knew nothing about him except his name.

The College created a three-person committee to investigate the complaint…

In a 1985 magazine article, Counter wrote, as The Crimson described it:

“para-white ethnic groups” who influence the media use the word “nigger” to denigrate Blacks and “to convince themselves and other of their imagined white identity.” The article never specifically mentions Jews.

One passage says “the widespread increase in the use of ‘nigger’”…may well be part of a much larger ethnic scheme designed to denigrate Afro-Americans and keep them as the focus of negative attention for the American majority.”

Another passage reads, “Significantly, the media forms through which some conspire to traduce Blacks with racial epithets are not controlled by the ostensibly racist white groups.” The article blames “Euro-American individuals and special interest groups with powerful influence in the media” for common use of the epithet.

Counter refers to movies such as Blazing Saddles, The Godfather, Roots II and Saturday Night Fever and he says the media may do more damage to Black society than groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1992, a student leader of Harvard Hillel, Daniel Libenson, called on Counter to resign as director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations after Counter wrote a letter complaining about “Crimson writers active in Hillel.” (He may well have been talking about me.) Counter later apologized for the letter, which the dean of Harvard College at the time condemned as “disturbing” and “very unfortunate.” Libenson wrote:

It has becomes clear that Dr. Counter is no longer a suitable Director of Harvard’s racial diversity organization. At best he is out of touch with today’s racial climate, willing to make accusations about campus groups based on sloppy research or outright lies, and is engaged in publicly putting down individual students.

At worst, Dr. Counter’s letter insinuates a Jewish conspiracy on campus between Hillel and The crimson (led by “Crimson writers active in Hillel”), trying to put forward a “racial agenda” different from that of the Foundation.

Having devoted my entire college career to building a racial climate of mutual respect and understanding, all the while believing that this was also Dr. Counter’s goal, his letter leaves me utterly devastated. His behavior is immature and shocking coming from a Harvard official.

It’s strange that the Times, which during the Trump era has been on hair-trigger alert, hyper-vigilant for signs of antisemitism that it can blame on the president and his supporters, would be so determinedly blind to a well documented decade-long record of trafficking in stereotypes about Jewish — sorry, “para-white” — control of the media. If the Jews actually controlled the media as much as Counter apparently thought they did, perhaps his obituaries would more accurately reflect the complicated figure he was, rather than presenting him falsely as some sort of two-dimensional hero of tolerance.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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