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January 29, 2018 1:19 pm

New York Times Editorial Tests Trump on Holocaust

avatar by Ira Stoll

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US President Donald Trump, Jan. 10, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst.

A New York Times editorial urged President Donald Trump to emphasize Jewish victimhood in his statement this year for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Times editorial said in part that Trump:

has passed along tweets from unabashedly anti-Semitic accounts, and has been slow to denounce assaults, vandalism and other Jew-hating acts, which the Anti-Defamation League says have risen sharply. In the first nine months of 2017, the latest period with available numbers, the league reported there were 1,299 such episodes, an increase of 67 percent over the 779 recorded in the same stretch of 2016.

It’s ironic, to say the least, to have a lecture about antisemitism and Holocaust memory emanating from the newspaper editorial column of The New York Times. That’s the same newspaper editorial column that has called for cutting military aid to Israel, while defending the Iran nuclear deal that provides hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief to the Holocaust-denying, Jew-killing, terrorism-sponsoring government of Iran. It’s the same newspaper that awarded a gold ribbon to a reader comment describing Israel’s prime minister as a “parasitic thug.” The newspaper that editorialized against the “odor” of religious Jews in a Brooklyn public swimming pool while praising a Canadian public pool that offered similar accommodation to religious Muslims. The newspaper that botched its own coverage of the Holocaust at the time so badly that a Times own executive editor, Max Frankel, later described it as a “staggering, staining failure.” The newspaper whose staff critic used a Jewish museum’s recent exhibit about the murderous Nazi Adolf Eichmann as an opportunity to bash Israel for having “kidnapped” Eichmann. (One wonders whether any of the Times’ own offenses were enumerated among the ADL’s soaring count of what the Times calls “other Jew-hating acts.”)

Leave aside, though, the hypocrisy. There’s something just odd about the Times’ wallowing in Jewish victimhood. The editorial describes the Jews as “Hitler’s greatest victims.” Of all the possible epitaphs for a people, this is a strange one: those Jews, they sure are great victims. The victimhood theme is reinforced by the word-choice in this sentence in the Times editorial: “Unlike previous presidents, Mr. Trump couldn’t be bothered on a July visit to Warsaw to stop at the site of that city’s notorious Jewish ghetto.”

The Times’ own stylebook, in its entry on “notoriety,” says it “means more than just fame. Use it only to mean unfavorable repute.”

My authoritative Webster’s Second Unabridged definition of “notorious” lists the “well-known” meaning as “rare,” with the main meaning being “widely but unfavorably known or talked about.”

“Notorious” just isn’t the right word, given that the Warsaw Ghetto, of all Holocaust-related sites, is one known not only for Jewish victimhood but for Jewish resistance. Jews fought back against the Nazis and held out for nearly a month in what the US Holocaust Memorial Museum calls “the largest, symbolically most important Jewish uprising, and the first urban uprising, in German-occupied Europe.” That action wasn’t “notorious.” It was heroic.

The Warsaw Ghetto was also the site where Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapiro, rebbe of the Piaseczno Hasidim, wrote the 86 sermons that have become known as the Aish Kodesh, or Holy Fire. As Henry Abramson, the author of a book about the Aish Kodesh, wrote at Lehrhaus last year, “Aish Kodesh is a work of phenomenal spiritual heroism, a testament to human resilience and even angelic holiness radiating from the very depths of human depravity. It will undoubtedly serve as a source of guidance and inspiration for students of Judaism in particular and religion in general.”

Rather than portraying the Warsaw Ghetto as a site of Jewish military and spiritual heroism, the Times describes it as “notorious.” Three quarters of a century after what Max Frankel called the “staggering, staining failure” of the Times’ Holocaust coverage, the newspaper just can’t seem to get the story right, even in an editorial whose ostensible purpose is instructing the president on what the Times calls the “moral test” of Holocaust remembrance.

It’s all almost enough to make a reader suspect that what the Times really has in mind here may not be so much Holocaust remembrance, but rather turning the whole thing into a political cudgel with which to bash the president.

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

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