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March 8, 2018 11:36 am

New York Times Blames Israel for Stalin’s Antisemitism

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times art critic last seen complaining that a Jewish museum exhibit was insufficiently sympathetic to the Nazi Adolf Eichmann is at it again.

The latest piece from the critic, Jason Farago, is a review of an exhibit at the Jewish Museum Vienna. The exhibit explores Jewish involvement in Communism.

Farago’s inaccuracy is on display from the start of his story, which appears under the headline “The Jews Who Dreamed of Utopia.” He writes:

Step into the Jewish Museum Vienna, just off the main shopping drag of this imperial city, and you will be greeted by a bust of Karl Marx, the descendant of rabbis who would call religion the “opiate of the masses.” Dour, wild-haired Karl presides over the first gallery of an ambitious, searching show on religion and revolution, uniting paintings, posters, propaganda, film clips, and a fair amount of Soviet kitsch. Its romantic title — “Comrade. Jew. We Only Wanted Paradise on Earth” — sets the tone for an extensive overview of the dreams and nightmares of communism and international socialism, as seen through the lives and work of Jewish politicians, philosophers and artists: not just Marx, but also Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, El Lissitzky, and many others.

Farago calls Marx “Jewish” and “the descendant of rabbis” without telling Times readers that Marx’s parents had both converted to Christianity. Marx himself was formally converted to Christianity at age six and confirmed as a Christian at age 15, according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

The rest of the Times review is characterized by similar inaccuracy. “It was after World War II, and especially after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, that Stalin’s erratic stances toward Jews turned into full-bore anti-Semitism,” Mr. Farago writes.

It’s a distortion of historical truth to blame “the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948” for Stalin’s antisemitism. Stalin allied with Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1939 in the Hitler-Stalin pact until 1941. Joshua Rubenstein tells some of the story in his introduction to the 2001 book Stalin’s Secret Pogrom: The Postwar Inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which was published by Yale University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Rubenstein notes that two leaders of the Bund, a Jewish socialist group, Henryk Erlich and Viktor Alter, were arrested by Stalin’s secret police in 1939 and again in 1941; the Soviet Communists murdered Alter in 1943, and Erlich died in Soviet confinement in 1942. Rubenstein further notes that as early as the late 1920s, under Stalin “Hebrew was prohibited,” by the late 1930s, “Yiddish books were removed from libraries.”

It’s hard to find more clear-cut cases of Times inaccuracy. The Times says Marx was Jewish when, in fact, he was raised as a Christian. The Times says Stalin only turned into a full-bore antisemite after Israel was established in 1948; in fact, Stalin banned Hebrew, jailed Jewish leaders, and allied with Nazi Germany, all years before 1948.

One can speculate about how this happened. Are Farago and his editor just out of their depth, more capable and knowledgeable and experienced Timesmen and Timeswomen, such as Rachel Donadio and Edward Rothstein, having left the paper? Does the critic have some ideological axe to grind? Whatever the reason, though, the result is a disappointment to any reader who cares about either the Jews or the truth.

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

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