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August 16, 2018 1:36 pm

Tale of Two Obituaries Shows New York Times Tilt

avatar by Ira Stoll

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

Two Jewish women recently died.

One was a prominent, widely respected American Zionist leader who was the first woman to serve as president of the Council of Jewish Federations and the first woman to serve as chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. She also was chair of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, chair of the United Israel Appeal, and president of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Before her career as a Jewish volunteer, she worked to advance women’s ability to get credit in their own names.

The other worked at a much smaller Jewish organization. Her contribution is described by her partner as “a counter to Zionism,” and enabling Jews to exist “without believing that Israel is their homeland.”

Guess which one got the respectful, long obituary, complete with a photograph, in the New York Times, and guess which one was skipped, ignored, omitted entirely by the Times?

Sure enough, the August 14 New York Times carries an article reporting the death of “Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, 72, Feminist and Author.” The quotes in the piece come almost all from her “longtime partner, the activist and organizer Leslie Cagan, who confirmed the death.”

The Times claims:

One of her contributions to discussions of Jewish identity was her theory of what she called radical diasporism — what Ms. Cagan characterized as “a counter to Zionism and the belief that Israel is the one and true homeland of all Jews.”

The idea behind radical diasporism, Ms. Cagan said, is that Jews can honor their Jewish identity, history and culture without believing that Israel is their homeland. “Instead,” she said, “they take the fullness of their Jewish traditions and values and put them into practice wherever they are, wherever they call home.”

As Ms. Kaye/Kantrowitz explained in “The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism” (2007): “What do I mean by home? Not the nation state; not religious worship; not the deepest grief of a people marked by hatred. I mean a commitment to what is and is not mine; to the strangeness of others, to my strangeness to others; to common threads twisted with surprise.”

This claim that Israel is not the Jewish homeland is certainly innovative, at least coming from a contemporary Jewish woman. But, as the Times might have discovered had it interviewed more widely for the obituary, it’s a fringe view that hasn’t had much traction in the mainstream American Jewish community, at least since World War II and the founding of Israel. The view that Israel is not the Jewish homeland is, though, popular among some Arabs. The author of the Kaye/Kantrowitz obit, Maya Salam, is not a regular obituary section byline or a reporter on the American Jewish beat but is, according to the Times, “a first-generation Arab-American” and a member of the Times “gender team.”

As for Shoshana Cardin, who also died earlier this year — well, you can read about her impressive life at the Jewish Women’s Archive, in The Baltimore Sun, in the Baltimore Jewish Times, even in a memoir published in 2008. But The New York Times didn’t judge the death of the Zionist leader fit to print, even as it lavished column inches on the promoter of “radical diasporism.” Without taking anything away from Kaye/Katrowitz, it seems to me that Cardin led at least as significant a life. If the Times is going to cover the anti-Zionist or non-Zionist death, it ought to, at least in fairness, provide similarly extensive coverage to the Zionist death. It was certainly no less newsworthy.

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

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