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November 7, 2018 9:06 am

British BDS Backer Gets Rapturous New York Times Obituary

avatar by Ira Stoll


The New York Times logo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times this week features a long and admiring obituary of a British feminist poet named Judith Kazantzis. She died on September 18, the Times reports.

It’s not immediately clear why Kazantzis is significant enough a figure to rate even a belated obituary attention from the Times, which, after all, can’t be bothered to run full news obituaries of significant American Jewish communal figures such as Shoshana Cardin. A search of the Times online archives discloses that no book written by Kazantzis was ever reviewed by the Times. Nor does she appear to have ever written for the paper or been quoted by it. The same search discloses that she was mentioned in the paper’s news columns only twice, in passing, in half a sentence of a profile of her sister that appeared in 1984, and very briefly in a 2002 obituary of her mother.

The Times obituary is glowingly positive, calling the poet’s work “intelligent but not didactic, powerful but not polemic. It could be witty, with traces of sarcasm.”

What accounts for the Times’ posthumous discovery of and love letter to this poet? The giveaway comes toward the end:

Ms. Kazantzis turned to political activism later in her writing career. She, Mr. Weinman, who was Jewish, and the writer Naomi Foyle founded an organization called British Writers in Support of Palestine.

She said her activism was fueled in part by her opposition to the conservative policies of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and in part by frequent trips to the United States, where she was introduced to “new politics and new landscapes,” she once said.

What is this “organization called British Writers in Support of Palestine”? The Times doesn’t explain anything about the group to its readers. But the group’s website helpfully explains, “BWISP exists to support the Palestinian call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. … Israeli universities are key players in the creation and dissemination of government policy, and while some Israeli cultural foundations may promote ‘dialogue’ between the two peoples, there can be no true dialogue when one party is a military superpower and the other a nation of second-class citizens, refugees and virtual prisoners. Appearing as an international guest at all such Israeli cultural and academic events helps to divert attention from, and normalize, Israeli war crimes in Gaza; the annexation of East Jerusalem; and the on-going illegal settlement of the West Bank.”

The group, in other words, doesn’t exist merely to “support” Palestinian Arabs; it exists to boycott Israel’s mostly liberal universities and cultural institutions, and thus to attempt to isolate, delegitimize, and destroy the Jewish state. As for the Times’ explanation that this was all a reaction to the policies of Prime Minister Thatcher, that’s odd, because Thatcher left office in 1990, while British Writers in Support of Palestine was founded in 2010.

You can be a perfectly respectable American congregational rabbi, Hadassah president, Jewish federation executive, or even the first woman chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and rather than writing your obituary as a news article, the Times will make your mourners pay through the nose for a paid death notice (which plenty of Jewish organizations self-destructively go ahead and do anyway, notwithstanding that they are funding a newspaper actively campaigning against us). Yet if you are an obscure British anti-Israel activist, the Times will lovingly memorialize you as “intelligent,” “powerful,” and “witty.”

The website of British Writers in Support of Palestine — alongside pages like “Israel: An Apartheid State” and “FAQ: Is boycotting Israel anti-Semitic?” — reprints a poem by Kazantzis titled “Child In Gaza.” It features a “little child born in the Gaza ruins,” asking about Israelis, “why did they send white fire that melted away my flesh?”

For 2,200 years, Jews have been fighting the classic antisemitic blood libel that we prey on gentile children. There’s no reason to expect it to stop anytime soon. It is, though, a moment when Times sensitivity to the issue of antisemitism is at an apparent high, at least when it comes to the attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue and public criticism of George Soros. Yet even so, the newspaper matter-of-factly publishes, in its own news columns, a glowingly positive memorial to a figure in a European antisemitic boycott campaign against Israeli academics. It is amazing — well, at least it would be amazing if it weren’t so sadly predictable coming from The New York Times, whose record on these matters has been well documented by The Algemeiner. And it is yet another indication that what really troubles the Times isn’t so much antisemitism as President Trump. When the antisemitism comes from British feminist poets, the Times is all too happy to look the other way, even to embrace and celebrate it.

Ira Stoll is the former managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.


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