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November 18, 2018 12:48 pm

In Zuckerberg Coverage, New York Times Defines Antisemitism Down

avatar by Ira Stoll


Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Viva Tech start-up and technology summit in Paris, France, May 24, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Charles Platiau / File.

The New York Times is suddenly swarming around Facebook and its two top executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

On Thursday the paper published a long investigative piece about Facebook. The article carried the bylines of five Times reporters.

On Friday the Times followed up with four more articles, carrying the bylines of six different reporters, plus an editorial. There was an op-ed column declaring, “It was staggering to learn that Facebook had hired a Republican opposition-research firm that sought to discredit some of the company’s detractors by linking them to George Soros — exploiting a classic anti-Semitic trope — while at the same time lobbying a Jewish group to paint the critics as anti-Semitic.”

Having read all five articles, I have to confess I don’t quite understand what the big deal is. For our purposes, though, the newsworthy aspect of it is that it confirms something we’ve been writing about here at The Algemeiner for quite some time: the way The New York Times uses accusations of antisemitism to advance its political agenda, rather than out of concern for the Jewish cause.

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Daniel Patrick Moynihan had a phrase called “defining deviancy down.” What the Times is engaged in might be called “defining antisemitism down.” By the Times‘ definition, a mild and accurate criticism of George Soros somehow counts as utterly outrageous and despicable antisemitism. Yet using classical antisemitic imagery against Zuckerberg and Sandberg gets a free pass. What matters, according to the Times, is less the action than who is engaging in it, who is the target, and whether each one meets with the Times‘ approval. It’s antisemitism not as actual bigotry, but rather as a situation-dependent tool to be used as a weapon when it might be useful and overlooked when it might be convenient.

So, for example, the Thursday Times article reported, “Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic.”

Well, it turns out the activist protesters, or at least their coalition members, in fact were funded by Soros, who indeed turns out to be a big public critic of Facebook. And some criticism of the company did in fact use antisemitic imagery. To my mind, pointing out the Soros funding is not objectionable, and complaining about the imagery is legitimate. But the Times doesn’t seem to see it that way, because it’s less concerned with antisemitism than it is with attacking Facebook or defending Soros.

Here’s how the Times reports it:

In July, organizers with a coalition called Freedom from Facebook crashed a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, where a company executive was testifying about its policies. As the executive spoke, the organizers held aloft signs depicting Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Zuckerberg, who are both Jewish, as two heads of an octopus stretching around the globe.

Eddie Vale, a Democratic public relations strategist who led the protest, later said the image was meant to evoke old cartoons of Standard Oil, the Gilded Age monopoly. But a Facebook official quickly called the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish civil rights organization, to flag the sign. …

Facebook also used Definers to take on bigger opponents, such as Mr. Soros, a longtime boogeyman to mainstream conservatives and the target of intense anti-Semitic smears on the far right. A research document circulated by Definers to reporters this summer, just a month after the House hearing, cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement. … Definers pressed reporters to explore the financial connections between Mr. Soros’s family or philanthropies and groups that were members of Freedom from Facebook, such as Color of Change, an online racial justice organization, as well as a progressive group founded by Mr. Soros’s son. (An official at Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations said the philanthropy had supported both member groups, but not Freedom from Facebook, and had made no grants to support campaigns against Facebook.)

Both the Soros issue and the octopus issue have been the topic of earlier Algemeiner coverage.

This month, I noted that the Times goes on high antisemitism alert when Republicans criticize Soros, but is happy to explain or ignore it when foreign Muslim politicians do so. The Facebook situation is another example of the same phenomenon.

Likewise, when the National Rifle Association used octopus imagery against gun-control advocate Michael Bloomberg, the Times complained of antisemitism. When the NRA’s magazine depicted Bloomberg on its cover as an octopus, the Times described it in a headline as “an Anti-Semitic Symbol,” noting, accurately, that “the image has been used in anti-Semitic propaganda, from the Nazis to the modern Arab world.” Yet when the Times itself describes an Israeli yeshiva as “a multitentacled enterprise,” or when the Facebook critics deploy the octopus image against Sandberg and Zuckerberg, the Times wants everyone to ignore it, and faults Sandberg and Zuckerberg for complaining. Note the tendentious Times language — “paint,” “cast.” If these had been black executives victimized by racist imagery, and had complained to the NAACP, would the Times be criticizing them? No painting or casting was required; it is an antisemitic symbol, as the Times itself has had no problem acknowledging when the group using it was the NRA rather than an anti-Facebook faction whose members include Soros-backed groups.

What’s the real problem the Times has with Zuckerberg and Sandberg? As far as I can tell the newspaper blames them for allowing the election of President Trump. From the big investigative article: “Donald J. Trump ran for president. He described Muslim immigrants and refugees as a danger to America, and in December 2015 posted a statement on Facebook calling for a ‘total and complete shutdown’ on Muslims entering the United States. Mr. Trump’s call to arms — widely condemned by Democrats and some prominent Republicans — was shared more than 15,000 times on Facebook, an illustration of the site’s power to spread racist sentiment.”

Fifteen thousand shares isn’t really that many for Facebook, and it isn’t even necessarily “racist” to call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, since Islam is a religion, not a race, and Muslims can be of any race. I’m not saying such a ban is a good idea, or that it might not be motivated in part by anti-Muslim bigotry as well as by genuine security concerns about terrorism and vetting. But the assumption that Facebook ought to suppress such ideas from American voters seems strange. The antsemitism issue is just a sideshow in the Times campaign against Trump, of which Soros and Zuckerberg and Sandberg are merely supporting actors.

With Soros and the octopus, what the Times sure seems to care about isn’t antisemitism or the Jews, but the political use to which the accusation can be put.

Ira Stoll is a 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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