New York Times Editorial Blames ‘Jewish Schools’ for Spreading ‘Highly Contagious’ Disease
A staff editorial of the New York Times is pushing an antisemitic trope so vile and offensive that not even Ilhan Omar has dared to utter it — blaming a Jewish community for the spread of disease.
For better or worse, 2019 is proving to be a year that provides the American public a reeducation in some of the themes of classical antisemitism.
The newly elected Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota has been widely condemned — though not yet by the New York Times in a staff editorial, at least so far as I can tell — for advancing three of these themes. Those themes are that Jews have magical powers to control people (the “hypnotized” tweet); that they use money to control people (the “all about the Benjamins” tweet), and that Jews are not loyal to the country they live in (the “allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country” tweet).
One place Omar hasn’t gone, at least yet, so far as I can tell, is to mirror the ancient libel blaming Jews, as disease-carriers, murderers of children, or well-poisoners, for the death of others. Into that opportunity, astonishingly, has stepped the New York Times, with a staff editorial representing the institutional position of the newspaper, its editorial page editor, and the publisher.
The Times staff editorial claims that “Jewish schools” have “helped to feed a measles outbreak.” The Times complains that “communities have largely been allowed to evade government oversight, thanks to politicians who have enjoyed their support as one of the state’s most powerful voting blocs.”
The Times editorial reports that “since last year nearly 300 people, most of them ultra-Orthodox children in New York City and Rockland County, have contracted measles in the worst outbreak in decades, according to health officials, who said some ultra-Orthodox parents oppose vaccination. Measles is a highly contagious infection that can cause a rash, fever and cold-like symptoms, and in some cases can be fatal. One child in the New York outbreak landed in the intensive care unit, but has since recovered.”
Got that? “Powerful” Jews who have “helped to feed” a “highly contagious infection.”
If it sounds familiar, it should. Take it from the Holocaust Encyclopedia of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: “A recurrent theme in Nazi antisemitic propaganda was that Jews spread diseases,” the encyclopedia says. “To prevent non-Jews from attempting to enter the ghettos and from seeing the condition of daily life there for themselves, German authorities posted quarantine signs at the entrances, warning of the danger of contagious disease. Since inadequate sanitation and water supplies coupled with starvation rations quickly undermined the health of the Jews in the ghettos, these warnings became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as typhus and other infectious diseases ravaged ghetto populations. Subsequent Nazi propaganda utilized these man-made epidemics to justify isolating the ‘filthy’ Jews from the larger population.”
For another description of the same phenomenon, here is an excerpt published by NPR from the 2011 book Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, by David Livingston Smith: “It’s wrong to kill a person, but permissible to exterminate a rat. To the Nazis, all the Jews, Gypsies and others were rats: dangerous, disease-carrying rats. Jews were the main victims of this genocidal project. From the beginning, Hitler and his followers were convinced that the Jewish people posed a deadly threat to all that was noble in humanity. In the apocalyptic Nazi vision, these putative enemies of civilization were represented as parasitic organisms — as leeches, lice, bacteria, or vectors of contagion.”
This wasn’t exactly an innovation by Hitler; Jews had been blamed by non-Jews for the spread of disease since at least the Black Death epidemic that peaked in Europe between 1348 and 1350. As the Encyclopaedia Judaica entry on “Black Death” makes clear, the accusation led to deadly anti-Jewish violence, and “helped to shape the stereotype of the Jew represented by anti-Semitism and racism in modern times.”
At this point you may be thinking, wait a minute. There are some distinctions between Nazi propaganda and medieval well-poisoning tales and the New York Times editorial that are worth mentioning rather than eliding. The Nazi and medieval tales were entirely manufactured, while New York City health authorities do credibly tie these measles cases to fervently Orthodox Jews who declined to vaccinate their children. And the Nazi and medieval tales focused on blaming the Jews for spreading disease to gentile populations, while the Times editorial expresses concern about the spread of disease within the Jewish community.
Fair enough. But the Times mention that measles is “highly contagious” naturally raises the fear among readers that they will get the disease from the Jews; the Times even awarded a gold medal “Times Pick” award to a reader comment that warned “these ultraorthodox Jews…are…putting the community at large at risk.” That comment got a “recommend” upvote from 145 Times readers.
And if the role of Orthodox Jews in this particular measles outbreak does appear to be documented, consider how the Times has reacted to some other recent measles outbreaks that have been documented by public health authorities. Here is some information from the federal Centers for Disease Control: “2017: A 75-case outbreak was reported in Minnesota in a Somali-American community with poor vaccination coverage.” And “2015: The United States experienced a large (147 cases), multi-state measles outbreak linked to an amusement park in California. The outbreak likely started from a traveler who became infected overseas with measles, then visited the amusement park while infectious; however, no source was identified. Analysis by CDC scientists showed that the measles virus type in this outbreak (B3) was identical to the virus type that caused the large measles outbreak in the Philippines in 2014.”
And: “2014: The U.S. experienced 23 measles outbreaks in 2014, including one large outbreak of 383 cases, occurring primarily among unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio. Many of the cases in the U.S. in 2014 were associated with cases brought in from the Philippines, which experienced a large measles outbreak.”
If you can’t remember the New York Times editorials condemning the Somali-Americans of Minnesota (Ilhan Omar, phone home), California amusement parks, the Amish, or the Philippines for their roles in spreading the measles — well, that’s because, at least as far as I can tell, there weren’t any. The Times dealt with the California and Minnesota outbreaks in three sentences of one editorial, but without any reference to the religion or cultural backgrounds of the affected communities. A Sunday New York Times column by Frank Bruni acknowledges, “anti-vaxxers run the political gamut. They’re on the left, their professed concern for social welfare proven hollow by the risk that their unvaccinated children pose to newborns and others who haven’t yet been — or can’t be — vaccinated. They’re on the right, among people who see the government and its edicts as oppressive forces. Paranoia has no partisan affiliation.” So where’s the New York Times staff editorial on Whole Foods-shopping, Vietnam-War opposing militant vegetarian social-justice-warrior Bernie Sanders voters putting the rest of the population at risk by not vaccinating their children?
One of the most reliable indicators of antisemitism is a double standard — criticizing Jews, in particular, for practices for which other population groups get a pass. American Jews, including Orthodox Jews, overwhelmingly do vaccinate their children, a fact the Times editorial conveniently omits. The Times war on yeshivas long predates any measles outbreak. It’s hard to see this latest editorial as anything other than the Times cynically seizing on a centuries-old antisemitic trope — Jews as disease carriers — for its own preexisting purposes of advancing government control over Jewish parochial schools. It sure will be interesting to see if the Times editorial is met with the same widespread condemnation that met Omar’s remarks.
Ira Stoll was 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.