Saturday, October 23rd | 17 Heshvan 5782

April 5, 2019 4:52 pm

Front-Page New York Times Antisemitism Article Is Total Nonsense

avatar by Ira Stoll


The New York Times logo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Under the print headline “Extremes of Right and Left Share Ancient Bias,” the New York Times has an above-the-fold, front-page news article about what it describes as a “surge of Anti-Semitism in Europe and U.S. as Economies Cool.”

I suppose it’s nice to see the New York Times taking the danger of antisemitism seriously, though it also risks describing Jews inaccurately as victims and overstating a problem that, while serious, has done little to impede a great period of Jewish flourishing.

What is troubling, though, are the inaccuracies that run through the article. Leave it to the New York Times to turn a front-page article on antisemitism into a vehicle for spreading destructive falsehoods about the Jewish state and its prime minister.

The errors begin with the subheadline referring to the cooling US economy. The Times itself reports online the same morning it has the front page headline blaming antisemitism on an economic decline, “The United States economy is still enjoying one of its longest expansions on record…. The number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time has declined to lows not seen in decades, and recent surveys of the construction and manufacturing industries did not suggest that employers were pulling back.” We’ve got unemployment below 4% and growth at almost 3%. Europe may be a different story.

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If the Times can’t get the economics right in its antisemitism article, it can’t get the history right, either. The Times writes, “For decades after World War II and the Holocaust, anti-Semitism was mostly consigned to the political fringes, which is no longer the case. It is now more widely harnessed for political ends, experts say.”

The Times article was written by one Patrick Kingsley, whose personal website reports that he was “born in London in June 1989.” That makes him too young to remember personally the Soviet Union, which murdered its Yiddish poets in 1952. The Soviet Union was founded on a communist ideology that opposed all religion, but it took a particularly nasty and cruel dislike to Judaism and Jews. The superpower spent much of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s brutally restricting the freedom of its Jews to emigrate to America or Israel. Hebrew was banned. You’d hope that any one of Kingsley’s Times editors would remember that sort of thing, or at least be able to look it up in a library or in the New York Times archives or hear about it from people who did live through it, but apparently not.

And the Soviet Union was just one of many prominent manifestations of antisemitism. It also infected Muslim and Arab states that declared war or economic boycotts against Israel, and whose Jews fled under threats. The idea that antisemitism disappeared after Hitler only to resurface during the Trump administration is a distortion so severe that it’s astonishing. It’s as patently false as attributing recent antisemitism to a cooling US economy, when the US economy is humming right along. It’s the sort of thing that makes people apply the term “fake news” to the New York Times, and laugh at the hypocrisy when the newspaper employs fact-checkers to fault Trump for having an estranged relationship with the truth.

After the phony “economies cool” subheadline and the phony “consigned to the political fringes” historical context, the Times goes ahead to also mangle the facts of recent events in Israel.

The Times reports, “Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Orban share an approach to domestic politics: an antipathy for liberal voices, a discomfort with Muslim minorities and a willingness to work with the far-right. Like Mr. Orban in Hungary, Mr. Netanyahu has introduced legislation that targets civil society organizations that receive significant funding from overseas. His government has forbidden non-Jews to exercise the right to self-determination, and removed Arabic as an official Israeli language.”

This is total nonsense. The Times itself has been going crazy investigating supposed Russian influence on the American election. America has long had a Foreign Agents Registration Act requiring the disclosure of foreign spending to influence American public opinion or legislation. What is “liberal” about foreign governments funding advocacy organizations in Israel that advance illiberal goals such as dividing the capital of the Jewish state or making it impossible for Jews to live in parts of their historic homeland? In any case, Netanyahu hasn’t “targeted” these groups or merely “introduced” legislation; such a law, simply requiring disclosure, was actually passed in 2016. For the Times to describe them as “civil society” rather than advocacy groups is to take a partisan side in this policy issue. Additional steps may be warranted and indeed are under discussion, but they are also under discussion here in the US after the Russia episode.

Similarly loaded, inaccurate, and tendentious is the Times claim that Netanyahu has “forbidden non-Jews to exercise the right to self-determination, and removed Arabic as an official Israeli language.” This is a reference to the nation-state law. That law says “the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people,” but it doesn’t forbid anyone from doing anything, except perhaps setting up their own sovereign country within Israel’s borders, something that no other country would tolerate either. As for the language question, any visitor to Israel will see Arabic along with Hebrew and English on pretty much every road sign. The nation-state law sets Hebrew as the “state language” but also says “The Arabic language has a special status in the State; arrangements regarding the use of Arabic in state institutions or vis-à-vis them will be set by law. Nothing in this article shall affect the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into force.”

The Times article complains, “Rumor and conspiracy theories have always played a role in stoking anti-Semitism. Today, the speed at which lies can spread, because of the internet, is without precedent.”

This passage shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness by the Times; the description could easily apply to the Times article that includes it.

It is also true, however, that the speed at which lies can be debunked is without precedent. The Internet gives publishers such as the Algemeiner the opportunity to correct the lies of the Times in ways that hadn’t previously been possible. It’s a reason to be hopeful despite all the fictitious nonsense from the Times.

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.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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