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May 28, 2019 7:30 am

New York Times Editorial Blames Netanyahu for European Antisemitism

avatar by Ira Stoll


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 10, 2019. Photo: Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo.

The New York Times is using an editorial denouncing antisemitism in Europe as an opportunity to take a cheap shot at the Israeli prime minister.

In an editorial headlined “The Old Scourge of Anti-Semitism Rises Anew in Europe,” the Times writes, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not helped matters by finding common cause with nationalist leaders like the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban or President Trump so long as they do not support a Palestinian state.”

European antisemitism existed before the modern State of Israel. It exists independent of the policies of any Israeli prime minister. Blaming the Jews, or one particular Jew, for antisemitism is inaccurate. It’s a logical error. It’s arguably an act of antisemitism itself, as it suggests that Israel, alone of all nations, should be unable to pursue a foreign policy based on its national interests for fear of provoking a latent and essentially irrational hatred.

After all, if Netanyahu were to refuse to meet with Trump or Orban, that might also provoke antisemitism. What’s the Israeli foreign ministry or prime minister’s office supposed to do? Weigh each and every foreign policy decision on the basis of what some Jew-hating sickos might think about it? It makes no sense. I mean, the only way it does make any sense is if one assumes that what the Times is really up to isn’t advancing the interests of the Jews or opposing bigotry in all forms but rather advancing left-wing politics while trying to appease the many readers justifiably outraged by its publication of an antisemitic cartoon.

Don’t just take it from me: take it from Michael Oren, the historian and former Israeli ambassador to America, who tweeted, “All the HYPOCRISY that fits. The NY Times editorial on rising anti-Semitism cites Netanyahu as a source but omits Omar, Tlaib, and, incredibly, The NY Times and its Nazi cartoon and endless articles vilifying the one Jewish state and its supporters. Laughable if not so tragic.”

On the Orban case, the Times earlier this month ran a front-page story with a lead anecdote about how:

a magazine controlled by Mr. Orban’s lawyer devoted its cover to an image depicting Andras Heisler, the leader of Hungary’s largest Jewish organization, showered with bank notes. Jewish groups across the world swiftly denounced the cover as anti-Semitic.

Mr. Orban refused to criticize the magazine. It was a vivid example of how the Hungarian leader has both opposed and implicitly condoned anti-Semitism — sometimes in the same week.

“There is this double game,” Mr. Heisler said in an interview.

But the Jewish Telegraphic Agency — not exactly an apologist for antisemites — covered the same news earlier this year with an article noting that the magazine “was vindicated in the eyes of at least some Hungarian Jews because thieves stole $437,000 in government money from Mazsihisz [the Hungarian Jewish group headed by Heisler]. The culprits were suspiciously versed in Mazsihisz’s inner procedures.”

Reported the JTA:

To some, the case was an example of how certain Jewish groups in Eastern Europe avoid or discredit scrutiny of their muddy financial affairs by casting it as anti-Semitic.

“The Figyelo photo montage wasn’t nice, but it wasn’t anti-Semitic,” Ferenc Olti, a former board member of Mazsihisz, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency….

In nearby Poland, journalist Nissan Tzur has a similar impression about that country’s Jewish community.

“Complaining about anti-Semitism is standard practice for Jewish community institutions whenever there’s any serious attempt by media to look into how restitution property is handled,” said Tzur, who is Jewish.

The Israeli website covered the Hungary situation as a conflict between Heisler and the local Chabad rabbi, Shlomo Koves. Ynet quoted Koves saying of Orban, “Orbán is trying to uproot anti-Semitism from the right-wing identity in Hungary. Anyone who knows Hungarian history knows that part of the right-wing identity is anti-Semitism, and he is trying to cleanse it by openly standing by Israel, worrying about Jewish life, and making statements that support Israel and the Jewish community.”

The same Times article about Hungary referred to Lubavitch of Hungary as “a pro-Orban Jewish group: a small chapter of Chabad, a global network of Hasidic Jews who came to Hungary after the fall of Communism.” This “small” chapter has ten rabbis, according to its website. And there were Hasidic Jews in Hungary before communism as well.

All of which is to say that it’s nonsense to blame European antisemitism on Netanyahu’s meeting with Orban or Trump. The “common cause” they are finding is a secure Israel that can pursue its foreign policy without a lot of worry about how antisemites might react. It’s a cause to which the Times is, sadly, indifferent or even, to judge by this most recent editorial, outright opposed.

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.

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