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December 1, 2019 7:32 pm

New York Times Faulted for ‘Irredeemable and Indefensible’ Coverage of British Chief Rabbi

avatar by Ira Stoll


Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s chief rabbi, arrives to attend the National Service of Remembrance, on Remembrance Sunday, at The Cenotaph in Westminster, London, Nov. 10, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Simon Dawson.

The New York Times is drawing criticism for its handling of a warning by British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis about antisemitism in the British Labour Party.

The Times news article reported that “Rabbi Mirvis leads a body of Orthodox congregations not only in Britain but across the Commonwealth; in Britain, those synagogues account for just over half of total synagogue membership, according to a 2010 report.” The Times went on, “Not all British Jews recognize the chief rabbi as the leader of their communities.”

The Times also reported, “some people warned that Rabbi Mirvis had sidestepped a greater threat posed to Jews and other British minority groups by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has himself been accused of making racist and Islamophobic remarks and energizing parts of the far right similar to those responsible for recent attacks on Jews in the United States.” It attributed this view to “an organization called Jews Against Boris.” The Times didn’t say how many members Jews Against Boris has, or what proportion of British Jews it represents.

It’s a classic Times double standard. When an Orthodox rabbi warns against antisemitism on the left, the Times bends over backwards to undercut his authority. Contrast it to how the Times, in three recent news articles, handled a Reform rabbi’s criticism of decisions by the Israeli and American governments or politicians.

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Here is the Times reporting in December 2017 about reaction to President Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem: “‘Jerusalem has always been the most delicate issue in every discussion about peace,’ said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of American Judaism. ‘So we’re very concerned that the announcement will either delay or undermine the very, very important resuming of a serious peace process.’” Nothing from the Times in that article about how many American Jews Rabbi Jacobs does or doesn’t represent or about how not all American Jews recognize his authority.

Here is the Times reporting in July 2018 on reaction to the new Israeli law declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people: “‘We will use all of the legal means available to us to challenge this new law and to promote Reform and Progressive Judaism in Israel,’ said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the New York-based Union for Reform Judaism.” Nothing from the Times in that article, either, about how many American Jews Rabbi Jacobs does or doesn’t represent or about how not all American Jews recognize his authority.

Here is the Times reporting in September 2019 about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s floating the idea that he would annex parts of the West Bank: “‘These are unilateral moves endangering Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and further limiting the possibility of a two-state solution,’ Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement. ‘Such serious pronouncements don’t belong in the final week of a heated campaign.’” Again, Reform Rabbi Jacobs, criticizing Netanyahu, escapes the treatment the Times visits upon Orthodox Rabbi Mirvis, criticizing Labour and Jeremy Corbyn. Again, the Times doesn’t say how many American Jews Rabbi Jacobs does or doesn’t represent, and it doesn’t report about how not all American Jews recognize his authority.

The Times’ heavy-handed, inconsistent treatment of Rabbi Mirvis attracted plenty of negative attention on Twitter. The executive editor of the Washington Examiner Magazine, Seth Mandel, asked, “Is it just me or does this @nytimes story on Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ denunciation of Labour’s antisemitism include zero British Jews supporting it, only Jews opposing it?”

Said Mandel, “The NYT is just printing bald antisemitic propaganda, of the sort you’d see on Iranian state tv in response to Mirvis.” He went on, “it shows how misinformed you are if you read the NYT. The paper takes token dissenting voices in the Jewish community and presents them as representative of the larger community. You have to go out of your way to be this inaccurate. This shows how bias often manifests. Take a hot-button subject and portray an exact balance of opinion on it among a community that is *not* evenly divided. The only way NYT could present this as even is if they talked to *literally* no one on the majority side.”

Mandel went on, “this kind of reporting is just completely ethically irredeemable and indefensible.” The Times reporter, Benjamin Mueller, replied to an email from the Algemeiner seeking a response to Mandel’s criticism by referring the Algemeiner to an earlier article of his that quoted a wider array of British Jews.

A former editor at the Times, Mark Horowitz, responded to Mandel by writing, “I didn’t believe this could be true, but then read the article and he’s right. Very odd given that I just read in the Guardian that 84% of British Jews believe Labour is antisemitic, 87% that Corbyn is antisemitic, and 93% won’t vote Labour.”

Another Washington-based journalist, Melissa Braunstein, tweeted, “In the midst of reporting on British Labour’s raging #antisemitism problem, @nytimes tries to discredit Rabbi Mirvis as a #Jewish spokesman and find the super-minority of Jews who don’t think Labour’s a problem. This is offensively bad.”

In earlier recent coverage of the same topic, the Times pathetically tried to explain away Labour’s antisemitism by claiming, “Some of Mr. Corbyn’s supporters also stridently oppose Israel, occasionally resorting to anti-Semitic tropes to make their points.”

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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