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April 13, 2020 8:17 am

‘Truly Ugly,’ ‘Blood Libel’: Outrage Mounts at Media Blaming Religious Jews, Rabbis for Covid-19

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avatar by Ira Stoll


(Illustrative) A street view of Borough Park in Brooklyn. Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash 90.

Concern is rising in the Jewish community that The New York Times is falsely blaming religious Jews for the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The Times published an op-ed piece by Frimet Goldberger that concluded, “I put the blame squarely at the feet of the rabbis who have largely failed to promote social distancing. While some have insisted that people stay home on Passover and beyond, too many have failed to crack down.”

A Times news article made a similar complaint, asserting, “Rockland County has the highest per capita rate of infection in the state, and among the highest in the nation. The source of the problem lies in small pockets of the county that are home to a large number of Orthodox Jewish residents, some of whom, according to authorities, have refused to adhere to social distancing requirements.”

A public relations executive, Benny Polatsek, tweeted a photo of the print New York Times news article with the comment that a friend of his, a volunteer member of a Jewish ambulance corps, “has been risking his life for five weeks now, his wife & 4 children quarantined in a 2 bedroom Brooklyn apartment, he sleeps in a separate bedroom not to infect them. Imagine how he feels reading the @nytimes generalizing Hasidim.”

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A communications and government relations executive, Jeff Ballabon, retweeted a video of crowds at Harriman State Park on Saturday: “If there were only one Hasidic family in the park…we’d have a lead story – and dozens of self-appointed, self-righteous watchdogs yelling bloody murder all over Twitter.”

The video was from the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, which observed, “VIDEO! More people were yesterday at Harriman State Park than the amount of Hasidim at all burials all week combined! (Yesterday was Shabbos so those are not Hasidim.) We are welcoming massive coverage of this by @ABC7NY @News12HV @nytimes and NY Post.” OJPac accused the Times reporters of “doing the bidding of bigots who are busy pointing fingers at Jews while their own neighborhoods have a high load of cases.”

“Stop blaming Jews!” the OJPac account tweeted.

A member of the New York State Assembly, Simcha Eichenstein, described the accusation that Jews are spreading the disease by failing to social-distance as “a blood libel about Orthodox Jews on the eve of Passover. 99% are following the rules. The same 1% of crazies exist in every other community and we condemned them.”

Another leader in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York, Chaskel Bennett, tweeted, “Everyone knows about the media’s unhealthy obsession & misreporting on the Orthodox community…. I stand solidly behind the fact that the overwhelming super majority of religious Jews in America are practicing social distancing & adherence to all rules & regs.”

The opinion editor of The Forward, Batya Ungar-Sargon, tweeted a photo of the Times news article about Rockland Jews and compared it to another Times article about “immigrant enclaves in Queens.” Said Ungar-Sargon: “The difference btwn how the @nytimes covers Orthodox Jews and everyone else is truly shameful. Aside from the errors in the reporting, just compare the tone of these two pieces, the headlines, who is a victim and who a perpetrator. It’s really gross.”

“Both communities suffer from overcrowding, high rates of poverty, and a huge language barrier. But one community is portrayed as the victim of coronavirus and government apathy, while the other is the recalcitrant ‘source of the problem.’ It’s truly ugly. Do better, @nytimes,” Ungar-Sargon tweeted. The longtime national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, thanked her for “pointing out the bias.”

Anyone curious about the real facts regarding how fervently Orthodox Jewish leaders and Torah sages are responding to the coronavirus might watch the video issued March 20 by the Novominsker Rebbe, Yaakov Perlow. It is unambiguous and emphatic. As the Times itself concedes in its obituary of Perlow, who died April 7 of the virus, “he urged his followers to heed the advice of medical experts in the coronavirus pandemic and avoid the gatherings that are integral to religious rituals.”

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.


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