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March 20, 2023 6:25 am

‘Hateful’ Israel Critic Is Hired by New York Times to Moderate Antisemitism Focus Group

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avatar by Ira Stoll


The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times convened a 13-member “focus group of Jewish Americans” for a conversation about antisemitism and Israel, and the newspaper doesn’t appear to have included a single Orthodox Jew in the conversation.

What’s more, the conversation was moderated by the new editorial director of the Times opinion section, Allison Benedikt.

Benedikt has a long paper trail. She tweeted in 2010, “How come all the NY slumlords are Orthodox Jews?” If that were merely a single decade-old tweet promoting an article by another writer who was a colleague at her publication, it’d be one thing. But it seems to be part of a pattern.

In 2011, she published an article describing herself marrying her “Jew-hating fiancé.” She went on, “We are now a united front against the organized Jewish community.” She wrote, “Most of my Jewish friends are disgusted with Israel.” Jay Ruderman, of the Ruderman Family Foundation, wrote then, “It’s startling to read Benedikt’s bitter, angry, indeed hateful comments about Israel.” Marc Tracy, who is now Benedikt’s colleague at the New York Times, called her article, “fundamentally irrational,” “offensive,” and “irresponsibly, narcissistically, and stupidly wrong.”

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In 2014, she greeted the death of an Israel-American soldier, Max Steinberg, at the hands of Hamas terrorists with a column blaming Birthright Israel while speculating about whether “Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible.” A columnist for Ha’aretz found that “ridiculous,” asking, “How can one begin to grasp the utter bad taste involved in aiming snarky and condescending commentary about someone on the day of their funeral?”

That’s the editorial director of the Times opinion section, the person the Times chose to moderate its focus group of Jews on Israel and antisemitism? Benedikt, hired in August 2022 “helping to direct coverage across the report,” joins Max Strasser, the vocal critic of the idea of a Jewish state who is the Times Sunday Opinion editor.

Benedikt askes the group, “Does anyone light Shabbat candles or keep kosher?” No one answered yes, though one respondent did report saying kaddish for his parents: “I went to shul twice a day for 11½ months.” Another respondent, who quit her politically liberal congregation, ventured, “I’m not sure who speaks for me — maybe the Orthodox sect, because as far as I know, they are more conservative politically.”

It is fairly humorous that of the 13 Jews in the Times focus groups, four were identified as Republicans. There didn’t used to be that many non-Orthodox Jewish Republicans, at least percentage-wise, so if the Times sample for the focus group was skewed, it may not be only religiously, but also politically. Perhaps the Times is capturing a political realignment in progress, if missing an important element of Jewish religiosity, especially in the New York region and among younger segments of the American Jewish population.

In any event, the whole episode is an amusing, if sad, little glimpse at the Times and the Jews—both the editorial perspective and the selectivity of whose voice is heard and amplified.

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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