Wednesday, June 26, 2019

It’s been a rueful coincidence.

When teaching Jewish history, it is mostly unfortunate when events repeat. Yet, there are teaching moments that make a classroom stand still.

This moment came to my Jewish history classroom with the morning paper and intersected with history in a way that is inopportune, yet still important.

That morning in “Modern Jewish History” we were learning how the U.S. media, more specifically the New York Times, had all but ignored coverage of the Holocaust from 1939-1945.

We have been studying in great detail the rise of anti-Semitism, Hitler and the Third Reich while juxtaposed to the demise and destruction of 20th-century European Jewry by the Nazis.

At the same time we learn of Goebbels and Eichmann, we look at the now much-criticized recent editorial cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depicted as a dog with a Jewish star dangling from his neck while walked by our president.

Our students compare and contrast the cartoons they find in Holocaust-era copies of “Der Sturmer,” which show a ghastly similarity to the New York Times’ unfortunate selection.

We learn that then-publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, himself Jewish, believed that Judaism was only a religion, not a people and not a family. The Jews who were being slaughtered while he published the Times were “those people” in Europe and they were not the same as American Jews.

Research has shown that during World War II, the Times ran some 26,000 front-page articles on the war, yet only 23 page-one pieces covered the European genocide, and a paltry six specifically focused on the Jews.

Sulzberger did not want his newspaper to be marginalized as catering to the Jewish community by covering the Holocaust. Instead, European Jews were grouped together with other Nazi victims.

At the same time, anti-Semitism in the U.S. flourished. A Catholic priest named Father Charles Coughlin had a national broadcast that was nothing more than the spittle of anti-Semitism. His church, still standing in Royal Oak, Mi., is called the Shrine of the Little Flower. I have actually been in that church. When I was editor of the Detroit Jewish News, our community’s leaders were invited there to meet with Catholic leaders. This was in the 1990s. I remember a man standing outside of the church holding a sign that read simply: “Father Coughlin was right.” Father Coughlin had called for the extermination of the Jews in the U.S. He urged his listeners to do a better job than Hitler. That’s right, and it was happening in 1940s America.

I was privileged to succeed the late Philip Slomovitz, the founding editor of the Detroit Jewish News, and a man who took on Coughlin and got him off the air. Mr. Slomovitz had to work against Coughlin because the New York Times and other major newspapers of the era were not. Little or no criticism of the anti-Semitic priest, a close friend of Henry Ford, from Michigan, found its way into the Times.

So now we live at a time when Michigan is again providing us with pro-BDS, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic Rep. Rashida Tlaib. In last week’s edition of the New York Times, comments she had made revising Holocaust history and claiming that she had a “calming feeling” knowing the Arabs gave a “safe haven” for the Jews who survived the Holocaust.

Criticism of her comments did not come from the Democratic Party. Instead, they shrouded over her misstatements with finger pointing claims of “Islamophobia.” The Times said little or nothing, and this was just a matter of weeks after it apologized for its dramatic display of poor judgment for its editorial cartoon.

I’ve had friends tell me they are canceling their Times subscriptions. Others have told me they will not let it in the house any longer.

That is why I will watch Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity. That is why I read right wing, centrist and left wing.

The New York Times is still in the Sulzberger family, under the leadership of A.G. Sulzberger.

It was during the 2008 Gaza war that I started to pull back from the New York Times. The 2014 Gaza conflict showed further bad judgment in balanced coverage when it concerned Israel. BDS and the emergence of Tlaib and Ilhan Omar make it even more difficult to continue to spend my money on the Times.

I believe that like his grandfather, the current publisher would affirm his Judaism, but would not take a strong pro-Israel stand for fear of alienating the left flank of the Democratic Party. As we get closer to primary election season and then the national conventions, I believe my hope for the Times will have run its course.

Truth is, after the publishing of the dog cartoon, the Times has shown that is a hard copy of self-hating Judaism. The only difference between now and 1939 is the self-hating Judaism now involves Israel, and oh, yes, it’s digital.

Something feels very familiar within the pages and the digital platform of the New York Times. 

The intersectionality of its historical and intentional failure in covering the Holocaust and its current sniping of the Jewish State of Israel is a feeling that one cannot just cancel with a subscription. 

My high school students won’t be relying on standard hard copy sources for their information. And the continual mistakes by one Jewish publishing family will not limit their search for the truth. When it came to covering the Holocaust, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” was nothing more than a hollow slogan back then.

Our students are learning that there’s news fit to print. 

But the truth…is fitter.

By Phil Jacobs

 

 

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