OP-ED: The media’s anti-Semitism problem
By SEAN BURNS
(JNS.org) — Adolf Hitler was a genocidal dictator who unleashed the most destructive war in the history of humankind and perpetrated the Holocaust. He was also a lover of animals and art who, initially anyways, brought Germany’s economy out of the doldrums. Life is complicated.
A version of this tortured logic made an appearance in a Jan. 4, 2019 op-ed by Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian titled “Can you admire Louis Farrakhan and still advance the cause of women? Maybe so. Life is full of contradictions,” which acted as an apologia for the anti-Semitic dispositions of several leaders of the Women’s March movement. Abcarian lamented that three of the Women’s March founders praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan despite “his abysmal record of anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and sexism.”
But the columnist insisted that the “bigger picture” demands that “everyone involved in the Women’s March can take a bow,” regardless of which leader said “what to whom about Jewish people when, and the merits of a noted anti-Semite.” Abcarian omitted and obfuscated on the anti-Semitic tendencies of several of the Women’s March founders, which have been extensively documented by Tablet magazine, among others—and which go way beyond the conference call praising Farrakhan that Abcarian highlighted.
Would a major U.S. news outlet be so casually dismissive of other prejudices? Doubtful. The LA Times column is emblematic of a troubling trend: the media’s unwillingness to treat anti-Semitism seriously.
On Dec. 13, 2018, The New York Times interviewed the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple author Alice Walker. Walker has previously promoted anti-Semitic material, like the poem “It’s Our (Frightful) Duty to Study the Talmud,” which advised readers to look to the ancient Jewish religious text in order to find the root and source of evil. She has frequently compared Israelis to Nazis, which meets the widely used International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.
In that interview, Walker recommended a book by the Holocaust-denier David Icke who, as Tablet magazine journalist Yair Rosenberg has noted, peddles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and, like some Women’s March leaders, argues that Jews were responsible for the slave trade.
The Times failed to challenge Walker’s book recommendation, or to provide any information about either her or Icke’s disturbing views. While noting that it was a “missed opportunity,” the deputy Washington, D.C., editor of The New York Times tweeted: “I don’t blame The New York Times interviewer for not knowing Alice Walker had recommended an anti-Semitic tract. Heck, I didn’t know David Icke, and I wrote a book about rising bigotry.”
The lack of self-awareness is unsurprising. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) documented, in September 2015 The New York Times published an online chart listing which members of Congress voted on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and whether or not they were Jewish—invoking the anti-Semitic dual-loyalty canard.
It’s not just Walker and Icke that are receiving free advertising from major U.S. news outlets. The Washington Post has opened up its opinion pages to anti-Semites as well.
On Nov. 8 2018, The Post published a piece by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the leader of an anti-American, Iranian-backed militia. The Houthi motto—“Death to Israel, Curse the Jews”—is openly hateful and anti-Semitic.
The National, a U.A.E-based publication, said that Karen Attiah, The Washington Post’s global opinions editor, defended the paper’s decision to publish the op-ed. Attiah claimed that her publication has “given space to Saudis, Emiratis, Qataris, Turks, Iran … all sides of many of these debates roiling the region.” The Post, she claimed, had an obligation to publish all viewpoints—including the “abusive ones.” Yet, if the Post were to provide a platform to a member of the Ku Klux Klan, the paper would be condemned—and rightly so. Somehow, a different standard exists when it comes to anti-Semitism emanating from certain quarters.
When they’re not getting a press pass, anti-Semites are getting coddled. When the Post interviewed Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Sept. 28, 2018, the newspaper failed to inform readers—much less confront Mahathir himself—about his blatant anti-Semitism.
In a 2003 speech before the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Mahathir said that “Jews rule the world by proxy. They got others to fight and die for them.” In 2012, he wrote, “I am proud to be labeled anti-Semitic.” The interviewing journalist was well-aware of Mahathir’s anti-Semitic nature, having written about it in a 2016 article. But he said nothing when he was face to face with someone that the Post called a “venerable statesman.”
The day before the prime minister’s interview, another Post journalist spoke with Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authority’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations. As CAMERA has documented, Mansour—once a guest on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”—has claimed that the Jewish state harvests the organs of terrorists, which is a modern-day incarnation of the anti-Semitic blood libel. But yet again, an anti-Semite’s beliefs went unmentioned and unaddressed by the “guardians of truth.”
The late historian Robert Wistrich called anti-Semitism “the oldest hatred” in the world. Its current purveyors should be called out by the press, not handed a microphone or whitewashed. It’s not so complicated.
Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.