I’ve always been a bit of a junkie for current events. As a history buff, I view news stories as if I am watching history unfold in real-time. As a religious Jew, I often eagerly turn on my phone at the end of a Shabbat or Yom Tov (Holiday), not to check Whatsapp, but to check the news. A lot can happen in those 25 hours during which my phone is off and my internet access unavailable. I must admit however, that there is a certain trepidation as I wait for the news pages to load, which leaves me hoping that I don’t see a story of yet another terror attack claiming the lives of innocent people, or another egregious incident of antisemitism. Sometimes, like last night, the two are tragically one and the same.
Last night, as the final day of Passover and Shabbat came to a close, after a 48-hour hiatus from technology, I was confronted with not one, but two (seemingly) separate instances of antisemitism. The first, was a shooting at the Chabad Center in Poway, California, in which Lori Gilbert-Kaye was killed and three other Jews were shot, including the rabbi. The second, while not overtly violent, was in fact more insidious, because it is the kind of thing that can, if left unchecked, inspire acts like the shooting.
I am of course talking about the absolutely egregious antisemitic political cartoon run in the once-illustrious New York Times, showing democratically elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s head on a dog’s body, leading a blind caricature of democratically elected US President, Donald Trump, who is wearing a kippa. Where do I even begin? With the portrayal of Jews as animals in the style of Nazi propaganda? With the famous trope that the “Zionists” (codeword for Jews) control the US government embodied by the Prime Minister as a seeing-eye dog? With the “artwork” which makes Mr. Netanyahu look like he just came off the cover of Josef Goebbels’ ‘Der Ewige Jude’ (The Eternal Jew, a famous 1940 anti-Jewish Nazi Propaganda film)? With the kippa on the president’s head implying that he serves only Jewish interests? That a political cartoon like this, which would make Julius Streicher, Nazi politician and publisher of antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer, beam with pride, could be printed in the New York Times, one of, if not the most, prestigious newspapers in the world? Expressing outrage only takes us so far, so how about we talk about what we can do about it, both from America and in Israel?
In our social media age, it has become tremendously easy to spread information, and put out opinions, including our opinions about disgusting antisemitic portrayals of Jews. The problem is that activism has become “inactivism”, as upon hitting share, or posting our well-thought-out diatribe, we erroneously feel as though we have made real change. It is important to get the word out about issues, and to identify problems, that’s true, but that only takes us halfway to the goalpost. The bogus “apology” issued by the New York Times is not good enough, and we cannot allow that to appease us, as we have for other antisemitic media incidents in the past. If someone apologizes, then repeats the behavior, then the apology wasn’t sincere. The mere fact that this cartoon passed editorial scrutiny at a paper with purported “standards” as the NYT, in and of itself, represents a disturbing reality that no half-baked apology can erase.
What needs to happen is physical activism, on the ground, in New York City. There are enormous numbers of Jews in that city, and this wasn’t just an attack on one group of Jews, it was an attack against all Jews. The Nazis who perfected the art of antisemitic propaganda of which this cartoon is reminiscent didn’t differentiate between observant or non-observant, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, rich or poor. We need people to organize physical protests, and since we all know the Jewish Federations, Anti-Defamation League and other bastions of Jewish “leadership” confine themselves to not-so strongly worded statements, we can’t rely on them. We need individuals to coordinate. Use Facebook, make an event, and spread the word. The New York Times annual shareholders’ meeting is on May 2nd, only a few days away, this is a perfect time to both make our anger known and reach shareholders to inspire them to demand a change in New York Times’ presentation of Jewish issues (which is notoriously anti-Israel and, at times, even antisemitic, especially in its portrayal of observant Jews).
This isn’t the only place we can hit them, they can be choked out by other methods as well, which don’t require physical presence in New York. Jews in Israel, other parts of America and the rest of the world can help too. Newspapers, both physical and electronic, subsist primarily on ad revenue. Jews all over the world must identify the advertisers who buy ad space in the New York Times and put pressure on them to pull their ads. Hit them in their inboxes and their wallets, the shareholders will take notice and insist that this one-sided and often antisemitic platform of the newspaper be changed. Email and call the newspaper executives, as well as executives of the companies that advertise with them. Inform them that unless this antisemitism and blatant anti-Israel bias is corrected, the Jewish community will no longer subscribe to the newspaper, click their articles on the internet, or patronize businesses that advertise in the New York Times. Sharing Facebook posts and tweeting angrily won’t fix this, real action will.
The media is a powerful force in modern society. It can be used to sway public opinion, manipulate consumers or even, as in cases of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, be used to drive one segment of a population against another. We have seen the effects of a media that presents antisemitic tropes on security of Jews in various nations, and the effects are never positive. We as a people cannot once again sit back and compartmentalize these incidents. We can’t claim that they are separate, when on both the right and the left worldwide there has been a shift towards more anti-Jewish rhetoric and events. This isn’t right vs left, it isn’t American Jewry vs Israeli Jewry, it is World Jewry against antisemitism. When we say “Never Again”, we have to mean it, and that means learning from history. History shows us what happens when we, the average Jews, sit on our hands, waiting for our leadership to help us. We need to help ourselves, because what history shows is never pretty for the Jews.