These Hypocritical Times        – Mishpacha Magazine

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    The New York Times’ ongoing campaign to demonize Orthodox Jews

 

The New York Times has long had a Jewish problem. From ignoring and downplaying the Holocaust to decades of negative coverage of Israel, the Times has never been a friend to those whose Jewishness is central to their identity. Recently, the Times has turned its jaundiced eye and poisoned pen on New York’s Orthodox community.

It began with a September 11 front-page attack that was meant to inflame public sentiment against yeshivos rather than educate outsiders about them. It was followed by an article in which elected officials were pressed to condemn yeshivos. Those with negative things to say were quoted, while those who wouldn’t comment were called out. The views of elected officials who disagreed with the thrust of the Times’ take on yeshivos and sought to share positive impressions of yeshivah education were omitted.

The journalistic sins the Times committed with these articles, with their inaccuracies, lack of context, and stereotyping, were grave enough. Far more pernicious was the goal behind them: to marginalize frum Jews in New York. The point of the articles was not to identify a problem or propose a solution, but to delegitimize our community. The message being directed to those who represent our interests or are sympathetic to our needs is that they are doing something wrong, that they are associating with the wrong people. We are to be regarded as the untouchables of New York society.

With election season in New York upon us, the Times’ campaign reached its apotheosis earlier this week with a 2,500-word article whose subhead declared that “elected officials rarely embrace positions that could antagonize Hasidic leaders.”

That is a big surprise to those of us in New York who in recent years have repeatedly had to seek court protection from rules, regulations, and restrictions enacted by government officials that impermissibly targeted the frum community.

That’s not just our interpretation of what has occurred. Multiple courts have concluded that the Orthodox community in New York has been unfairly targeted by government.

The US Court of Appeals held that New York City’s regulation of bris milah “purposefully and exclusively targets a religious practice for special burdens.” The Albany Supreme Court nullified state rules that imposed burdensome curricular requirements on yeshivos. And the US Supreme Court struck down New York’s “red-zone” restrictions on shuls, finding that “statements made in connection with the challenged rules can be viewed as targeting the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.”

This is all irrelevant to the Times, because its goal was not to inform its readers but rather to inflame them. There was nothing particularly newsworthy or even interesting in the article — no revelation of wrongdoing, no hint of scandal.

None of that matters to the Times, because the point of the article was to alert New Yorkers that chassidim and chareidim vote and take part in the political process. That is something the Times finds offensive, and wants its readers to find frightening. Most importantly, the Times wants elected officials to stop seeking our support.

The Times’ intention was made even clearer a few days earlier, when its education reporter tweeted the concerning news that a well-known leader of the yeshivah community was encouraging yeshivah alumni to vote for the gubernatorial candidate he believed would best represent the interests of yeshivah parents.

The Times writer presented this alumnus mailing with a warning that “Yeshivos continue to play a major role in the Gov race.” To really drive home the point of how dangerous this was, the reporter then — inaccurately, and more importantly, irrelevantly — described this yeshivah leader as a “major landlord,” and included his home address.

The “major landlord” characterization was obviously meant to inflame sentiment against the yeshivah leader and to delegitimize his position on the issue of yeshivah education. After a backlash, the Times reporter deleted the tweet. But she has yet to apologize.

Then again, the Times has still not apologized for the vile cartoon depicting Binyamin Netanyahu that ran in its international edition three years ago. It was so beyond the pale that the Times’ own consistently terrific opinion columnist Bret Stephens wrote that “the cartoon checked so many anti-Semitic boxes that the only thing missing was a dollar sign.”

Stephens declared the cartoon’s publication “an astonishing act of ignorance of anti-Semitism — at a publication that is otherwise hyper-alert to nearly every conceivable expression of prejudice.”

He explained that “even the most blatant expressions of anti-Semitism become almost undetectable to editors who think it’s part of their job to stand up to bigotry” when “the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism have become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry.”

Stephens suggested that the Times engage in “some serious reflection as to how it came to publish that cartoon — and how its publication came, to many longtime readers, as a shock but not a surprise” — and to apologize to Netanyahu.

The same response might be in order for the Times’ recent series of attacks on the frum community. The constant drumbeat of negativity about chareidim and chassidim has — at best — blinded the Times to the bigotry and danger of its reporting. The frum community is owed an apology.

Given that Netanyahu has not yet collected his apology, however, we need a better strategy to deal with the Times rather than hoping this time they fess up to their errors and apologize.

Here are a few suggestions.

VOTE: With the frum community under attack in the media, it needs to make its voice heard at the ballot box. Every eligible voter needs to be registered, and especially now that there is early voting, every registered voter needs to vote — in statewide as well as local races.

Whether your issue is government regulation of yeshivos, the safety of New York’s streets, or the management of the economy, make your voice heard on Election Day.

Perhaps there will be a political tsunami, with incumbents swept aside by fed-up voters. Even if not, a strong turnout, in which the frum community is seen as voting its interests, will help ensure the attention of elected officials and is the best protection against the Times’ attempt to delegitimize our community.

EDUCATE: When I first began meeting government officials to discuss yeshivah education a half-dozen years ago, I was stunned by how little they understood about yeshivos and yeshivah education. They knew close to nothing about our system of dual education, and even less about the depth, breadth, and success of yeshivah education.

We need to do a better job of educating elected and appointed government officials, civic leaders, and journalists about our yeshivos. We need to invite them in to see our schools, our students, and our graduates. And we need to do this proactively, not only when we our under attack, on the defensive and in crisis mode. The best way to combat the misinformation about yeshivah education is for us to tell the story ourselves.

ADVOCATE: The frum community needs to seriously raise its game in how it pushes back against yeshivah critics. Take, for example, the economic impact of the New York yeshivah system. By educating 170,000 students in private yeshivos, we save the city and state several billion dollars each and every year. And the more than 400 yeshivos in New York are significant economic engines in their own right, employing tens of thousands and supporting numerous businesses.

Most significantly, tens of thousands of yeshivah graduates participate fully in New York’s economy as homeowners, professionals, employers, workers and businessmen — in short, as taxpayers. We need to professionally compile, calculate, package, and disseminate this story, as well as individual stories that highlight our yeshivos’ successes.

COLLABORATION: New York is home to an alphabet soup of organizations that claim to speak for and defend the interests of the entire Jewish community. We need to engage with them, and ensure that this calumny against the chassidish and chareidi communities is not ignored by the broader Jewish community.

Many of these organizations may profess to favor behind-the-scenes diplomacy, but the fact is that the Times attacks were committed in public, and that is where they need to be called out. All rightly spoke up against Kanye West’s anti-Semitism. The Times anti-chareidism and anti-chassidism need to be similarly publicly confronted.

There is no panacea for the challenges that we face, from government, from a hostile media, or from organized groups of anti-yeshivah advocates. But if we work proactively and with unity, we will with Hashem’s help be able to continue to grow our communities and mosdos haTorah.

 

Avi Schick is a partner at the Troutman Pepper law firm, and the president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School

 

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 934)

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