A former editor of The Jewish Week once advised reporters to never write, concerning religion or politics, that “Jews believe…” because plenty of Jews don’t. There has not been a singular Jewish community for more than a century and there hasn’t been a singular Jewish media for at least that long, either.
There were Jewish newspapers and journals that opposed the Balfour Declaration; that supported Stalin; that opposed the Israeli kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann out of Argentina, and then opposed Israel’s hanging him. The American Council for Judaism, a major Reform rabbinical group in the 1940s, was opposed to the illegal immigration of Holocaust refugees into pre-state Israel.
Long before Jewish editors in 2017 feared that President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem was poorly thought out and could incite a new intifada (which it didn’t), there were editors in 1948 who feared that Israel declaring independence was poorly thought out and could lead to war (which it did).
Has the Jewish media been fair to Trump? Jewish radio and television, such as Zev Brenner’s Talkline network and Mark Golub’s Jewish Broadcasting Service, certainly have, airing the pros and cons with a collegial tone. However, there are many more in the media divided over whether Trump is a monster or a golem (a good monster protecting Jews).
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, editor of the Denver-based Intermountain Jewish News, said he noticed that some Jewish publications “have the attitude that ‘Trump’s a jerk and that’s how we’re going to report him.’ We won’t do that,” resisting expectations to condemn or praise. Goldberg told us by phone that he aims to maintain the old ideal of being fair, of granting a president the dignity of his office, as Goldberg would for any president, quaint as that sounds. “We try to [report] in such a way that the reader will not know what we think.” For example,” he said, “our coverage of [Vice President] Pence’s visit to Jerusalem, had the ‘break-out’ quote, ‘liberal, conservative views very different.’ That tells the reader, ‘You make up your own mind. We’re not doing that for you.’”
No sooner than Trump took office, most Jewish newspapers made up their mind that the nearly 150 bomb threats to JCCs and Jewish institutions were linked to Trump. Bend the Arc, a social justice organization, said, “Trump helped to create the atmosphere of bigotry and violence that has resulted in these dangerous threats.” The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect said, as if to Trump, “the most vicious anti-Semites in America are looking at you … granting them permission to attack Jews.” Of course, many of the bomb threats were called in by a Jew living in Israel.
(Despite the bomb threat hoaxes, the ADL reported a significant increase in bias crimes against Jews and Muslims after Trump’s election, and especially after Charlottesville.)
When Vice President Pence recently addressed the Knesset, one Jewish paper headlined, “Pence’s Love For Israel Is Dangerous For Jews.” Pence’s “fiasco is part of a larger pattern of American evangelicals who are in love with a fictional Israel [and] fictional Christians.” Other Jewish papers focused on Pence’s evangelical faith.
The fact is, Vice President Al Gore recited the same blessing of gratitude when he addressed the Knesset in 1998. And Gore referred to Scripture every bit as much, invoking Psalms; Ezekiel; Joseph; Jacob’s wrestling with angels; Jacob’s name-change to Israel; and the Dry Bones, resurrected by God who will “restore you to your land.”
As for the criticism that Pence’s talk was subversive Christian eschatology? It turns out that former U.K. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, one of the most respected Jewish theologians, helped Pence write the speech.
“There’s so much hatred and anger in our community, people are tearing each other apart. And I get it. He [Trump] is vulgar. He’s crude. But I’ve stopped hearing ideas; I hear emotions.”
President Clinton told the Knesset that his personal “pastor” taught him, “If you abandon Israel, God will never forgive you.” No one, including Trump or Pence, ever wrapped his Israel policy in more religious words. There was no angst in the Jewish media over whether Clinton could ever again be an “honest broker,” as there is angst today about Trump.
Micah Halpern, a news commentator on JBS, the Jewish cable station, told us that alternate Jewish news outlets are emerging “as a response to the traditional Jewish media [where] a tone has emerged in which everything associated with Trump is toxic. … That approach is anti-intellectual, dishonest, and in the end will push readers to question the motives” of mainstream Jewish papers.
Efune told us that “nuance is sometimes lacking” in the coverage of immigration.Dovid Efune, editor of the Algemeiner, once a Yiddish paper and now a popular English site for traditional Jews with conservative political views, emailed that “there is plenty to criticize [about Trump], but even his critics must acknowledge that on the issues that are of greatest concern to Israel he has been more favorable than any previous president.” He cited such “mainstream Jewish community” issues as “the Iranian threat, the status of Jerusalem, PA payments to terrorists and the isolation of Israel at the UN, among other issues.” [See Gary Rosenblatt’s column.]
Last September, when JTA headlined: “Jewish Groups Condemn New US Travel Ban,” the news agency quoted four Jewish groups that opposed the move, none that supported it.
“We have convinced ourselves that this is life or death, that we must all unite behind the same beliefs or a catastrophe will happen. With that mindset, no civil dialogue is possible.”
Reasonable observers note that concern about migrants from Arab countries are a worrying concern for European Jewish communities. In 2015, an article by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic asked, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Goldberg noted that “what makes this new era of anti-Semitic violence in Europe different from previous ones is that traditional Western patterns of anti-Semitic thought have now merged with a potent strain of Muslim Judeophobia. Violence against Jews in Western Europe today, according to those who track it, appears to come mainly from Muslims…”
And yet Jewish publications have done little if any serious examination of why America would be different than Europe, with an influx of immigrants from “Muslim Judeophobic” nations such as Syria.
In the end, the biggest story is within ourselves, a Jewish community torn in two. One editor, asking for anonymity, told us, “There’s so much hatred and anger in our community, people are tearing each other apart. And I get it. He [Trump] is vulgar. He’s crude. But I’ve stopped hearing ideas; I hear emotions.”
David Suissa, publisher and editor of the Jewish Journal (Los Angeles), wrote, “The communal rancor in the age of Donald Trump has been so ugly and intense… We have convinced ourselves that this is life or death, that we must all unite behind the same beliefs or a catastrophe will happen. With that mindset, no civil dialogue is possible…. This is what turns my stomach: The notion that we can give politics the power to contaminate our relationships.”