CAMERA Op-Ed: The Media’s Antisemitism Problem

Adolf Hitler was a genocidal dictator who unleashed the most destructive war in the history of mankind 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 entitled “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 antisemitism of several Women’s March leaders. Abcarian lamented 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 antisemitic tendencies of several 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 antisemitism 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 antisemitic 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. Walker has frequently compared Israelis to Nazis, which meets the widely used International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

Indeed, in the NYT interview, Walker recommended a book by the Holocaust denier David Icke who, as Tablet Magazine journalist Yair Rosenberg has noted, peddles antisemitic 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 Iran Deal and whether or not they were Jewish—invoking the antisemitic dual loyalty canard.

And it’s not just Walker and Icke that are receiving free advertising from major U.S. news outlets.

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 antisemitic.

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 Klu Klux Klan the paper would be condemned—and rightly so. Somehow a different standard exists when it comes to antisemitism emanating from certain quarters.

When they’re not getting a press pass, antisemites 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 antisemitism.

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 antisemitism, 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 PM’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; a modern day incarnation of the antisemitic blood libel. But yet again, an antisemite’s beliefs went unmentioned and unaddressed by the “guardians of truth.”

For example, The Post failed to report revelations that Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic congresswoman from Michigan, has associated with Abbas Hamideh, “an ardent supporter of Hezbollah” who has said, “Israel does not have a right to exist.” Other outlets, including The Times of Israel, The Washington Examiner, and Fox News, among others, noted that Hamideh—who has praised the deceased arch terrorist and child murderer Samir Kuntar—attended the Congresswoman’s swearing-in. Indeed, Tlaib was even photographed with Hamideh, and the ADL asked the representative for an explanation.

However, major U.S. news outlets largely failed to report that a sitting member of Congress was associating with someone who praised terror groups and called for Israel’s destruction. The Washington Post’s failure is particularly noteworthy; the paper has several reporters assigned to cover Congress, yet it completely failed to report the Tlaib controversy. The Post, however, has no problem assigning reporters when it fits their narrative. For example, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, head of T’ruah, an organization that is often hypercritical of Israel, acknowledged that the newspaper took the unusual step of having their reporters assist with research for her Jan. 11, 2019 Op-Ed.

Elsewhere, The Post actively minimized the antisemitism of another member of Congress. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democratic Congresswoman from Minnesota, had previously tweeted: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” As The New York Times’s Bari Weiss documented, this is an antisemitic “conspiracy theory with ancient roots and a bloody history.” Washington Post congressional reporter Dave Weigel, however, dismissed it as merely “criticizing Israel” in a Jan. 17, 2019 tweet.

Journalists for mainstream media organizations are not only covering for those who promote antisemitic conspiracy theories—they’re joining them. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) noted in a Jan. 15, 2019 report, Newsweek political correspondent Nina Burleigh tweeted that Israeli- and Jewish-linked organizations — along with Israel itself — are on “the third rail of American journalism.” Claiming that Israel and Israeli and Jewish-linked organizations can’t be discussed is not only patently false, it also plays into the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jews exert undue political influence and control the media. Making use of another antisemitic trope—that of greedy Jews—Burleigh had claimed in 2012 that “a historic pile of money” could endear American Jews to Obama.

The late historian Robert Wistrich called antisemitism “the oldest hatred.” Its current purveyors should be called out by the press; not handed a microphone or whitewashed. It’s not complicated.

(Note: A slightly different version of this Op-Ed appeared in JNS on Jan. 14, 2018)