CAMERA Op-Ed: The Role of the Media in Promoting Antisemitism

“Antisemitism,” the British writer Nick Cohen has observed, “is unique among religious hatreds.” Indeed, antisemitism is unique. Not only because the virus has shown a remarkable ability to permeate through the ages and mutate to find new hosts. But because antisemitism is perhaps the only hatred in the Western world today that is both excused and even promoted, if implicitly, by major U.S. news outlets.

If, as the famed columnist Walter Lippmann one wrote, “there can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil,” many in the press are failing—conspicuously—to tell the truth about the oldest hatred, a hatred that has, in living memory, murdered millions.

The proof is in the coverage—or, more often than not, the lack of it. Indeed, when far-left antisemites in the United States Congress traffic in, and promote, vile bigotry, many news outlets are silent.

Take, for example, reporting on U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). In the summer of 2019, both freshmen congresswomen tried to go on a trip to Israel, which was labeled as “Palestine” in their itineraries. Both Omar and Tlaib support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement which seeks the end of the Jewish state, singles out only Israel for opprobrium, has been declared antisemitic by various legislative bodies, and is endorsed by terrorist organizations like Hamas. 

The Israeli government’s decision to deny entry to Omar and Tlaib—a decision in keeping with Israeli law barring BDS activists from entering Israel—received widespread news coverage. The Washington Post alone ran no fewer than four stories on the incident. Less widely noted, however: the trip was sponsored by the organization Miftah, which has praised suicide bombers and claimed that Jews consume Christian blood.

As NGO Monitor has documented, on March 27, 2013 Miftah “published an article by Nawaf al-Zaru that repeated the antisemitic blood libel.” That article asserted that “much of the historical stories and tales about Jewish blood rituals in Europe are based on real rituals and are not false as they claim; the Jews used the blood of Christians in the Jewish Passover.”

Miftah has also published articles hailing suicide bomber Wafa Idrees as “the beginning of a string of Palestinian women dedicated to sacrificing their lives for the cause.”  Idrees detonated herself on January 27, 2002, killing 81-year-old Pinhas Takatli and wounding another 150 Israeli civilians.

Equally damning, Omar and Tlaib’s itinerary listed a meeting with Defense for Children-International Palestine (DCI-P), a nonprofit that has extensive ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation, a US-designated terror group. The President of DCI-P’s General Assembly, Nasser Ibrahim, is the former editor of El Hadaf, the PFLP’s weekly publication. DCI-P board members and employees, past and present, include no fewer than 10 individuals with links to the PFLP.

It should be front-page news that two high-profile members of Congress tried to go on a trip sponsored by an antisemitic organization—a trip that would have included meetings with a nonprofit with links to a terrorist group. But it wasn’t.

Indeed, for all the media coverage of Israel thwarting Omar and Tlaib’s pro-BDS propaganda attempt, most major mainstream news outlets failed to detail Miftah’s and DCI-P’s disturbing histories—information readily available and easily verified. In fact, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), a media watchdog group, even supplied information about Miftah to editors at USA Today, who promptly declined to include it in their pre-existing report on Tlaib and Omar’s planned trip.

Both members of Congress have a history of antisemitic statements and actions, in addition to their support for BDS. Omar, for example, has accused Israel of “hypnotizing the world,” insinuated that her fellow lawmakers are purchased by Jewish money, and claimed that the Jewish Americans among them have dual loyalties. Importantly, Omar’s comments meet the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, used by the U.S. State Department and others.

In a Jan. 26, 2020 report, for example, Politico claimed that Omar has merely “stoked controversy by criticizing America’s Israeli policies”—hardly a complete or accurate description of her comments.

As for Tlaib, the Congresswoman has associated with Abbas Hamideh, an ardent supporter of Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terror group that seeks Israel’s destruction. Hamideh—who has praised the deceased arch-terrorist and child-murderer Samir Kuntar—has called Jews “Schlomos,” advocated for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel, and compared Israelis to Nazis. Some outlets, such as The Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller and Fox News, noted that Hamideh even attended Tlaib’s swearing-in ceremony. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) asked the Congresswoman for an explanation. But major news outlets like CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, couldn’t be troubled to ask why a member of Congress was associating with a known antisemite and supporter of a group that has murdered Israelis, Americans and others.

By failing to hold members of Congress responsible for their antisemitism, the media is emboldening them. Indeed, on Jan. 25, 2020, Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) member and founder of Miftah who once dated the late ABC news anchor Peter Jennings, used Twitter to claim that Israelis had kidnapped and murdered a young Palestinian boy named Qais Abu Ramila. In fact, Ramila had accidentally drowned and there was no evidence to suggest that Israelis had been involved.

As several writers observed, this was but a revamped use of the ancient blood libel in which Jews are blamed for the deaths of children. Tlaib, however, was unfazed. The Congresswoman was quick to retweet Ashrawi. Once again, news outlets from the right side of the political spectrum noted that a sitting member of Congress was promoting a blood libel on social media while legacy media chose to ignore it.

Regrettably, examples abound of the press ignoring antisemitism when it emanates from the left.

The Washington Post, among other major news outlets, has ignored the documented antisemitism of Valerie Plame, a former CIA officer turned Democratic Congressional candidate in New Mexico. On Dec. 1, 2019, The Post wrote a glowing 2, 849-profile of Plame. But the newspaper omitted her history of promoting antisemitic conspiracies.

In September 2017, Plame received some media attention for recommending an article titled “America’s Jews are Driving America’s Wars” from an avowedly antisemitic website called the Unz Review. Plame initially defended her tweet, writing that the story by noted conspiracy theorist Phillip Giraldi was “very provocative, but thoughtful.” Moreover, she demanded of her critics: “Put aside your biases” as “many neocon hawks ARE Jewish.”

After criticism of Plame intensified, she changed her story, claiming that she hadn’t read the article and, as a result, missed the “gross undercurrents” of a piece whose very title makes its antisemitism clear. The Post covered the incident at the time but curiously failed to mention it once Plame became a Congressional candidate.

As NGO Monitor has documented, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has even introduced bills—based on disproven claims by the PFLP-linked DCI-P—which assert that the Jewish state is guilty of apartheid and systemic abuse of children. In 2017 NGO Monitor highlighted that “the entirety of the proposed bill is premised on factually inaccurate claims from anti-Israel advocacy NGOs, including direct quotes from DCIP’s ‘No Way to Treat a Child’ 2016 report and website.”

It should be newsworthy that a member of Congress is introducing legislation that regurgitates propaganda from a viciously antisemitic terrorist-linked organization. But once again our vaunted fourth estate has failed to ask questions or to hold McCollum to account. The result? On May 1, 2019, McCollum even introduced a reworked version of her 2017 bill, now entitled “‘Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act” (HR 2407).

This is but more evidence that the media’s coverage of antisemitism is extremely selective. One would think from reports from most major news entities that antisemitism is only the province of the right. That facts and history say otherwise is but an inconvenient fact that is best left ignored.

Indeed, reporting on antisemitism is often deeply politicized.

Although you wouldn’t know it from media reports, antisemitism has, in fact, been rising for years. A 2015 Tel Aviv University report noted that violent antisemitic attacks increased by nearly 40 percent in 2014. The report by the university’s Kantor Center concluded: “The overall feeling among many Jewish people is one of living in an intensifying anti-Jewish environment that has become not only insulting and threatening, but outright dangerous, and that they are facing an explosion of hatred toward them as individuals, their communities and Israel, as a Jewish state.”

As CAMERA noted at the time, most Western news outlets chose to ignore this increase in violent antisemitism. That changed with the election of Donald Trump. Suddenly the press was interested in the topic—but only when they can depict antisemitism as emanating from the right side of the political spectrum.

For example, Washington Post WorldViews columnist Ishaan Tharoor has filed dispatches such as “The inescapable anti-Semitism of Western nationalists,” which exclusively blame the far right for the increase in antisemitism. Tharoor cited a 2018 report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for proof. But that report listed numerous examples of antisemitic incidents perpetrated by those who can’t be categorized as “Western nationalists” or “far right.” For example, the report detailed several speeches by U.S.-based imams, who, among other things, called for “Allah to destroy the Jewish people,” propagated “antisemitic conspiracy claims about Israel and Jews,” and incited anti-Jewish violence.

Tharoor mentions none of this, nor does he note another troubling trend: exploding Jew hatred in our colleges and universities, which “continues to be the scene of significant numbers of antisemitic incidents,” as a 2018 ADL report documents. In a sign of how unserious the press takes this, The Post’s editorial board even opposed President Donald Trump’s December 2019 executive order to combat antisemitism on college campuses.

That order was largely based on the bipartisan Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, according to co-chairs of the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and James Lankford (R-OK) and adheres to guidelines first implemented by the Obama administration. But The Post opposed it, inaccurately claiming that “the order signed Wednesday by the president specifically targets colleges and universities by classifying Judaism not only as a religion but also as a race or nationality.” It does no such thing. Indeed, as the ADL pointed out “the Executive Order includes Jews in Title VI protections, something ADL and previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have supported for years.”

For years, Jewish individuals in the New York City area, most of them Orthodox or visibly Jewish, have been the victims of growing harassment, threats and violence. And the media has, until recently, largely ignored these attacks, many of them perpetrated by minorities. As The New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss—one of the few columnists at a major outlet to cover antisemitism irrespective of politics—noted, there is a “theme” that “unless Jews are murdered by neo-Nazis, the one group everyone of conscience recognizes as evil, Jews’ inconvenient murders, their beatings, their discrimination, the singling out of their state for demonization will be explained away.”

Finally came two tragic incidents—a Dec. 10, 2019 shooting in Jersey City by two supporters of the Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI) who sought to target a Jewish day school and a violent stabbing in a rabbi’s home in Monsey New York by Thomas Grafton, an African-American whose journals also reference the BHI. Yet, even after these attacks, news agencies like NBC engaged in victim-blaming, claiming that gentrification was responsible for the violence.

This reveals the media’s innate bias: it is inconceivable that another minority would be blamed for the violence and hatred perpetrated against Jews. It also shows a tacit acceptance of antisemitism. Some example of the latter:

The Los Angeles Times’s Jan. 4, 2019 opinion column asserting that the “bigger picture” demands that “everyone involved in the Women’s March can take a bow,” regardless of March leaders’ association with noted antisemite Louis Farrakhan, who once called Adolf Hitler a “very great man.” And on March 5, 2020, The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak wrote a sympathetic profile of a Virginia woman who hangs signs urging “Nuke Israel” from her home. “This woman,” Dvorak told her Twitter followers, “deserves peace” but is “haunted” by a family tragedy that, the column implies, makes her antisemitism understandable, if not forgivable.

Perhaps most disturbingly, major Western news outlets have themselves become purveyors of antisemitism. In April 2019, The New York Times infamously published not one, but two, antisemitic cartoons. On Feb. 11, 2020 The Atlantic posted a video which claimed that Israel is carrying out “a campaign of ethnic cleansing” and “is behind every regional war that’s happened in the last 70 years.” Comparing the actions of the Jewish state to Nazi Germany and asserting that Jews foment wars are both antisemitic tropes with long histories.

On March 7, 2020 The Washington Post published a letter to the editor commending an anti-Israel article that had appeared in the newspaper’s “Food” section. The letter writer claimed “the erasure of the Palestinian culture to make way for Israel was/is part and parcel of ethnic cleansing that continues to this day. To call it ‘Israeli food’ is to be complicity in a crime against humanity.” Condemning the Jewish state as “a crime against humanity” meets letters-to-the-editor guidelines?

The Post followed up this absurdity with a hagiographical book review of noted antisemite Linda Sarsour’s recent memoir We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders. Reviewer Ausma Zehanat Khan called Sarsour’s book “trenchant, painful and amusing,” while heralding her fearlessness and obfuscating on her irrefutable record of antisemitism. Sarsour, she writes, “makes little of the hate she experiences, but each chapter carries its echoes.” The antisemite—Sarsour has a history of trafficking in antisemitic tropes and even calling to remove her critics sexual organs—is not only a victim, but a hero, in The Post reviewer’s retelling. 

Antisemitism is both increasing and increasingly mainstreamed. From the halls of Congress to the newsrooms of The Washington Post, our institutions are showing that they aren’t up to the task of confronting it. Indeed, they’re part of the problem.

(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared as an op-ed in the Spring 2020 issue of the Jewish Policy Center’s inFOCUS magazine)