Eleven Days in September: The Washington Post’s Peculiar Israeli, Jewish Coverage

The Washington Post displayed a skewed sense of what’s newsworthy about Israel and Jews just before and after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year and start of the Ten Days of Awe that close with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.

1) The Post’s foreign desk featured a “Letter from Israel: Ultra-Orthodox turn back clock; Early end to daylight saving time for Yom Kippur fast sparks debate over party’s power,” as the lead world news article in its September 8 edition — the day Rosh Hashanah began. Special correspondent Joel Greenberg wrote that “a five-year-old law negotiated with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party” forces all Israeli Jews, secular as well as observant, to end their summertime activities prematurely when the High Holy Days come early, as they do this year.

“The debate has drawn battle lines in the ongoing struggle in Israel over the role of religion in public life, highlighting the power of ultra-orthodox parties in Israel’s governing coalition,” reports Greenberg, formerly of the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. “The early time shift in Israel has a parallel only in the West Bank areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and in the Hams-ruled Gaza Strip, where the clock was turned back last month to help people fasting from dawn to sundown during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan”. Read here.

So what helps Palestinian Arabs to observe Ramadan but not newsworthy on its own becomes, when Jewish religious parties insist on something similar to uphold the sundown-to-sundown Yom Kippur fast, an Israeli political controversy. Curious, especially in light of the September 7 article “Is Ramadan ‘blessed’ for all Muslims?” on CyberDissidents, a Web site that describes itself as being devoted to democratic dissident. According to writer Ahed Ali Hendi:

“In the past month, Arabs in several Middle Eastern countries have been jailed for sipping a cup of water, smoking a cigarette or eating a sandwich in public during Ramadan. This is not a phenomenon confined to the Taliban or overt theocracies such as Saudi Arabia where sharia [Islamic religious law] is the law of the land. This happens time after time in countries that claim to be secular and supposedly governed by the rule of law. Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority and even ‘secular’ Tunisia have targeted people for arrest who chose not to observe Ramadan” Read here.

This Ramadan-related crackdown went unmentioned by The Post.

2) The newspaper did cover the Muslim holy month and its ending Eid al-Fitr feast in a number of uncritical items, including:

a) A four-column, color photo topping the front page of the September 10 edition. This stand alone picture, illustrating or teasing to no article, was captioned “A spiritual end to Ramadan.” The cutline read: “An elderly Palestinian reads verses of the Koran during the last day of Ramadan at a mosque in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday. Muslims around the world are concluding the celebration of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.”

b) A four-column, center of page, color photo, and an accompanying two-column, color picture, on the front page of the September 11 Metro section, captioned “Area Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan”. The caption read: “With her face painted in the image of a colorful butterfly, Nadia Dansani, 13, of Gaithersburg [Md.] celebrates the end of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims, at a family festival at the Trinidad Recreation Center in Northeast Washington. This year, the end of Ramadan coincides with the ninth anniversary of the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, and many mosques have scaled back their celebrations. Ramadan entails a month of daily sunrise-to-sunset fasting and prayer. The month ends with a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Fast-Breaking. At right, a boy at the center crawls away from adults during the Jumu’ah, or congregational prayer.”

c) A page one article headlined “Muslims toning down Eid festivities in honor of Sept. 11; For the first time since attacks, dates coincide,” in the September 7 edition. This report continued Post practice of quoting the Council on American Islamic Relations as if it were a mainstream U.S. Muslim civil rights organization. That meant omitting CAIR’s Hamas-related, Muslim Brotherhood derived origins and its status as an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development terrorism-funding trial, among other pertinent background.

3) As for Rosh Hashanah, Post coverage — in addition to “Ultra-Orthodox turn back clock” — included:

a) The September 8 article “Sometimes, you’ve got to have faith; Interfaith project helps families navigate tricky terrain of mixed religious marriages” on the front page of the Metro section. This article was illustrated with a two-column color picture of a rabbi officiating at the wedding of a non-Jewish groom and Jewish bride. While informative regarding the challenges of religiously mixed couples, this feature had little to do with Jewish families observing the Jewish new year. It did, however, extend a recurrent Post tendency to cover Jewish holidays by not focusing on “Jews doing Jewish,” as former Hillel national director Richard M. Joel liked to say.
b) A “Jew doing Jewish” did show up in The Post’s September 8 Rosh Hashanah reportage — in the Food section. “An heirloom approach to the new year” warmly chronicled the Rosh Hashanah cooking of Michael Twitty. “The 33-year-old Washington native teaches Hebrew school by day and fills the rest of his time with living interpretations of African American history and, as he says, ‘cooking from the heart.’ Somehow he has managed to blend the disciplines as seamlessly as his conversation travels from Carolina black peanuts to his conversion to Judaism in 2002. The man can talk — with obvious enthusiasm, and occasional Yiddish”. Read here.

c) Not publishing “Jews doing Jewish” Rosh Hashanah news photos like the September 9 Baltimore Sun’s two-column, color Reuters picture of a joyous crowd headlined “Marking Rosh Hashana.” The cutline read: “A Jewish man carries the Torah on Wednesday in the Ukrainian town of Uman. He was one of thousands of pilgrims who marked Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, near the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. The rabbi, a renowned mystical interpreter of Jewish texts, died in 1810.”

Call this year’s Post effort “Rosh Hashanah lite,” “Ramadan heavy.”


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