Dec. 4, 2008 – At the height of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the Times of London published a brief item entitled “Rabbi’s toddler son saved from hostage house.” The short article by Jerusalem-based Sheera Frenkel, which dealt with the heroic rescue of toddler Moshe Holtzberg by his Indian nanny from a bloody scene in the besieged Chabad House and a prayer vigil for the hostages in the Israeli city of Afula, appeared in both the Times’ online edition (on Nov. 27) and in several print editions (on Nov. 28).
Incongruously, the last sentence of the article is a highly anti-Semitic remark by someone identified as T.K. Bhat who suggests that the besieged Jews in the Chabad House had brought their misfortune upon themselves:
T. K. Bhat, who lives close to the Chabad house, said: “It could be that the attitudes of the Chabad, which gives the sense of an elite club for Jews alone, is part of what provoked the terrorists to target them for the attack.”
That Jews have provoked the antagonism of their attackers is a staple of anti-Semitic rhetoric. It is outrageous that a reputable newspaper such as the Times would allow such an offensive and illogical cliché to be added to a brief article about the rescue of a baby. (The absurdity of the comment is apparent: If the terrorists were from Pakistan, how could the attitudes of a local Jewish center in India provoke them?)
The article includes no other “interviews” with any onlookers and is clearly not part of a survey of Indian reaction to the unfolding events. Nor is it relevant to the rest of the article. Nor is it presented as a troubling indicator of anti-Semitic views towards the innocent victims. It is all the more puzzling and disturbing that this single quote was slipped in.
The article was bylined from Jerusalem, so the reporter could not have had access to T. K. Bhat, who was allegedly located near the Chabad House in Mumbai.
The questions that must be asked are:
1) Who (if anyone) recorded the anti-Semitic comment?
2) Who decided to insert it into the article?
3) What was his or her motive in doing so?
4) How did London Times editors allow it to remain?
CAMERA has requested that the editors remove the offensive sentence from the article. Stay tuned for updates.
Update I: Dec. 9, 2008
When did Sheera Frenkel, the article’s author who is based in Israel, obtain this quote from the alleged Mumbai resident? Apparently she never did.
When questioned about this by CAMERA, the reporter responded that the quote was heard on an Israeli television station. In what context was this quote presented? Why did she not mention that this was a second or third-hand quote and explain the context in which it was made?
Also, in some editions of the article (in news databases), the anti-Semitic comment was preceded by an additional negative characterization of Israelis:
Tourism officials estimate that nearly 50,000 Israelis visit India each year. They are known for congregating in tight-knit communities, leading to gibes about an “Israeli invasion” and “colonialism”
Frenkel suggests that Israelis are somehow responsible (by travelling and hanging out together?) for anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sentiment. The words “Israeli invasion” and “colonialism” are highly charged phrases that echo anti-Israel propaganda, but Frenkel provides no hint of who exactly is making these accusations. She follows this charge with the hate rhetoric by “T.K. Bhat.”
That the newspaper allowed an article to close with a gratuitous anti-Semitic cliché is offensive and highly inappropriate enough. That editors ignored sloppy, unsourced journalism to present such a questionable slur only makes matters worse. Even more egregious is the editor’s refusal to redress the bad judgement by removing the quote.
Update II: Dec. 15, 2008
The objectionable quote by T.K. Bhat has now been deleted from the Web site article.