Jewish media

Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Globalization has scrambled just about everything, for better AND worse.

Technology has compressed physical space and time, forcing the myriad human tribes to deal more directly with each other. Nor is there any going back — no matter how isolationist, anti-immigrant or simply anti-change some current political rhetoric may be.

This means that ethnic and religious groups many of our parents, and certainly our grandparents, had little chance of meeting in their neighborhoods can now be encountered in any large American city, and also in our nation’s rural heartland.

Buddhism is one such example.

But it's not just that Asian Buddhists — be they Thai, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese or others — have come to North America, where their beliefs and practices have attracted considerable interest.

What’s also happened is that some Western Buddhists — formal converts and the larger number of individuals with no interest in converting but who have been influenced by Buddhist philosophy and meditative techniques (myself included) — have melded broad concerns for Western social justice issues with traditional, inner-oriented Buddhist beliefs.

These Western Buddhists certainly did not single-handily start this trend. Vietnamese Buddhist monks who immolated themselves to protest severe discrimination against their co-religionists by the Roman Catholic South Vietnam government in the early 1960s preceded them.

But these Westerners — many of them marinated in 1960s American liberal anti-war and anti-discrimination activism — pushed the envelope far enough to create a uniquely Western Buddhist path now generally referred to as Engaged Buddhism.

A key figure in this movement died earlier this month. His name was Bernie Glassman and he was 79.

The elite mainstream media, as near as I can ascertain via an online search, totally ignored his death. An error in editorial judgement, I think — certainly for the coverage of how American religion has and continues to change. His contribution to this change was monumental.

Western Buddhist publications reacted otherwise, as you would expect.

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Beat the journalism clock: Track rising anti-Semitism via Jewish and Israeli news media

Beat the journalism clock: Track rising anti-Semitism via Jewish and Israeli news media

This past Saturday, the Jewish sabbath — just two weeks removed from the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and 80 years to the day following Kristallnacht -- the Israeli news site Times of Israel ran the following stories on its home page. Each was about anti-Semitism; either a hateful display of it (including one new one in the United States) or warnings about its steady rise in Europe.

Because it would take too much space to explain them all, I’ll just supply the links and note the nation of origin. Please read at least a few of them to gain a sense of the level of concern.

(1) The Netherlands.

(2) The United Kingdom.

(3) Poland.

(4) Germany.

(5) Austria.

(6) United States.

A quick web search that same day uncovered a host of other stories documenting recent anti-Semitic actions, many cloaked in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, including this one from The Jewish Chronicle, the venerable, London-based, Anglo-Jewish publication.

A local Labour party [meaning a regional branch of Britain’s national opposition political party] confirmed it amended a motion about the Pittsburgh synagogue attack to remove a call for all forms of antisemitism to be eradicated and for Labour to “lead the way in opposing" Jew-hate.

The story, of course, included the usual explanations meant to excuse actions of this sort. And, for the record, while I do not consider all criticism of Israeli government actions to be anti-Semitic, I do believe that the line between legitimate political criticism of Israel and hatred of Israel because its a Jewish nation is frequently blurred.

I listed all the above stories to make some journalistic points. The first of them is to point out journalism’s unique internal clock.

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Pittsburgh horror marks the start of what could become a new atrocity -- synagogue shootings

Pittsburgh horror marks the start of what could become a new atrocity -- synagogue shootings

America’s Jews are now having to think about the same security measures that churches have had to take on, now that the term “synagogue shooting” has been added to the sad list of church shootings in recent years.

You’ve seen the headlines. The issue is what happens next and where.

On Saturday, a shooter walked into Tree of Life, a synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and by no means the largest synagogue in town. It’s unclear why the killer chose that place, but he left many dead and wounded in his wake and a nation — once again — wondering why we’re becoming a country where worshippers can be gunned down in their pews.

By Saturday night the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had a lead story with five bylines:

Eleven people are dead and six more are wounded — including four police officers — after a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood Saturday morning.

The shooter, who officials said had an assault-style rifle and three handguns, is in custody, Pittsburgh police report. Officials have confirmed he is Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin Borough. He is in Allegheny General Hospital in fair condition with multiple gunshot wounds, officials said.

Gunfire erupted shortly before 10 a.m. as a baby-naming ceremony was getting underway, officials confirmed.

At a news conference Saturday afternoon, Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said officers were dispatched at 9:55 a.m. He confirmed that there were 11 fatalities, and six injuries, including four police officers. No children were injured, he said. Gov. Tom Wolf confirmed that the incident was being investigated as a hate crime.

The Anti-Defamation League said it believed it was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the U.S. history.

There’s a lot of other articles on the PG’s site, as it appears the newspaper threw every available reporter it could at the story. The day closed with 3,000 people attending a vigil for the dead and wounded at the intersection of Murray and Forbes avenues.

By Sunday, news was out about Gab.com, a chat site the shooter had loaded with anti-Semitic comments.

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German Jews joining ultra-right, anti-Muslim party evokes a classic 1965 Jewish Nazi story

German Jews joining ultra-right, anti-Muslim party evokes a classic 1965 Jewish Nazi story

Return with me now to 1965, when as a newly minted journalist I read a story in The New York Times that so thoroughly impressed me that I still recall its emotional impact.

This now-legendary piece by John McCandlish Phillips was about a New York Ku Klux Klan leader and neo-Nazi, Daniel Burros, who unbeknownst to his cronies, was actually a Jew, despite his hate-filled public ranting against Jews and Israel.

The legendary reporter dug deeper and deeper In his interviews and research, until his shocking discovery. Burros threatened to kill Phillips, then committed suicide after his true identity was unmasked.

Why am I bringing this up now? Stay with me, please. I’ll explain below. There’s a paywall to read Phillips’ original piece, now a pdf document. Click here to access it. Also, I should note that GetReligion is housed at the McCandlish Phillips Journalism Institute at The King’s College in New York.

When Phillips died in 2013 — long after he left The Times, and journalism, to start a small Pentecostal Christian outreach ministry in Manhattan that still exists — his Times’ obit referred to his story as “one of the most famous articles in the newspaper’s history.” The obit also called Phillips “a tenacious reporter and a lyrical stylist.”

The article’s quality and the splash it made are certainly part of why Phillip’s story has stayed with me. But here’s another reason.

As a Jew, it seemed unfathomable to me back then that someone raised, as was I, in New York in the mid-20th century — when Jewish communal bonds were much stronger than they are today — could think and act like Burros, who at the time was just six or so years older than I was.

So why have I brought up Phillips’s story?

Because of recent stories out of Germany linking that nation’s Jewish community with rightwing, Nazi-sympathizing politics.

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How I lost my professional cool and succumbed to gossamer social media satisfaction

How I lost my professional cool and succumbed to gossamer social media satisfaction

GetReligion readers: Allow me to offer my own mea culpa. It’s not for something as juicy -- or as damaging to our  national conversation -- as anything said by Roseanne Barr or Samantha Bee. But given what I do here at GetReligion, it's worth noting.

Before you start reading all my past "Global Wire" posts -- go ahead; I dare you -- it’s not for anything I've posted on this website. Though I’m sure more than a few of you think I should be apologizing for just about everything I’ve posted here over the past three-plus years.

Rather, it's for a story on anti-Semitism in Western Europe produced by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service that I reposted on my personal Facebook page. It violated whatever advice I repeat here ad infinitum.

Some respected Facebook friends called me out on the post, and rightly so. Hence, my mea culpa. (More on this below.)

What advice do I refer to: Approach the journalism you consume from a place of media literacy.

Consider what’s missing from a story. Is it meant to play to your fears and biases? Was important context left out? How about alternative viewpoints? Do not let emotions overwhelm your intellect.

Above all, perhaps, don’t further circulate a story that fails the smell test by impulsively reposting it on social media, where the echo chamber is sure to run with it as if it was unquestionable gospel.

I’m a presumed expert on all this -- or so I've convinced my GR bosses. So if only for the sake of this post, please accept that I actually am I, despite this mea culpa.

So just what am I apologizing for?


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Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

Looking back at US Jerusalem embassy and Gaza bloodshed: A story in which everyone plays everyone

The word that keeps coming to mind as I attempt to wrap my head around last week’s deadly violence on the Israeli-Gaza border and the formal opening of the American embassy building in Jerusalem is, “played.”

That’s played as in “being played.”

Palestinians were played by Hamas, the radical Sunni Muslim group that runs Gaza with minimal concern for those it rules. Israelis were played by their prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, whose political staying power is rooted in Israeli Jewish fears that their Arab and Iranian enemies are circling for a kill.

Then there’s President Donald Trump, who played his right-wing evangelical Christian base — allowing two of its prominent leaders to play Judaism and Jews at the embassy opening by reducing them to props — and disposable ones at that — in their eschatological vision. (I’ll say considerably more on this below.)

In short, it was a devilish display of the worst kind of cynicism imaginable, the sort that gets people killed in support of someone else’s political or religious agendas.

By now, GetReligion readers are surely familiar with the details of what happened -- the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, the presence of the Revs. Robert Jeffress and John C. Hagee at the embassy opening, the opprobrium directed at Israel by its global critics, the arguments by its supporters that Israel acted only in self-defense.

None of it was surprising, and most of it mirroring the usual reactions coming from the usual suspects -- all of it amplified by the Internet echo chamber.

Minds are pretty much made up on who’s at fault for the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict; among members of the news media, among members of the public, among the various NGO’s who view the conflict as their concern, and among the myriad political and religious organizations who claim skin in the game.

Why repeat all those arguments and positions here? Instead, let’s keep to a minimum the usual barrage of links to news and analysis pieces I provide to bolster my points. There’s too many to cite, anyway, and -- the truth is -- picking journalistic winners and losers is largely a function of which side in the conflict you identify with.

I've been scouring the web for pieces that reflect as many viewpoints as I can find, but my conclusions about the coverage merely reflect my own bias.

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Anti-Semitism in Germany: Prime your sources, Israel-Iran conflict could make it far worse

Anti-Semitism in Germany: Prime your sources, Israel-Iran conflict could make it far worse

The supreme irony of German anti-Semitism is that it took the horrors of the Holocaust and the near-total destruction of German Jewry to banish it from wholesale public acceptance.

These days, anti-Semitism still has a bad name in Germany, at least under the law. It's illegal there to incite hatred against Jews (and other ethnic and religious groups) or to deny and even minimize the nation’s Nazi-era Holocaust crimes.

But that hasn't been enough to keep anti-Semitism from reemerging in Germany in a big way of late, particularly among the far-right and Muslim immigrants. I’ll say more below, but for now just keep this in mind: the Israel angle.

Germany, of course, isn't the only European nation to fall prey to a re-run of what many over the years have labeled the world’s oldest hatred. Examples abound in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary and elsewhere.

Nor is rising anti-Semitism in the West confined to Europe. It's being more freely expressed in the United States -- remember Charlottesville? -- and in Canada, as well.

By way of illustration, here’s a bit from a recent story from Poland by JTA, the global Jewish news wire service. (Journalists and others with an interest in Jewish-related news should read it regularly; it's free.)

Things went from bad to worse following a row between Poland and Israel over Warsaw passing a law in January that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. The dispute unleashed the worst wave of anti-Semitism since the fall of the Iron Curtain, according to Rafal Pankowski, co-founder of the Polish anti-racism group Never Again.

In the wake of the fight over the law, he told JTA: “In the space of one month, I have seen more anti-Semitic hate speech than in the previous 10 years combined.”

Ah, another Israel-angle tease. But first, a personal aside to make my bias clear.

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ADL report headlines: What about U.S.-Israeli teen who made 'thousands' of threats?

ADL report headlines: What about U.S.-Israeli teen who made 'thousands' of threats?

Every now and then it helps to read headlines in news sources around the world and then attempt to connect some dots.

Take, for example, that headline the other day in Haaretz ("the land" in Hebrew), which is a small, liberal, but very influential publication that reaches a global audience.

The headline in question said: "U.S. Indicts Israeli-American Teen Hacker for Bomb Threats Against Jewish Centers." Here is the overture of this Reuters story:

A teenager has been indicted for hate crimes connected to threats against Jewish community centers, as well as threatening the Israeli embassy and cyberstalking, the U.S. Justice Department said. ... 
The teen is awaiting trial in Israel, where he was arrested last year. U.S. and Israeli authorities have previously charged him with making thousands of threats, including to airports, schools and Jewish centers, in the United States in 2016 and early 2017.

Later in the story, there is this statement about these activities by this young man -- who holds dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship:

The hoax threats to the Jewish community centers forced widespread evacuations and raised fears of a resurgence in anti-Semitism. 
U.S. authorities have said in court documents that the teen advertised his services on AlphaBay, a now-closed online black market, and offered to threaten any school for $30.

Now, here is my journalism question, focusing on a wave of recent headlines about anti-Semitism trends in newspapers across America (and in television coverage): Is the information contained in this ongoing story in Israel relevant to the recent wave of reports about a sharp rise in anti-Semitic activity in America during 2017?

Here is a typical headline, at NPR: "Anti-Defamation League Report Shows Anti-Semitic Incidents Rose From 2016 To 2017."

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NRA dog whistles? Israeli paper's charges have impacted American Jewish debate on guns

NRA dog whistles? Israeli paper's charges have impacted American Jewish debate on guns

The recent Florida school shooting has propelled the gun issue to the forefront of the American political drama. It's also grabbed considerable attention in Israel -- providing a lesson in how news outlets with international followings can quickly influence distant debates in our online age.

It also casts light on how a diaspora population -- in this case American Jews -- can be moved by media opinion originating in a nation, despite its distance, with which they have an historical religious or ethnic bond.

So just how did Israeli media become part of the American gun control debate?

Electrifying charges have been appearing in Israeli news media claiming that the National Rifle Association, and its Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre in particular, has subtlety employed anti-Semitic code language to rally pro-gun partisans.

Israel’s leading liberal newspaper Haaretz has led the way.

Two of its columnists, as of this writing, have bluntly asserted that LaPierre used subtle anti-Semitic language -- “dog whistles” is the common term -- in his speech at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference gathering.

Let me stress: No such charges of NRA anti-Semitism has shown up in mainstream American media reports on LaPierre’s speech.

That's understandable. Mainstream American media are loath to cast such dispersions unless it's blatantly obvious, which in this case cannot be stated unequivocally. Here, for example, is how The New York Times played the story.

American Jewish media are another matter. They display the same sensitivity toward hints of anti-Semitism as their Israeli counterparts. Within a news cycle or two after the Haaretz columns appeared, similar pieces started to appear in liberal American Jewish media.

Some needed background.

It's easy for Jews to detect even subtle anti-Semitism after centuries of overt Jew-blaming and killing. Plus, American Jews, are general liberal on domestic issues, vote Democratic, and overwhelmingly favor tougher gun controls.

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