Jewish media

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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A laugh-or-cry correction: In Florida shooting story, AP hears 'sit and shiver' instead of 'sitting shiva'

A laugh-or-cry correction: In Florida shooting story, AP hears 'sit and shiver' instead of 'sitting shiva'

Here at GetReligion, we always enjoy a good correction from the world of religion news. Yes, it's a character flaw for which we probably need to repent.

But who can forget a few years ago when The Times of London reported that John Paul II was the first non-Catholic pope? They meant first non-Italian pope.

Or remember when NPR referred to "the late evangelist Rev. Billy Graham" — a year and a half before he actually died?

Well, now The Associated Press has issued "a correction for the ages," as one Twitter user aptly characterized it.

Here is the correction:

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — In a story Feb. 22 about the Florida school shooting, The Associated Press misquoted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel in some versions of the story when he spoke about the families of the victims. He said, “I’ve been to their homes where they’re sitting shiva,” not “where they sit and shiver.”

As you might imagine, Twitter has taken notice of AP's mistake:

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As more journalists report on Iceland's circumcision saga, the country gets a rabbi

As more journalists report on Iceland's circumcision saga, the country gets a rabbi

Iceland, pop. 348,580, is smaller than many U.S. counties but it often makes news totally out of proportion to its size. I recently reported on the country’s attempt to become the first nation in the world to ban circumcision.

The post was inundated with a wave of comments from anti-circumcision activists who ignored the journalism question raised in my post. Tmatt says he spiked at least two dozen of these messages. So, before you read any further, please restrict any comments to the quality of news coverage on this issue, not your own views on the legal and religious issue itself.

But do read my article and the lengthy response by Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson on what the true issues are in Iceland about circumcision.

Then I learned a few days later that Chabad Lubavitch, possibly the most outreach oriented Orthodox Jewish group out there, plans to send a rabbi and his family (pictured above) to Reykjavik sometime next fall. Most of the coverage came from Jewish media, such as this piece by the Jewish Telegraph Agency: 

The Chabad movement is sending a rabbi and his wife to Iceland, an island nation with 250 Jews where ritual slaughter of animals is illegal and circumcision is likely to be outlawed as well.
Rabbi Avi Feldman, 27, of Brooklyn, New York, and his Sweden-born wife Mushky, are slated to settle with their two daughters in Reykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital city, later this year, the couple told JTA last week.
The country is not known to have had a resident rabbi servicing an active Jewish community there since 1918, the year it gained independence from what was then the Kingdom of Denmark.

The piece then updated readers on the circumcision debate in Iceland, then quoted Feldman’s response.

“We hope to bring awareness of the relevance and importance of brit milah,” the rabbi told JTA, using the Hebrew-language word for Jewish ritual circumcision, which is typically performed on boys when they are eight days old. “We hope to bring this awareness to local Icelandic people and especially to lawmakers in their decision on rules, which we hope will have a religious exemption clause.”

Chabad.org has by far the most details on the new rabbi and Iceland’s sparse Jewish history

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Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

All over America, and perhaps the world, people are trying to make sense out of the actions of the mysterious millionaire (we think) gunman Stephen Paddock.

That isn't news. But in a way, the only big news that we have is that there hasn't been any big news since this vision of hell unfolded on the Vegas Strip.

The waiting continues. The one thing mainstream journalists (and their sources) seem to agree on is that the massacre in Las Vegas just doesn't make sense, it doesn't fit into any of our familiar intellectual file folders that we use when tragedy strikes.

Islamic State terrorism? There are debates, but no evidence that has been made public.

Some other form of religious or political fanaticism? Lots of talk, but no evidence.

Massive gambling debts? Ditto. Some kind of mental breakdown, maybe a brain tumor? Maybe science will give us an answer? Maybe chemistry? Paddock was taking Valium, along with legions of other people. So there.

The bottom line: What happens to our minds and hearts if this act turns out to be random and senseless, now that the gunman is dead and cannot explain his actions? What mental file folder do we use then to help us move on, other than the one that says, "Where was God?"

During this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I defended my statement -- made at the end of my very first Las Vegas massacre post -- that there was a religious element to this event, no matter what. In fact, a massacre with no answer to the "Why?" puzzle is especially troubling, in terms of "theodicy" questions. I said, at that time:

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