We've debated before whether Westboro Baptist Church is worthy of newsprint. Probably not. But the group likely won't go away if we simply ignore it, which seems to be what The Washington Post had in mind when leaving any mention of Westboro out of this story about their protest at the school the Obama girls attend.
Westboro is notorious for protesting outside soldier funerals and for its slogan "God Hates Fags." Lately, Fred Phelps' church has turned its attention to "filthy, Christ-reject Jews." (Excuse their poor grammar and check out the e-mails I've been getting.)
Religion News Service picks up on this strategic change for the "anti-gay church." From reporter Matthew E. Berger:
Taking a break from yelling at passersby and singing homophobic lyrics to the tune of the Jewish celebratory song "Hava Nagila," Margie Phelps explained the change in tactic. "We've protested this nation's love of f**s for 20 years," she said. "And Jews have been carrying the water for the homosexual agenda."
"This is more about generating ink and outrage than it is about attacking Jews per say," said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. "But their language is absolutely Hitler-esque. They talk of filthy Jews and Jews murdering Christ."
Since April, Westboro members have protested more than 200 Jewish institutions and sent thousands of anti-Semitic faxes to American Jewish officials. "I guess they felt it was a successful tactic," said Deborah Lauter, the national civil rights director for the Anti-Defamation League.
The knee-jerk reaction from many Jewish groups has been to counter protest, and some Hillels and Jewish organizations have formed elaborate programs to drown out Westboro's cries. But because the church's protests are often small and short, Jewish leaders have suggested organizations ignore them instead.
"They're doing this to try and provoke, so we don't believe it is in the community's best interest to engage with them," Lauter said. "We believe it's just giving them too much attention."
But sometimes it is hard to fight the urge.
There is a lot packed into this story -- a lot of great details which really paint the picture. But Berger doesn't really answer the question of why it may be hard to fight the urge. Maybe he thought it was too painfully obvious, but not all readers would agree.
Just look at what Westboro did with Hava Nagila in the above video.
There is a much deeper historic context here. It's hundreds if not thousands of years old. (Actually, it's most certainly the latter.) It's quite different to attack Jews for supporting gay rights than for, saying, killing Jews and using the blood of gentile children in their matzo, but how might protests directed at Jews as Jews look like the anti-Semitic attacks that every Jews grows up learning about -- and many still experience, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on college campuses.
To be sure, Berger picked up on a trend here that I have seen mentioned nowhere else -- a trend that hammers home the fact that Fred Phelps and his Westboro follows aren't going away. The forest is there, and so are the trees. But the general landscape seems to be missing.