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.

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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.

Which is to say, that journalists are inclined to quickly move on. We’re anxious, by nature, to find the next sexy headline-grabber.

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting massacre has moved out of the daily news cycle, replaced by the Thousand Oaks county-dancing shooting massacre, the aftermath of the midterm elections and what I see as President Donald Trump’s latest perversion of his office. (No sense providing an example here. It, too, will likely be supplanted by another one by the time this post is published.)

All of which is to say that the ongoing coverage of anti-Semitism — both because of journalism’s flighty nature and the Darwinian exacerbation of this trait by the current news business environment — generally recedes between dramatic outbursts.

Again, it’s not that journalists in the democratic West do not care about anti-Semitism. It’s just the nature of journalism to move on; too quickly and way before the coverage can fully expose the depth of the ugliness in question.

What, if anything, can be done?

First, I’d say the key is local coverage, by religion reporters — but certainly not religion specialists alone. The relevant interviews may be tough to obtain, but why not attempt to find  out why those ordinary folks, as opposed to their public spokespeople, who dislike Jews or Judaism actually dislike them?

For example, how is it that an Illinois Republican congressional candidate, who ran as a  self-identified Nazi sympathizer and avowed anti-Semite, garnered 26 percent of the ballots cast in his district last Tuesday?

Yes, he was disavowed by state and national Republican leaders and was badly beaten by the Democratic incumbent. But who were the more than 56,000 voters who cast their ballots for a Nazi in this suburban Chicago district?

Reporters stationed at polling places in an attempt to speak with his supporters as they left might have found out. Yet, I could find no such story on the web when I searched.

Second, reporters could stay abreast of what American Jewish and Israeli news media are reporting on the issue. Why? Because in accordance with another journalistic truism, vested interests go a long, long way toward dictating coverage.

It’s just the way it is. Black media have historically provided broader coverage of anti-black racism. Outlets that market themselves to homosexuals look for stories about the travails of gays and lesbians (and now transsexuals). And Christian media seek out stories on Christian religious expression and the issues that impact their followers in the public sphere.

On Saturday, the same day that the Times of Israel ran the stories listed above, GetReligion ran a post by my colleague Clemente Lisi urging journalists to read independent, “alternative” Catholic websites (as opposed to news from church agencies and offices) to gain additional views about the church hierarchy’s handling of the ongoing clergy sex scandal cover-up.

There’s no need to read alternative Jewish or Israeli media. There are plenty of reliable Jewish and Israeli media free of tight control by official voices.

Certainly this is the case when talking about anti-Semitism, where the opposite reality rules — no report of anti-Semitism, no matter how minor, goes uncovered. That’s because Jews know that the sum of the past remains very much a part of the present.

Just read any of The Times of Israel, The Forward (which has published a list of historical essays and books offering valuable insights into the anti-Semitic mindset), The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, JTA, the international Jewish wire service; the Jerusalem Post, The New York Jewish Week or The Algemeiner.

They're all in English, some are free online or allow a sampling of free-reads each month. They run the liberal-conservative political gamut, and when it comes to anti-Semitism they all report largely the same basic information, They do, however, argue over whether the danger is greater from the left or right (both are growing more worrisome, in my opinion).

Or just read your local Jewish newspaper, if your city has one.

The point is to keep up with this historical scourge and not to drop meaningful journalistic attention in between events as dire as Pittsburgh or Kristallnacht.

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