The Media’s Inability to Uniquely Condemn the Uniqueness of Antisemitism

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Reprinted from Honest Reporting.


The recent Israel-Hamas conflict led to a disturbing rise in antisemitism in the United States, which has been documented in alarming figures compiled by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other Jewish groups. During pro-Palestinian rallies and marches that were held during the month of May, numerous videos and reports emerged of Jews being verbally and physically assaulted. There were also countless antisemitic incidents in public that did not target a specific individual, but Jewish people in general. While this distressing trend has garnered some media coverage, there is a distinct aspect to the manner in which the phenomenon is denounced.

It should go without saying that all forms of racism and bigotry are abhorrent. Anti-black prejudice, Islamophobia or anti-Asian hate, for example, are inexcusable and must be rejected. However, when a particular type of racism is being perpetrated against a specific minority group, it is unhelpful to compare it to other types of bigotry without running the risk of diluting the important message being conveyed.

So it was when there was a surge of antisemitism in the United States earlier this year that so many media outlets and politicians were unwilling to address this unique problem without also referring to other types and incidents of bigotry.

An NBC News article from May 21, Antisemitic incidents heightened across U.S. amid Israel-Gaza fighting; mosques were damaged, too, demonstrates this problem. Most of the article is dedicated to reporting of antisemitic incidents that occurred in U.S. cities, as well as the figures from the ADL. Included in the story is an embedded tweet that shows a Jewish man being brutally beaten by a mob of people, some of whom are holding Palestinian flags, as well as reference to “confrontations” that occurred in a New York City district that is known for its many Jewish-owned stores.


The article goes on:

But Muslims are also grappling with acts of vandalism and bias.

The incident in which a Brooklyn mosque was daubed with anti-Palestinian graffiti and a case of a mosque in Long Island being vandalized are then detailed. However, it offers no current statistics to show a rise in Islamophobia, instead referencing previous spikes in anti-Muslim bias in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the San Bernadino shooting. Furthermore, notice the use of the word “but” to qualify the previous paragraphs which contained figures about recent antisemitism. A report on the rise in violence and harassment directed at Jews cannot, it seems, be done exclusively.

A New York Times article is case in point. In the May 21 piece, Dozens arrested after conflict in Gaza leads to clashes in Times Square, a video is included showing protesters, who are waving Palestinian flags, swearing at passersby and calling them “Zionists.” The article references other antisemitic occurrences and highlights the research that showed a dramatic rise in anti-Jewish incidents both online and in the streets. It then continues:

Data on anti-Palestinian incidents in recent weeks is less clear, but several mosques nationwide have reported damage or been vandalized, including the Tayba Islamic Center in Brooklyn, where the words “Death to Palestine” were spray painted near the front door last week. 

Amid the accounts of antisemitism in New York, the NYT inserted an oblique reference to Islamophobia by drawing attention to “several” incidents of mosques in the United States being damaged or vandalized. Of course, Muslim places of worship being targeted is unacceptable, but by inserting reference to it into an account of what is primarily anti-Jewish violence that occurred at pro-Palestinian rallies the NYT manages to distract from and downplay the central issue.

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Politicians in the US have also been reticent to specifically call out antisemitism without referring to other forms of hatred. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo criticized the anti-Jewish violence that had occurred on his city’s streets, he also referenced other minority groups, despite there being no evidence that they were at increased risk of assaults or harassment at the time. “I unequivocally condemn these brutal attacks on visibly Jewish New Yorkers and we will not tolerate anti-Semitic violent gang harassment and intimidation,” he said. “Those of all faiths, backgrounds and ethnicities must be able to walk the streets safely and free from harassment and violence.”

Likewise, when a number of members of the US House of Representatives moved to issue statements denouncing the rise in antisemitism amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, they couched this condemnation in criticism of bigotry in general. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) released a statement that read: “I strongly condemn the rise in anti-Semitism and islamophobia we’re seeing across the country. Let me say it again: our freedom and our destinies are tied. The struggle for liberation and justice requires all of us to reject hate and division in any form.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) even managed to shoehorn an attack on Israel into her statement: “There is no room for anti-semitism in the movement for Palestinian liberation,” she tweeted. “Our critique is of Israel and their human rights abuses. This is not an excuse for anti-semitic hate crimes.” In essence, they are remarkably equivocal statements from politicians whose own inflammatory language, such as describing Israel as an “apartheid state,” may have contributed to the rising anti-Jewish sentiment.

Meanwhile, Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene somehow managed to walk back on a comment in which she compared House members being obligated to wear face masks to Jewish people being forced to wear gold stars in Nazi Germany without using the words “antisemitic” or “Jewish” once. “There are words that I have said, remarks that I’ve made that I know are offensive, and for that I’d like to apologize,” she rambled.

This reluctance to completely and unambiguously censure antisemitism goes back further than the most recent conflict in the Middle East. In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, in which 11 worshipers were murdered, the United States Congress’ attempt to pass a resolution that focused on antisemitism was eventually reworded to include all forms of hate after opposition from some House members.

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While any type of bigotry and racism cannot be tolerated in any society, even more so in democracies, antisemitism must stop being linked with other forms of prejudice.

How can the world’s oldest hatred be combatted if it is not unequivocally called out?


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