Times of Israel

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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Swedish neo-Nazis plan march near synagogue on Yom Kippur: Is scant advance coverage a good thing?

Swedish neo-Nazis plan march near synagogue on Yom Kippur: Is scant advance coverage a good thing?

How’s this for a spiteful poke in the eye?

The neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) is planning a march, with the approval of the local police, that will pass near the main synagogue in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city. And when will they be doing that, you might wonder?

Why on Yom Kippur, of course, the holiest day on the Jewish liturgical calendar, which this year begins on Friday evening, Sept. 29, with the haunting Kol Nidre recitation. (Yom Kippur is part of the Jewish High Holy Days, also referred to as the High Holidays, which begin with this week’s celebration of Rosh Hashanah.)

Poke, poke, poke -- ouch!

Sweden is hardly the only Western European nation where anti-Semitism -- defined as hatred of Jews as a group or Judaism as a religion, for whatever the reason -- has become an increasing public issue of late.

The U.K.’s Mirror, for example, last month ran a piece saying one in three British Jews is considering leaving the nation because of anti-Semitism. Reporting survey results, the paper said only 59 percent of the nation’s 270,000 Jews still feel comfortable living in Britain.

In Germany, the head of the growing right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-European Union Alternative for Germany party said just the other day that rather than continuing to lament his nation's instigation of the Holocaust, Germans should instead be "proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars."

Additionally, the head of the European Jewish Congress earlier this year said anti-Semitism is becoming increasingly more openly expressed across Western Europe.

Dr [Moshe] Kantor said: “It is truly disturbing that in living memory of the Holocaust, today in Europe we have a situation where the far right in gaining popularity in every major country on the continent. It is once more becoming acceptable in polite circles to openly make anti-Semitic, xenophobic and bigoted remarks, all under the cloak of national patriotism. ...

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Matzoh marketing: Bloomberg offers a clever read on culture, marketing of Judaism lite

Matzoh marketing: Bloomberg offers a clever read on culture, marketing of Judaism lite

When I studied in France as a college sophomore, my host family in Strasbourg were Sephardic Jews, which means I got immersed in Friday Shabbat observances, visited a synagogue where I had to sit in a women-only section and learned the history of the exodus of Moroccan Jews to France. My host family were known as pied-noirs; people who fled North Africa when the anti-Semitism started getting rough.

When I returned to my college in Portland, Ore., I was so fascinated with the culture I’d seen in Strasbourg to the point where I enrolled in a Shabbat course at the local Jewish community center. Learning the Hebrew prayers over the bread and wine plus the candle-lighting ceremony took some time, as did learning the lighter aspects: Israeli folk dancing, baking the famous braided challah bread and learning appropriate Sabbath songs.

Which is why I was amused to see a Bloomberg piece extolling Shabbat observances as the new chic. Titled “Selling Judaism, Religion Not Included,” it begins as follows:

In 2015, while traveling in Israel with 80 young tech professionals, Meghan Holzhauer fell in love with Shabbat dinner, the ancient Friday night tradition in which Jews bless candles, challah, and wine, then share a meal with loved ones. She was so inspired, in fact, that she started spreading the love. In March her travel startup, Canvus, took 40 young professionals to Mexico City, where they celebrated a multicultural Shabbat dinner. She’s now organizing a hip-hop Shabbat for 400 people attending a social justice conference in Atlanta in June. “A lot of Jewish rituals are about honoring friends and family,” she says. “You feel part of something bigger.”
Holzhauer isn’t Jewish. She was raised “Christian-light” by nonpracticing parents, she says, and has no interest in converting. As she explains it, a non-Jew finding inspiration in the Sabbath—or traveling to Israel for that matter—isn’t so different from the millions of non-Buddhists who practice yoga or go on meditation retreats to India. “It’s the latest way that ancient traditions are meeting modern life,” she says.
If there ever was a moment when Shabbat was poised to become the new yoga practice, it’s now…

The article then jumps to the woman behind it all:

“Jewish culture is in the mainstream, it’s popular, and that’s something any brand would want to jump on,” says Danya Shults, 31, founder of Arq, a lifestyle company that seeks to sell people of all faiths on a trendy, tech-literate, and, above all, accessible version of Jewish traditions…  It offers holiday-planning guides; Seder plates designed by Isabel Halley, the ceramicist who outfitted the female-only social club the Wing; and interviews with Jewish entrepreneurs, as well as chefs who cook up artisanal halvah and horseradish. 

It’s really too bad Bloomberg didn’t include a comment section along with this piece, as I would have loved to have seen peoples’ reactions. As we read along, one cannot tell whether the piece is serious or tongue-in-cheek.

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Another First Amendment ghost: Did debate with an evangelical trigger Farook?

Another First Amendment ghost: Did debate with an evangelical trigger Farook?

It's the question that everyone keeps asking police officers and FBI leaders: What caused Syed Rizwan Farook to dig into his massive arsenal of pipe bombs and ammunition and fly into action? What was the motive for the massacre in San Bernardino?

One question leads to another. Was this workplace violence? Was he provoked, somehow? In his mind, was he on a mission from Allah? Was Farook planning an even larger act of violence against unbelievers and crusaders, but something at that office party made him fly into action on this day?

From the beginning, I have been curious to know more details about the "holiday party" that Farook briefly attended, before leaving (some witnesses said in anger) and returning with his wife Tashfeen Malik to slaughter his co-workers.

News coverage has mentioned that the room contained Christmas trees and other decorations. In a previous post, I asked if there was a Menorah in the room, to mark the Hanukkah season. Was there a moment when someone lit the Menorah and perhaps said a prayer? Did someone sing a Christmas carol?

Another question raised in online talks among the GetReligionistas: What was on the menu? Were there foods in the room -- pork, for example -- that a Muslim would consider impure?

However, some journalists have now locked in on a specific question linked to the massacre. What did Nicholas Thalasinos say and when did he say it?

Yes, there is a chance that the First Amendment is going to take a hit in discussions of his massacre, since there was an evangelical Christian present -- a Messianic Jew, to be precise -- who had previously talked about politics and faith with Farook. To make matters worse, Thalasinos may have criticized Islam and suggested that Farook needed to convert to Christianity. Thalasinos was even an NRA supporter.

Was this the trigger (speech) on the gun?

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Jewish lives matter: BBC, Al-Jazeera slammed for headlines on Palestinian attack

Jewish lives matter: BBC, Al-Jazeera slammed for headlines on Palestinian attack

The Times of Israel and the Israeli government went GetReligion on two networks -- BBC and Al-Jazeera -- for their mishandling of an attack on Jews in Jerusalem and the counterattack by Israeli police.

The drama began on Saturday evening, when a teen stabbed three people in Jerusalem, killing two and wounding the third.  Police shot the attacker at the scene. BBC then outraged many Israelis, including Israeli media, with its headline: "Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two." Sounded like the shooting had nothing to do with the attack. And that it mattered that the shooting victim was Palestinian but not that the stabbing victims were Jews.

After a public outcry, the news network changed its headline several times, but only drew more ire. The headlines weren’t cited in the Times, but they were by a group called BBC Watch, to which the article gave a link.

BBC's second headline was better but still tone deaf: "Jerusalem attack: Israelis killed in Old City 'by Palestinian.' " Looked like sarcasm quotes, meant to cast doubt.

Third try: "Jerusalem attack: Israelis killed in Old City by Palestinian," no quote marks.

Fourth try was the charm: "Jerusalem: Palestinian kills two Israelis in Old City."

BBC Watch still expressed ire: "In other words, professional journalists supposedly fluent in the English language had to make three changes to the article’s headline in not much more than an hour." The organization also faults BBC for not reporting that Hamas and Fatah praised the dead stabber, Mahannad Halabi. (Then again, neither does the Times of Israel in the story above.)

At least the article appears to get the facts straight:

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What language did Jesus speak? The Tablet knows

So, did the pope and Israel’s prime minister have a rancorous exchange in Jerusalem over the topic of Jesus’ mother tongue? One thing is certain: Headline writers had a field day with the “spar”, as Reuters characterized the encounter. Was it a “spat,” as per The Chicago Tribune? Did they “publicly bicker” as per The Age of Melbourne? Did Francis “correct” Netayahu, as Time reported? Or was the National Post  correct in calling it a “quibble”?

Commentators were quick to jump. I’ve seen a fair number of anti-Semitic comments on Facebook, as well as anti-Catholic ones (I move in mixed circles), that denounce Francis or Netanyahu with vigor.

Carolyn Glick of The Jerusalem Post noted the political ramification of the remarks, placing them in the context of what she saw as a failed papal visit that set back Catholic-Jewish relations.

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Is Christian Zionism off the NY Times radar?

Comments given to an American church audience in 2011 by an Israeli rabbi, who stood for election this week to the Knesset on the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) ticket were a one-day wonder over the weekend in the Israeli press. Atlanta-native Jeremy Gimpel was lambasted by the liberal press in Israel for allegedly calling for the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim mosque built atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to be destroyed and replaced with a new Temple.

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