Last month, the director of the organization’s New York-New Jersey region sent a letter to the publisher of The Jewish Press expressing concerns about articles denigrating LGBTQ people. The Brooklyn-based paper largely serves the Orthodox Jewish community.
The letter from Evan Bernstein to Naomi Mauer specifically mentions a July op-ed, titled “The Pride Parade: What Are They Proud Of,” that likens gay people marching in the Pride Parade to animals, adulterers and thieves.
“One of the obvious differences between man and animal is that man can curb his desires while animals cannot,” Irwin Benjamin wrote.
Bernstein wrote a letter to the newspaper on July 18, a week after the op-ed appeared.
“[W]e are especially concerned about the impact that The Jewish Press’s use of editorial discretion will have on LGBTQ Jewish youth, in particular, who may already be questioning their place in the Jewish community,” the letter said.
The ADL said it sent the letter in response to more than 25 complaints submitted through its website about the paper’s articles.
Three days before the letter was sent, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency had reported on accusations that the editor of the paper, Elliot Resnick, repeatedly made racist and homophobic remarks on his Twitter account. Resnick in social media posts over the last year has called African religions “primitive” and the gay rights movement “evil.” He also questioned the existence of white supremacists and white nationalists and asked how an adult having sexual relations with a teenager constitutes assault.
At the time, Resnick defended his comments to JTA. Mauer, the publisher, said she told Resnick that the tweets were “unacceptable” but that the paper was not taking any further action.
The Jewish Press describes itself as “the largest independent weekly Jewish newspaper in the United States,” and has a print and online circulation of 95,000, according to its publisher. The publication says it champions “Torah values and ideals from a centrist or Modern Orthodox perspective.” It was a JTA client before ending its subscription in December 2014.
ADL said it made multiple attempts over the span of a month to secure an off-the-record meeting but was unable to do so. Mauer told JTA that the paper had agreed to a meeting, but the ADL canceled when The Jewish Press insisted that it be recorded.
“How recording the meeting would defeat their stated purposes eludes me,” Mauer wrote in an email. “Frankly though, I think that their attempted spin underscores the wisdom of recording the proceedings.”
Asked about ADL’s criticism of the articles, Mauer said the paper was open to hearing its concerns but that as an Orthodox paper, it aims “to reflect the teachings of the Torah in all of our work.”
“We are mindful, however, those teachings are sharply inconsistent with the fundamental views of [t]he LGBTQ community,” Mauer wrote. “But we are also not in the business of trying to hurt people. A meeting with the ADL, given their recent focus on LGBTQ issues, we thought, would help us to better determine whether we were within proper journalistic guidelines in our treatment of those issues — or whether our language can easily be misconstrued.”
Meanwhile, Bernstein told JTA that having off-the-record meetings with publications is standard protocol for ADL.
“We wanted to have a discussion, not something that was going to potentially be used in print,” he said. “We wanted to be able to have a private discussion, and we were not able to have a private discussion, and that’s a shame.”
While Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law prohibit homosexual acts or same-sex physical relationships, a number of Orthodox authorities have called for sensitivity to observant Jews who are gay. Last month, a young Orthodox man from South Africa committed suicide in Israel, reportedly because he was struggling with his sexual orientation.
“The story here is about the teenagers within the LGBTQ community and the struggles they are facing within the Orthodox communities in which they live,” Bernstein said. “Many of these teenagers are shunned from the only lives they know after they come out, and these same communities have access to and could likely read these Jewish Press articles.”