MEDIA COMMENT: Sowing hatred

The Jewish people are, on a global scale, small in numbers. But with all the differences between us, there is a fundamental solidarity.

A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday's shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 31, 2018 (photo credit: CATHAL MCNAUGHTON/REUTERS)
A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday's shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 31, 2018
The horrific murder in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue touched almost every Jewish soul, as well those of non-Jews. The outpouring of grief and consternation was felt everywhere – in the United States, Israel, Europe and elsewhere. In such times, the Jewish people gather in solidarity. Although one cannot equate it exactly with the anxiety and identification with Jews in Israel that occurs when Israel is attacked or goes to war, something of the same “can do” spirit was there.
The Jewish people are, on a global scale, small in numbers. But with all the differences between us, there is a fundamental solidarity perhaps most eloquently stated by our sages close to 2,000 years ago: “All of Israel are responsible for each other.” Ecclesiastes taught us that there is a time for everything, a time to cry and a time to love.
This was the spirit – except among too many of Israel’s leading journalists.
The opening salvo came from Arieh Golan. On Sunday morning, in the aftermath of the massacre when the shock was greatest, he had nothing to say after the 7 a.m. news but that the solidarity with the congregation in Pittsburgh was essentially fake, since these are Jews of Judaism’s Conservative stream, which, he declared, Israel has forsaken.
Next was Arad Nir, Channel 2 TV news editor. Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett was fittingly sent to Pittsburgh to represent the government and express Israel’s solidarity with the community in Pittsburgh. Nir was sent there ostensibly to cover the events. Appropriately enough, he interviewed Bennett. In his two-minute “interview,” these were his questions:
• Was Israel mistaken in the manner in which it related to the voices heard here and should Israel start toning down its proclamations?
• Regarding the friends of Israel who have an antisemitic background, perhaps Israel errs here?
In response to Bennett’s admonition that this is not the time for divisiveness, Nir lectured, “We should learn a lesson from this that would prevent such occurrences in the future.”
Bennett continued with his message of solidarity, but Nir would not be swayed, asking, or perhaps more accurately, stating, “But Conservative and Reform communities here feel estranged from Israel.”
Bennett noted that no one that he met had raised these issues, but rather that everyone was thankful for the presence of Israel’s representative at that time. In response, Haredi journalist Yossi Elituv summarized on his Twitter account: “When Arad Nir is in a state of post-trauma, no one can help with first aid. Bennett tried, but Nir insisted on evading reality.”
PERHAPS THE most outrageous act came from that icon of thinking people, the Ha’aretz newspaper, which seemed to be attempting to sow hatred, one of its strong points. It blatantly misquoted Chief Rabbi David Lau in an interview. No less a personality than Andrew Silow-Carroll, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an organization not noted for Orthodox or right-wing leanings, took Ha’aretz to task.
The interview was picked up by the American media and in the Washington Post. The headline was, “Pittsburgh shooting was widely reported in Israel, but not all media noted it took place in a synagogue.” As quoted by Silow-Carroll, the article itself stated: “In an interview with Makor Rishon, a newspaper aimed at the modern Orthodox community, the country’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, David Lau, referred to Tree of Life synagogue as ‘a place with a profound Jewish flavor.’” Both Lau and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the Post posited, “stopped short of recognizing that it took place in a synagogue.” Even The Jerusalem Post’s Susan Hattis-Rolef in an op-ed article this Monday fell for the fake news.
Silow-Carroll was outraged and did his homework. In the interview, Rabbi Lau stated: “There is nothing to discuss about their affiliation. They were killed because they were Jews! Does it matter in which synagogue they pray in or what text they use?” In other words, Ha’aretz, on whom the Washington Post based itself, used the Pittsburgh massacre to portray the chief rabbi as a person who cannot overcome his biases in the face of grief, while the truth is that it was Ha’aretz that did its best – and succeeded – to present the rabbi in a negative light. This was then circulated by no less a newspaper than The Washington Post.
THE TRUTH is that this is not news. It so happens that one week later, left-wing Israelis celebrated the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin with their festival of hatred. The assassination was a tragedy, for all Jews, all around the world, irrespective of their political leanings. The Rabin memorial day should be respected by all of us. The central message should be that we cannot afford again to forget the terrible aftermath of the assassination of Gedalyahu ben Achikam almost 2,000 years ago. The only real answer to the act is and should be solidarity.
But no, this is not to be. Veteran left-wing commentator and branja (in-crowd) priest, Amnon Abramovitch, penned an op-ed for Yediot Ahronot. Its subtitle was rather positive: “For the purpose of union and peace, we should all make an effort to tolerate the other and stand together against Rabin’s murder – not for his legacy.” But of course, he could not leave it there. In describing the processes in Israel society, he claimed, “Religious Zionism, which was in shock following Rabin’s murder, held a national emergency conference under the title “preventing the radicalization process among youth” and since then, the group changed its strategy from a defensive one to offensive, and its youth members became more extreme.”
The bottom line of Abramovitch is that indeed we should unite – but only if the right wing beats its breast and takes all the blame for the assassination and all the ills of Israeli society, such as the “occupation.”
Unfortunately, conservatives in Israel know that when the Rabin Assassination Festival Season sets in, they have to bury their heads deep in the sand and just wait until it blows over. No matter how much they wish that this day could be a symbol of Israeli solidarity, it is not to be. Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein refused to participate in the hate festival, knowing well that it would not lead to anything positive. Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi barely managed to finish his speech; the crowd’s attempt to drown him out nearly succeeded.
Had our media been doing its job, it would have centered its energy this week in making sure that next year’s memorial day for Rabin would be what we all wish for, a day of mutual respect and reconciliation. Had the media been more attuned to the needs of the Jewish people here and in the Diaspora, and less willing to play along with extremist “progressive” groups in America who sought not to fight antisemitism but rather attack President Donald Trump politically, unity and mutual recognition could have been achieved.
But no, too many in our media prefer to sow hatred, not love.
The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch (