MENKEN: When Fake News Harms the Jews

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23: The corporate logo of the New York Times hangs above the front door of their headquarters on October 23, 2018 in New York City.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Succinctly put, President Trump last week made one of the most positive moves to combat anti-Semitism ever seen from a world leader. But the media, always anxious to paint the president’s every action as wrong and even anti-Semitic, are acting true to form. In this case, media outlets such as The New York Times are doing tremendous harm to Jewish students on campus — and to simple fairness, to boot.

The president’s executive order should be uncontroversial. It simply declares that the administration will treat anti-Semitic hatred similarly to discrimination against other minority groups under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. It states that “individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices.”

Instead, the Times led with the false notion that the executive order “will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality,” rather than solely as a religion. As I wrote previously, left-wing Jews immediately deemed this a “re-classification” of Jews that would lead back to concentration camps. Others claimed this serviced the trope of Jewish “disloyalty,” as if being Jewish would make someone less American.

The executive order was not, as critics wailed, “anti-Semitism of the highest order.” This reaction, however, was insanity of the highest order.

The basis for Jews being considered a distinct people is not the Nazis, but the Bible. The Book of Exodus teaches that God took the Jews from Egypt to be His nation, and references to the Nation of Israel abound from there onwards.

But this is all a moot point, because the executive order contains no such reference to redefining Jews or Judaism as a national origin. It merely borrows language from the bipartisan Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019, which had stalled in Congress. This is why so many Jewish members of Congress, such as Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Reps. Max Rose (D-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), approved of this order. By Wednesday, even left-wing sources such as Vox’s Ian Millhiser and Israel’s Haaretzwere calling out the Times for its rush to judgment

But the Times was unimpressed. It returned days later with a new reason why students should “fear” Trump’s executive order: It might squelch free speech and thus “backfire for Jews.” 

This executive order is as timely and necessary as it should be uncontroversial. On Tuesday, two murderers with links to the black nationalist and anti-Semitic “Hebrew Israelite” cult opened fire at a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, killing four — including a veteran police officer and a 24-year-old rabbinical student. 

To be sure, hate speech is protected like any other form of speech, and no executive order can stifle it. Nonetheless, a student organization should not receive university funding to create an unsafe environment for others.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), true to form, rushed to attribute the Jersey City killings to “white supremacy” and deleted her erroneous tweet a little too late. She is anxious that Americans perceive Jew-hatred as a neo-Nazi trait, in order to cover for its most salient and pernicious current form: The storm of anti-Semitic rhetoric within our colleges and universities posing as mere “criticism of Israel.”

The executive order directs federal agencies to consider the definition of anti-Semitism provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) when identifying evidence of discrimination. Contrary to the Times’ quote from a Jewish leftist, the IHRA definition specifically states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country” is not anti-Semitic. But modern examples of anti-Semitism include “justifying the killing or harming of Jews,” “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” and calling the state of Israel “a racist endeavor.”

And that, of course, is the problem: The so-called “pro-Palestinian” movement does all three of these on an ongoing basis. Its map of “Palestine” is not that of the British, the Ottoman Turks, or even the Romans, but rather that of modern-day Israel. It calls Israel racist and advocates for its destruction — all while attempting to replicate the Nazi boycott under the name “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.” The movement in general, and the Students for Justice in Palestine on-campus organization in particular, regularly holds events honoring murderers of Jews.

It is no surprise, then, that these bigots are protesting the executive order. Indeed, under the new rules, anti-Semitic hatred cloaked as “anti-Israel advocacy” will be no more acceptable than preaching white supremacy. That is how it should be. Anyone has the right to voice hatred and bigotry — but not with taxpayer funding.

Unlike leftist Jews with little real attachment to Judaism, the Orthodox Jewish community firmly adheres to our ancient faith — and Orthodox Jews are much more likely to experience anti-Semitism. A recent survey by Ami Magazine found that 92.5% of Orthodox Jews believed that President Trump and the Republicans were more dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, compared to 1.5% who gave the nod to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Democrats. That is a stark contrast.

After this executive order, it is likely that the president’s support will trend even higher. History has taught us that anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, must be nipped in the bud before it metastasizes into a societal epidemic. President Trump is working to stop the irrational hatred of Jews from spreading, but the media are too consumed with their own irrational hatred of the president to care.


Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, the largest Rabbinic public policy organization in America.

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