WASHINGTON — How can the alt-right be both anti-Semitic and pro-Israel?
Should Jewish media be objective or be advocates for the Jewish people?
How did Jewish media miss Donald Trump’s electoral strength?
These were a few of the topics discussed by a joint panel of the American Jewish Press Assn. and General Assembly (“GA”) of the Jewish Federations of North America, Nov. 15, at the Washington Hilton.
The panel was moderated by Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor of JTA, the global news service of the Jewish people.
Panelists included Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward; Dovid Afune, editor of the Algemeiner; and Sara Weissman, editor of New Voices and executive director, Jewish Student Press Service.
Among the points and counterpoints made by the panelists:
The ADL released a report of some 2.5 million anti-Semitic tweets.
Point: This number speaks for itself. Counterpoint: Does the fact that some 70% of these tweets came from a very small number of accounts render the figure marginal at best? Is the Twitter universe merely an echo chamber on the subject of anti-Semitism?
How powerful is the “alt-right?” Point: Very powerful. Counterpoint: As a “coalition of the disenfranchised,” it is yet not known just which groups make up this group. Is it just a bunch of crazies, or something bigger and more sinister?
How can the alt-right affirm both Israel and anti-Semitism? How can it be against Jews and for Israel? Maybe: It identifies Jews with its enemy, the left, but sees Israel as a successful example of nationalism.
Should the Jewish media be objective or an advocate for the Jewish people?
Point: Whatever a Jewish journalist decides professionally, he should ask whether it serves the Jewish people. The late Elie Wiesel was quoted as holding this position.
Counterpoint: The Jewish people are best served by the truth. Jewish journalists should stick to the truth. This is the best advocacy for the Jewish people.
Counter-counterpoint: Of course, Jewish journalists should stick to the truth, but in selecting which stories to publish, the best interests of the Jewish people should be the determining criterion.
Many Jewish newspapers decide which stories to run based on how much traffic on social media they generate.
How did the Jewish media miss the story of the electoral strength of Donald Trump? Perhaps Jewish media paid so much attention to BDS that they overlooked the Trump phenomenon.
For Jewish millennials, BDS is not merely a political issue. Jewish students need to be lab partners with classmates who are pro-BDS, or in other close classroom or dorm settings. The issue is not just between groups such as Hillel and Students for Justice in Palestine.
Some said that the Trump campaign was much more accessible to Jewish media than the Clinton campaign. Why? Point: Perhaps the Clinton campaign took the Jewish vote for granted. Counterpoint: Perhaps the Clinton campaign felt that if it highlighted its support for Jewish issues, such as Israel, this would alienate other interest groups in the Democratic coalition.
Point: the only difference between the Reform movement and the Democratic Party are the holidays.
Counterpoint: Jews identify much less with ritual and Israel than with issues such as fair treatment of immigrants, reproductive rights, caring for the oppressed and preventing genocide.
Point: The issue most missed in the election is Trump’s pledge of $25 billion for private school tuition tax credits. “The #1 contraceptive on the upper East Side [of Manhattan] is the high cost of Jewish day school tuition.” “The upper West Side, too.” “So many would love to send their children to Jewish day schools but can’t afford it.”
Counterpoint: Separation of church and state is what has made American Jewry the freest Jewish community outside Israel.
(One panelist made both the point and counterpoint.)
The election of Donald Trump generated tremendous angst among the great majority of the Jewish journalists at this conference. “If one minority group is targeted, the Jews are not far behind.”
On the future of Jewish journalism: “It has never been more important to have a free and independent Jewish media.”
Why Jewish journalists and Jewish newspapers find themselves in straits:
“Our profession made a big mistake 20 years ago by putting all of our content online for free.” [The IJN has never done this].
“Now we need to educate people about the importance of maintaining the Fourth Estate.”
“You have to build a community around your content.”
“Jewish journalism is more than informing the public — it’s about checking in with your community.”
* * *
The annual Rockower Jewish journalism awards banquet was held in Washington’s Spy Museum. Yes, a museum dedicated to spycraft.
As was noted by a museum spokesperson at the banquet, “Why are we able to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine without worrying whether we will be attacked? Intelligence. This museum educates about the importance of intelligence for the safety of America.”
What else is included in the significance of The Spy Museum? A spymaster’s covert, personal hint: March 12, 2017.