This is cross-posted by Richard, at his blog: Essays on the Arab Israeli Conflict
A disturbing trend has been developing over the past few years. One in which vile anti-Semitic rhetoric can be found coursing through the comments section of articles on Israel or Jewish subjects in almost any mainstream media publication.
I first noticed the trend in the blog section of the British publication the Guardian UK. There the Guardian seems to have made it one of its main objectives to delegitimize the existence of Israel, and subsequently demonizes anybody that dares to support Israel. Its modus operandi is the application of the new anti-Semitism, which can be identified by two primary factors:
- It projects traditional anti-Semitic tropes onto Israel (the Jew of the world), that insinuate that they magically control the media or politicians (in Israel’s case, control the American government), portray them as Nazis, or as being driven solely by greed or their hunger for money
- The coverage and criticism of Israel is extremely disproportionate to that of other nations in similar situations or just as newsworthy for other reasons
For a separate blog post on this subject, see Israel, Europe and the New Anti-Semitism
For the most part, the Guardian was the only mainstream publication that took such bold steps to use the new anti-Semitism in mainstream blogs. It did not, however, allow its journalists to use it in regular articles, thereby being able to claim that the opinions expressed in the blog section known as Comment is Free were not necessarily their own, while still being able to promote their political agenda. The comments section of these blogs are a cesspool of barely veiled anti-Semitic sentiment. And the Guardian does little to discourage this discourse. It was so bad that a group of activists set up a monitoring website to document the anti-Semitic comments and the Guardian’s lack of actions to stop it, known as CiF Watch.
Over the course of the past two years, the phenomenon of anti-Semitic discourse in the comments sections of articles in mainstream publications has grown dramatically. All of the sudden one can find them in places like the New York Times, CNN, even the Wall Street Journal. Another location which this phenomenon has become particularly notable is the Huffington Post. It got so bad there that another activist setup a website to expose this activity in the blog The Brothers of Judea. Previously known as The Huffington Post Monitor. [Editor’s note: the new site is actually called Huffington Post Monitor, not the other way around]
One of the driving questions has been why would all of these seemingly respectable mainstream publications tolerate openly anti-Semitic dialogue in their comments section. They all too often seem willing to allow it to take place unmoderated. I personally experienced this on numerous occasions in the Huffington Post. One in which the word “Zionist” was used by one of the moderators as an insult. Which is discussed in a piece I wrote titled Zionist as a Racial Slur.
There are a few theories which try to explain why respectable publications allow this dialogue to take place. One popular view has it that it has to do with profitability. It’s no secret that the international media is in crisis mode, with no small number of publications struggling for their existence. It seems that the international press has not managed to transition into a profitable online model and find it difficult to make money. The business model of online advertising works on the basis of what is known as click-through rates (CTR). The more traffic (clicks) a publication can get on their website, the more money (or advertisers) they can draw. If you can show advertisers that you have traffic, they’ll pay money to advertise on your website.
And while articles on Israel are a magnet for traffic (it’s a subject everybody seems to want to read about, otherwise the media wouldn’t write about it so much), it seems that anti-Semitic discourse is what keeps them clicking. Whether due to anti-Israel activists (including 1 billion Muslims worldwide) who delight in Israel bashing, Israelis or Jews looking to defend Israel, good peace-loving folk that have somehow been convinced that Israel is the source of all evil in the world, or just regular passers-by that have a penchant for the gruesome, much like the gapers delay that builds up after an accident on the highway. Online publications seem to have decided that it is in their interest to let this discourse take place, rarely if ever interfering. Because in the end its profitable, and they’ve experienced no backlash from this practice.
Indeed, the mainstream media is all too aware of the offensive comments, and enable this offensive, even racist dialog take place because it brings traffic.
Last week, this trend took one giant leap forward when Time Magazine published an article with a Jewish star emblazoned across its cover and with it the headline piece titled “Why Israel doesn’t Care About Peace.”
Daniel Gordis, Senior Vice President of the Shalem Center wrote an excellent blog post detailing why the Time Magazine article is anti-Semitic (highly recommended reading). In it, he points out that: “The first page of the article is a full-page photograph of an Israeli at the Tel Aviv beach. He’s got an enormous tattoo on his right arm (a Star of David, of course), dark sunglasses, and closely cropped hair. At first glance, he looks almost like a skinhead – and there’s an Israeli flag fluttering in the background.” In other words, the writer is painting the average Israeli as a Nazi using images, without making a verbal accusation. And yes, portraying Israelis as Nazis, or the is considered anti-Semitic. Particularly when there is no real similarity between Israelis and Nazis. At least, not any more so than any other soldiers engaged in an ongoing conflict in other places the world.
Everything about the article smacks of one-sided accusations. It only accuses Israelis of not caring about peace, painting Israel as a state of Shylocks who as long as they can make money, don’t care about peace (and subsequently are willing to oppress if not exploit the Palestinians indefinitely in their quest for money). All the while ignoring the fact that the Palestinians do everything in their power to avoid negotiations, having waited 9 months into Israel’s 10 month building freeze to “agree” to negotiations, while threatening if Israel renews building it will walk away, an obvious ploy to avoid negotiations while accusing Israel for their failure.
Or like both PA Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas and Palestinian Negotiator Nab’il Sha’ath’s most recent pronouncement that the Palestinians will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state because then it would mean that the “Palestinian refugees can’t return to their homes.” In other words, the conflict will never be over until millions of Palestinians, most who have never stepped foot in Israel, are flooded into the Jewish state. Some call that the destruction of Israel. But these inconvenient facts seem unimportant to the author of the Time Magazine piece, for it is obviously only the Israelis who are at fault in his mind.
And as Mr. Gordis additionally notes: “The worst, though, is still the cover. Across bookstores and airports this week, Time’s cover will scream to those who (wisely) do not read the story that it’s Israel, and Israelis, who simply don’t care about peace. It’s a setup, of course. Because these talks are likely to stall, and then to fail. And Time has already predicted whose fault that will be.”
The progression of anti-Semitism in the mainstream media is all too clear. I’ve noticed it and blogged about it often. And more and more people have created forums to discuss it regarding this or that website. But until now, for the most part, the mainstream media has relegated it to the comments section of its pieces. At least attempting to keep up the appearance of objectivity on subjects that touch upon Jewish issues like Israel.
And that’s what’s really concerning about Time Magazine’s putting an article so clearly using anti-Semitic tropes on the cover of its printed edition. It signals a move from mainstream media only being willing to tolerate racist comments to their articles (for click-through rates?), to actually promoting these ideas themselves. And it can be theorized that this most stark evolution in the willingness to make these references stem from one of two reasons.
- These outlets have determined that the type of B grade writing in which an issue is half addressed while weaving in anti-Semitic drivel the likes that haven’t been seen in a mainstream media outlet since Hitler’s Germany, pays. This is troubling because it means that not only is hate a profit driver for a business, but that a large cross-section of the public agrees with it and is willing to read it. Furthermore, with its being published in a printed edition means that it’s not only about the click-through rate. It means that Time Magazine see that people aren’t only going in to the comments section of a website (a free activity) to read mudslinging, they’re actually willing to pay for the printed edition. Probably not surprising, seeing how as I mentioned earlier, a billion Muslims worldwide like reading this material, and that magazine cover appearing in airports from Rome to Rihjad, London to Los Angeles overcomes any concern about a negative reaction.
- That publishers and editors embrace these beliefs themselves. That the mainstream media has gone anti-Semitic not because it makes good business sense, but because it’s an ideology they see fit to propagate.
I don’t know which of these two scenarios is worse. I also have to say that I’m a bit concerned with those members of the Jewish community I grew up with, the liberal activists out there so admirably making their opinion known that they support the right of the Muslim community to build the Cordoba community center in Manhattan, and who vehemently condemn the planned burning of Korans on September 11th by the Rev. Terry Jones, seem hesitant to openly voice their concern about the incitement against Jews taking place in many of the very articles they read in places like the Huffington Post. And if it’s because they haven’t noticed it up until now because maybe they don’t bother to read the comments, maybe its time they took a look for themselves.
Maybe one of these days soon some bold reporter will be willing to write a proper article about this phenomenon and some bold mainstream publication will be willing to publish it and examine why this is happening. Though I won’t hold my breath.
Many will still continue to claim that what they’re seeing is simply “legitimate” criticism of Israeli policies. I have no problem with legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, as long as it’s proportionate to Israel’s actions, takes into consideration the circumstances and intent of these actions, and is made in light of the actions of other nations living under similar circumstances. But what many people still miss is the fact that unbalanced criticism of Israel that takes the form of anti-Semitism isn’t necessarily criticism of Israel, it’s an expression of hatred towards Jews by proxy. And sooner or later, much like the transition from comments sections of online media to the front page of Time Magazine, the proxy anti-Semitic sentiment may transition from being projected onto Israel and the “Zionists” as we see in Europe with the new anti-Semitism, to attacking those that dare to support her, and then finally, directly at Jews.
Shana Tova and G’mar Hatima Tova