Conservative Jewish journalists use bogus censorship claims to try to silence critics
The end Voice of the village Journalist and civil libertarian Nat Hentoff loved telling the story of how three rabbis, meeting at a Massachusetts motel in 1982, officially excommunicated him from the Jewish people for the crime of signing a New York Times publicity to protest against Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. That their clerical authority to extinguish Hentoff’s Judaism was not recognized by anyone other than themselves is a source of both comedy and anger. In politics, even the smallest of factions can claim that their extremism matters, but at the heart of this absurdity is the grim human desire to censor and silence anyone who deviates from the party line.
And so joining the three rabbis in this tragic comedy are the 900+ signatories of what is now called the “Jewish Harper’s Letter, “published by the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values, alleging that an undefined” social justice ideology “argues that there is” only one way to look at the problems we face, and those who disagree must be silenced. “They claim that this” the suppression of dissent violates the core Jewish value of open discourse “(Jewish Telegraph Agency, 5/5/21). This is called the “Jew Harper’s Letter “because it echoes and extends a letter signed by journalists and academics on censorship, published in Harper’s (7/7/20; FAIR.org, 8/1/20).
So far the letter has received some general attention (Newsweek, 5/5/21), given the notoriety of certain rabbis, academics and journalists who signed it, such as New York Times columnist Bret Stephens and his former colleague Bari Weiss. The letter never says how their opinions were silenced, nor does it name a specific group, individual, or school of thought that implements such a chilling effect. The signatories, many of whom are prominent journalists associated with the Jewish right, also fail to reveal their own unease with free speech, their own desire to suppress speech, and their own extremism.
For example, Weiss (which now manages its own newsletter at Sub stack) tried to silence critics of Israel at Columbia University (Intercept, 3/8/18). Stephens alerted the boss of an academic because he called the columnist a “bedbug” on Twitter (NBC, 08/27/19). Liel Leibowitz, a signatory and Tablet writer, said that Jews should not go to university because of the ideas to which they might be exposed (Tablet, 10/28/18) – or, as he put it, because university is a place where “tenured professors train like-minded fanatics, and students are punished or rewarded for their willingness to lend. allegiance to their wacky dogma ”.
The lack of specificity in the letter is no accident. Defining so vaguely an ideological enemy will allow these individuals, many of whom are to the right of the political spectrum, to employ the charge of overly censored “social justice” rhetoric when they deem it necessary.
Since much of the letter is aimed at racial discord – the letter says that in matters of “racial justice” Jewish organizations “do not encourage discussions that include different perspectives” because “in some cases , Jewish leaders even denounced Jews for having opinions “- presumably this responds to American Jews who in recent years have aligned themselves with Black Lives Matter, Abolish ICE and Antifa, who have responded to both the rise of extreme right-wing extremist groups and state violence in border enforcement. and overly militarized policing. The letter refers to the Republican hype about the “culture of cancellation,” idea that the price to pay for offending “social justice” activists means losing your job or your media platform.
“This is not a new phenomenon,” said Joshua Shanes, associate professor of Jewish studies at the College of Charleston. “The idea that [the left] betraying liberalism is an old trope for stopping progress, dating back to the 1930s and then to the “neoconservatives” in the 1970s and 1980s ”.
The point is that while the Jewish right claims to be silenced or defamed in the media by the left, the Jewish right and its allies have harshly criticized liberal Jews and in some cases attempted to misrepresent them. The right-wing Zionist Organization of America criticized the Jewish immigration group HIAS for opposing the Trump administration (Jerusalem post, 8/24/20), and the ZOA also attempted to punish campus Jewish groups for criticizing Israel (American prospect, 1/4/07). DePaul University has rejected the tenure of anti-Israel researcher Norman Finkelstein, following his famous feud with pro-Israel lawyer and Trump advocate Alan Dershowitz (Inside higher education, 6/11/07). When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an executive order against the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, he did so not in a vacuum, but in “a speech at the Harvard Club in Manhattan in front of an audience, including local Jewish leaders and lawmakers “(New York TimesFrom 6/5/16).
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The former US Ambassador to Israel compared liberal Jews – that is, the majority of American Jews – to Nazi collaborators (new York, 12/16/16). Chicago-based Palestine Legal published a report on the highly coordinated activity to silence critics of Israel across the country – a report which, unlike the JILV letter, cited specific examples, such as how Florida politicians attacked the president of the Florida State Student Senate over “the social media posts he made against the Israeli occupation.”
The JILV “is an opaque foundation project linked to Republican megadonor Adam Beren,” the Before (5/6/21) reported. Lila Corwin Berman, professor of history and Jewish studies at Temple University, told FAIR: “It is concerning when an initiative purporting to ‘defend liberal democratic values’ is far from transparent as to its source. funding. ” She added: “It seems that a basic condition for sustaining free and open debate would be to avoid covert or unaccountable modes of influence.”
Leo Ferguson, director of strategic projects at Jewish for Racial and Economic Justice, told FAIR:
The letter demonstrates a cynical and willful misunderstanding of the liberal political tradition, of the meaning of free speech and dissent, and of the mechanisms at work in a free market for ideas. Let’s be clear: the almost exclusively white signatories of this letter are not motivated by an absolute commitment to political free expression. On the contrary, many of these people have led the charge to pass anti-BDS bills like Israel’s anti-boycott law, which is about as illiberal and censored as you can get in a country with a First Amendment. Ultimately, the least subtext of this letter is that conservative white Jews really don’t like being labeled racists. But just because they don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not true.
It’s easy to laugh at the academic and journalistic elites who believe they are being censored, but the real tragedy of the letter is that the signatories are supporting a robust Jewish debate as their guiding tradition, when they genuinely want their ideas to go. undisputed in the market for ideas. These signatories have every right, in the name of both free speech and the American constitution, to say whatever they want, however controversial it may be. But it also means that Jewish leftists and “social justice” activists have the right to respond in kind. The anti-awakening, anti-social justice right, to quote Hentoff again, wants “freedom of speech for me, but not for you.”
Weiss said in his resignation letter that his conservatism was under attack while he was at the Time because her colleagues ridiculed her and she faced nastiness Twitter (New York Times, 07/14/20). But the gritty world of journalism in New York City is home to many editors and sources who like to complain to reporters about their coverage.
As for online harassment, sadly this is the world every journalist faces in the age of social media. Julie Ioffe faced considerable anti-Semitic harassment after writing a critical profile of Melania Trump (GQ, 4/27/16), an attack that Trump, whose husband would later become president, blamed on Ioffe (Washington post, 05/17/16). I was put on an alt-right results list (Before, 10/19/16), and was harassed by the Nazis on Twitter when I defended Antifa (Ha’aretz, 6/7/20). Welcome to the club, Bari. If you don’t like it here, maybe writing is not for you.
This failed attempt to portray “social justice” as some sort of anti-free speech mob is only funny until you place it in the context of a conservative movement that is taking legal action to ban or threaten certain ideas (such as proposed laws against boycotts against Israel) and to protect violence against protesters. I have already written for FAIR.org (10/23/20, 2/16/21) that right-wing anger over “culture cancellation” and “revival” are often only projections of the right’s desire to censor left. The Jew Harper’s Letter “is just another chapter in this right-wing disinformation tactic.