People have a choice to be knowledgeable or ignorant about history and current events. But when it comes to my fellow journalists, I expect that they always will embrace the former and avoid the latter, as well as allow reason to trump emotion when expressing one’s view on a particular issue. Unfortunately, a few recent developments made me reconsider those expectations with regard to anti-Semitism.
Let me start with longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, whose nearly 60-year career came crashing down in June when she resigned as a columnist for Hearst News Service at the age of 90. The (dare I say early) retirement came following controversial comments she made to a rabbi and independent filmmaker who videotaped her angrily saying that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to their land of origin – be it “Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.”
What’s almost as startling to me, a proud Jewish journalist, is that Thomas, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon, noted in a recent radio interview that she said “exactly what I thought” at the time, and assuming a highly defensive posture, that people “cannot criticize Israel in this country and survive.” Her response to a question about whether she’s anti-Semitic: “Baloney!” I’m surprised she didn’t add: “And some of my best friends are Jewish.”
Anti-Semites, just like other types of bigots, can’t help but deny such charges because they refuse to take responsibility for their words or actions. They are among the truest cowards and truly ignorant, which is the premise of what I’m trying to say. We all know that when people prejudge something, it’s done out of ignorance – not knowledge.
Another fairly high-profile journalist whose foot recently was firmly implanted into his mouth is Rick Sanchez, who insinuated in a satellite radio interview that Jews controlled CNN, where his gig as a commentator was coming to an end, as well as other networks, and that Jewish comedian Jon Stewart, who also hosts the Daily Show, is a bigot. In another comment prompted by a
discussion of Stewart, who made many jokes at Sanchez’s expense prior to all the controversy, the Cuban-born broadcast journalist who’s on a book tour sarcastically challenged the notion that Jews are an oppressed minority.
The chief difference, though, is that Sanchez later acknowledged that he made offensive comments and had a chip on his shoulders before issuing what sounded like a sincere apology, including a reference to Stewart being “the classiest
guy” based on the comic’s reaction to the dust up.
Ironically, I encountered first-hand yet another example of the deep hostility reserved toward Jews soon after composing an e-mail message to Sanchez through Facebook scolding him for those comments (I might add prior to his public apology). In this case, I was reminded about the frustratingly uphill battle that so many of my fellow Jews feel when trying to defend Israel’s right
to exist as a Jewish state while attending the Society of Professional Journalists’ annual convention in Las Vegas where I happened to be speaking on a panel discussion about the nuts and bolts of freelance writing.
Included in my attendee bag was a 36-page booklet produced by an organization called American Muslims for Palestine called “Rising from the Ashes: Gaza’s Indestructible Spirit.” While I understand criticisms of the Israeli government and found the report interesting as a journalist, I can’t help but feel as both a journalist and Jew that the research represents just one side of a complex and emotional argument. It’s worth mentioning that this group had a booth in the exhibit hall, and I’m sure they spared no expense in disseminating this slick presentation.
But it troubled me that I had no choice but to be greeted with a document that many of my fellow Jews would consider to be Arab propaganda and that the views expressed by the American Muslims for Palestine would be aired to journalists in a vacuum without any counter argument. It made me feel helpless.
I can only hope that most, if not all, of my fellow scribes try their best to serve as conduits of tolerance and understanding with sincerity in their hearts and minds. To me, journalism is still a noble and beloved profession, albeit imperfect. I also have seen all too often how U.S. citizens so easily scapegoat the media and take a free press for granted at a time when journalists are being
killed all over the world in record numbers in pursuit of the truth. Maybe this is a pipe dream, but as I said earlier, I expect more from people who are in the business of gathering and disseminating facts. And maybe then the American public will once again respect and admire this great institution we all call the Fourth Estate.