It’s Time for Jewish Organizations to Stop Placing Obituaries in The New York Times
With Israel’s military superiority, there is little doubt that despite its already great cost, Israel will physically defeat Hamas. While the IDF needs our prayers and certainly benefits from our care packages and donations, there is little more we can do to assist our incredibly brave and resolute soldiers in their fight on the ground.
It is this war’s second front that needs our help, and in which each one of us must be a soldier. Much of the mainstream media, too many in the international community, and even our own elected officials here in America have cast Israel and the IDF as the immoral aggressor firing indiscriminately on civilians, rather than more accurately as the victim of heinous terror simply trying to defend her people while taking extraordinary measures to protect Palestinian civilians.
The pain of the loss of fifty-six precious soldiers, combined with our collective concern and worry for the people of Israel as rockets continue to rain down on them, is compounded by the literally unbelievable statements and comments coming from people who absolutely should know better.
This week we heard people in the highest levels of American leadership say such things as, “We have to confer with the Qataris who have told me over and over again that Hamas is a humanitarian organization,” while another said, “I’m not a military planner but Hamas puts its missiles, its rockets in civilian areas, part of it is Gaza is pretty small and is densely populated.” Despite having found rockets in three UN schools and a booby-trapped UN clinic taking the lives of three IDF soldiers, the White House didn’t hesitate from saying an Israeli strike on a UN school was “indefensible,” even without knowing the details.
While we are winning the war on the ground, by all estimates it seems we are losing the war of words. On that front, Israel and all who support her are facing many adversaries on TV, the internet, and in print. The most prestigious and authoritative media outlet, that with perhaps the largest readership and overall impact, is the New York Times.
For years, many have called out the New York Times for their bias when reporting about Israel, while even pro-Israel advocates defended their coverage. However, in this latest conflict, from the headlines, to the pictures, to the moral equivalency between Hamas and Israel assumed in almost every article, the bias and slant in the New Times are undeniable. Certainly, the paper and its staff are entitled to take positions on what is unfolding. What they are not entitled to do, though, is present their opinions as objective and unbiased coverage.
Yes, The Times has included opinion pieces that favor Israel, and no, not every single article can be accused of being unfair. However, the clearly documented overall slant of the coverage is so disturbing and offensive that in the last few weeks, many lifetime subscribers have canceled their subscription, for some something almost as painful as the amputation of a limb without anesthesia. In fact, last week, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the Rabbi of Kehilath Jeshurun and Ramaz in Manhattan sent an email to his community calling on them to cancel their subscription and “to deliver a clear message to its editor.”
Calls to boycott The Times have come before and either because the numbers were simply not effective or for other reasons, the message was clearly not delivered loudly enough to the editor. I would like to suggest that there are other addresses for us to voice our dissatisfaction with The Times’s coverage of Israel in a way that will hopefully have an impact on the fairness of their reporting, but minimally will allow us to say we participated as soldiers in the war of words being waged against Israel.
In the past month, while the conflict in Israel escalated and in the very same newspaper that included biased, negative articles, the following Jewish organizations paid to place obituaries in the paper, some of them multiple times:
The Yeshiva University family (x4) (212-960-5400)
Congregation Emanu-El Of the City of New York (x6) (212-744-1400)
Congregation Shearith Israel (The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue) (x3) (212-873-0300)
UJA-Federation of New York (x7) (212-980-1000)
Board of Directors and management and staff of Bank Leumi USA (917-542-2343)
Board of Trustees of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (310-553-9036)
Queens College Hillel (718-793-2222)
Officers and Clergy of Temple Israel of the City of New York (212-249-5000)
The Community of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (212-790-0200)
Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (x3) (212-582-9100)
The Jewish Museum (x2) (212-423-3200)
Board of Trustees and staff of The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (212-727-9955)
The Jerusalem Foundation (212-697-4188)
Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States (646-678-3711)
American Jewish Committee (AJC) (212-751-4000)
Jewish Community Center of Harrison (914-835-2850)
Board of Directors and staff of Plaza Jewish Community Chapel (212-769-4400)
Congregation Or Zarua (212-452-2310)
The Dorot Foundation (401-351-8866)
Most or even all of these organizations (I am not familiar with them all) are Zionist, pro-Israel, and are worthy of our support and appreciation. The collective amount of money they paid The Times to post obituaries, while significant, is undoubtedly not enough to impact the paper’s bottom line. And I understand that many of these organizations’ supporters and their families expect to see an obituary in The New York Times and find comfort and solace in the recognition it provides.
Yet I believe Jewish organizations using the New York Times as a vehicle to publicly memorialize and honor their donors is a tacit, while perhaps unintended endorsement of the paper, at the very time we should be protesting, not supporting it. If Jewish organizations announced that they are taking a moratorium on posting obituaries in The Times as a protest to its coverage on Israel, it would send a loud and important statement to many, including our brothers and sisters in Israel, even if it didn’t ultimately deliver a financial statement to the editor worthy of the paper changing its ways. If we agree with the premise that cancelling our subscriptions to The New York Times right now is worthwhile in an effort to communicate our dissatisfaction, shouldn’t Jewish organizations do their part by ceasing to essentially advertise within their pages?
I actually made this suggestion privately to one major organization listed above, but was dismissed. I am one person, but if many contact these organizations and respectfully encourage them to take such a leadership position, perhaps the message will get through to them.
To be clear, I am not questioning these organizations’ loyalty to Israel or their Zionist credentials. I am simply calling on them to follow exactly what so many individuals are doing, in some cases at great personal sacrifice to years of habitual reading. How can we justify the idea that at the same time that so many of us as individuals, in protesting the objectionable coverage, have cancelled our subscriptions, while these organizations continue to financially support The Times, using money we ourselves donated to them? We should encourage our Jewish organizations to contact the New York Times and protest their reporting the same way we as individuals are.
This Shabbos we begin the 5th and final book of the Torah which remarkably starts with the words “Eleh ha’devarim asher dibeir Moshe, these are the words that Moshe spoke.” The Midrash notes that the man who, when recruited by God, described himself as “lo ish devarim anochi, a person of few words,” produced a monologue that continues to resound and inspire until today.
To be a leader, Moshe found his voice and he found his words. At this critical time for Israel, so must we. If you have not yet cancelled your subscription to the New York Times, please do so immediately and be sure to register on the phone or online exactly why you are doing so. Additionally, please consider taking a moment to contact our Jewish organizations to ask them to announce that they will not place obituaries in the New York Times while its reporting on Israel is biased. Tell them that as a supporter of Israel, you are boycotting the New York Times and asking them to do the same.
You may ask: Why am I highlighting these groups or this issue and, of all of the efforts we expend for Israel, is fighting the New York Times really worth it? Yes! It is not all that we can be doing, but it is among the things we should be doing in addition to davening, lobbying elected officials, raising money for Israel, etc. We may not be able to produce enough noise to get The New York Times to change their reporting. However, it is the least we can do to find our words and show some leadership during this critical time for Israel.