Earlier this year I was surprised to find my views characterized by NBC News this way: “Mandel has criticized the ADL for not always defending Israel’s government when people criticize its policies toward Palestinians.” That sentence linked to my 2022 Commentary essay on the Anti-Defamation League, in which I use over 2,500 words but never in any combination that would suggest NBC’s bizarre mischaracterization.
I couldn’t figure out how the reporter even got from point A to point B until he offered to adjust the phrasing in a way I might find more accurate, which is to say accurate at all. I appreciated his willingness to do so, especially since his suggestions were a thorough education in how and why the media’s reporting on Israel and antisemitism are so consistently and wildly inaccurate.
Would it be more accurate, he offered, to say I was critical of the ADL for supporting progressive politicians who criticized Israel’s government? No, it would not, but from his question, the problem was now apparent.
Western news services quite clearly have stock phrasing for various situations and hold to them rigorously when the subject is Israel or antisemitism. The two have been conflated not by oversensitive Jewish readers but by the supposed victims of this conflation: the media and anti-Israel activists. In my article, I had written critically of the ADL for excusing or ignoring left-wing antisemitism. To the reporter (or his editor), either or both using some unholy merger of a newspaper stylebook and Rosetta Stone, this translated automatically as “criticism of Israel.”
One of the strangest recent such cases comes from the New York Times. Heading into the weekend, the Times announced that its writer Jazmine Hughes had resigned after her editor brought to her attention that she had violated, for the second time this year, company policy on joining public declarations of political protest that compromise the Times’s declared objectivity. Specifically, we are told, she broke the rules “by signing a letter that voiced support for Palestinians and protested Israel’s siege in Gaza.”
Voicing support for Palestinians doesn’t sound like a terribly irreparable ethical breach. But as Mediaite’s Caleb Howe points out, the letter actually says: “Israel’s war against Gaza is an attempt to conduct genocide against the Palestinian people.” Now we’re getting somewhere. Click on over to that petition and you find actual, if weak, justifications for Hamas’s Oct. 7 rampage, which included chopping apart babies and raping women in addition to standard mass murder. “We stand,” say the signers, “with [the Palestinians’] anticolonial struggle for freedom and for self-determination, and with their right to resist occupation,” using the now-famous euphemism for making the land Judenrein by force. “Words alone,” we’re later told, “cannot stop the onslaught of devastation of Palestinian homes and lives.”
Thus we have our usual media translation: writers and artists call to kill the Jews, and the Times characterizes it as “protest[ing] Israel’s siege.”
I also noticed, among the signers, the name of the writer Viet Thanh Nguyen. Nguyen is a big fan of signing letters; an event at 92NY (formerly the 92nd Street Y) featuring Nguyen was canceled after he signed on to a different open letter about the Jewish state. That letter also falsely accused Israel of genocide, falsely claimed Israel has imposed a system of “racial domination” over Palestinians (one would have hoped a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist would have more familiarity with words) and other assorted lies and incitement. As a Jewish institution, 92NY obviously objected to Nguyen using Jews as a platform for his own enrichment while whipping up anger at the Jewish people during a global pogrom.
Can you guess how the Times reported 92NY’s decision? Of course you can: Nguyen was being punished because “he signed an open letter critical of Israel.”
Although it is obviously insane to suggest that Nguyen was the victim of “cancel culture,” I’m sure some people have been unfairly punished. But it’s hard to know, because while “pro-Palestinian speech” isn’t being suppressed, there have been consequences for those publicly cheering on the mass murder of Jews at a time when that call for murder is being taken up by fellow marchers. The conflation of the two by advocates of the Palestinians muddies the waters. Others, like Jazmine Hughes, have been disciplined by employers for repeatedly and knowingly violating company policy. (Hughes’ first transgression was apparently an attack on her employer’s reporting on transgender policy.)
It would certainly appear, then, that Jews are merely being used as a convenient scapegoat in many cases. The consequences of that ploy cannot be found in any open letter, but it is rather easy to locate in any history book.