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November 19, 2010
Is Washington Post coverage of Israel crossing the line into anti-Semitism?
Accusations of anti-Semitisms should be used with the greatest of care, especially when aimed at critics of Israel and some of its policies. Yet, there is also a a growing awareness that such criticism all too often does cross the line and morphs into anti-Semitism.
So how does one distinguish perfectly permissible criticism of Israel from downright anti-Semitism?
The latest such attempt comes courtesy of the U.S. State Department, which just issued a stern warning about "significant increases of anti-Semitism around the world."
One such strain of anti-Semitism was described at an international conference in Ottawa on new and old forms of anti-Semitism by Hannah Rosenthal, a State Department official who holds the rank of special U.S. envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
The State Department, she announced, uses Natan Sharansky's framework for identifying when someone, or some institution, or some government crosses the line into anti-Semitism?
So what are these criteria that State borrows from this most famous of Soviet refuseniks? And do they fit the incessant barrage of Israel-bashing articles in news sections of the Washington Post, coupled with the paper's silence about warts, blemishes or shortcomings on the Palestinian side?
In posing this question, I do not point a finger at the entire journalistic output of the Washington Post, nor on all journalists who work there. The Post's editorials, for example, are laudable examples of fair, balanced analysis and advocacy. My interest is limited solely to dispatches by Post correspondents based in Jerusalem.
So how do these "news" articles in the Post stack up against the State Department's definition for recognizing anti-Semitism, as Rosenthal enumerated these criteria in her Ottawa address?
--Does the incessant drumbeat of hyper-critical reportage end up demonizing Israel? Check.
--Do Post dispatches hold Israel to a different standard than other countries around the world? Check and double-check. The frequency of critical Post stories about Israel is totally disproportionate to pieces about gross abuse of human rights in any other country.
--Do hyper-critical Post stories about Israel in their frequency and totality abet delegitimization of Israel? Check.
--Is there a discernible "obsession" with Israel in the news pages of the Post? Check.
Rosenthal, in her address in Ottawa, did not single out the Washington Post or any other U.S. media. But her criteria for defining the new wave of global anti-Semitism have an eerie resemblance to what appears in the news pages of the Post.
And once such definitional criteria become quite evident in the pages of the Washington Post, the inevitable conclusion, to borrow from Rosenthal, is that such cases don't amount to mere disagreement with or criticism of Israeli policies -- instead, "this is anti-Semitism."
Rosenthal and the State Department are not the first to spotlight this new form of anti-Israel criticism morphing into anti-Semitism. When Larry Summers was president of Harvard, he spoke out against a campus campaign by some students and faculty to divest from Israel. Summers noted there were no such divestment or boycott moves against any other country in the world -- only Israel was singled out.
When that happens, Sommers famously said, the result is "anti-Semitism in effect, if not in intent."
When it comes to the news pages of the Washington Post, one is left to conclude sadly that if the shoe fits... Or, as the old saying goes: "If it walks like a duck, squawks like a duck.....Well, you can fill in the rest.