Readers respond to rabbis’ attack on Jewish Advocate
On January 10, 61 mistaken Massachusetts rabbis issued a Soviet-style mass-signature denunciation letter against the Boston Jewish Advocate for its honest reporting on the Newton schools anti-Israel curriculum controversy. The rabbis were upset that the Advocate dared to call “into question the truthfulness and integrity of some of the finest and most dedicated leaders of our community.” Apparently, the rabbis are not aware that speaking truth to power is the function of a free media. Alternatively, they are displeased that free media exists in America. Here is the list of all the rabbis who signed the letter. Is your rabbi on the list?
The letter was organized by Rabbi Howard L. Jaffe. This is not the first time that Jaffe has abused the position of his pulpit and the good name of his congregation by engaging in sinat hinam and lashon hara against fellow Jews he happens to disagree with politically. As with Jaffe’s last attempt, the Boston Jewish community rejected the rabbis’ tactics and all letters published in the Jewish Advocate the following week defended the newspaper and criticized the rabbis. Read for yourself:
January 17, 2014
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Leadership is acting ‘jealously’
The response by the rabbis led by Rabbi Howard L. Jaffe (The Jewish Advocate, Jan. 10) to Alexandra Lapkin’s article concerning the controversy over the Islam-inspired teaching materials in the Newton schools tells us nothing about the integrity or competence of either Ms. Lapkin or of The Advocate. But it tells us much about the motives and attitudes of the rabbis.
The rabbis express their purpose clearly. The rabbis admonish The Advocate for publishing an article that displeases them and they issue an implied threat: The Advocate is expected to do better because the rabbis lead “congregations” and “other Jewish communal organizations and institutions” that they will turn against The Advocate.
I am confident that Ms. Lapkin has the courage and competence to deal with threats more than adequately.
The ongoing personal attacks in these pages against Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) that appear, at first glance, as arising merely over their different views of Newton school and Northeastern University issues actually are based upon fundamental issues of control that concern every member of the Jewish community. A review of the exchanges reveals that the struggle is over the following, fundamental questions for the Jewish community:
Who is entitled to define anti Semitism? Which statements, acts, and failures to act by individuals and institutions are anti- Semitic? Which of them must be endured as expressions protected by the First Amendment or those within the parameters of academic freedom?
Who is entitled to craft the plan, the methods and the means of combating anti-Semitism?
Who is entitled to execute the plan for combating anti- Semitism?
The Jewish establishment jealously answers all of the above questions with “the Jewish establishment,” and Charles Jacobs acts independently, thus questioning their monopoly on power, on funds and on control.
ROBERT SNIDER, Attorney
Newspapers have the right to ask questions
The Jewish Advocate recently ran two stories calling for transparency on the part of community leaders and questioning their veracity in the face of conflicting statements about the existence of a report on the Newton curriculum.
In response, people connected with CJP have expressed outrage at The Advocate, calling it “irresponsible”; the ADL has reportedly told The Advocate that it will no longer advertise in the paper; and 60-plus rabbis have signed a letter to the effect that criticizing community leaders is inconsistent with Jewish law.
It pains me to have to point out the obvious fact that the freedom to engage in full and open debate about the actions of public leaders is the single most important cornerstone of a free democracy. Suppression or inhibition of that right, by trying to silence individuals or undermining the economic viability of the press that would publicize their concerns, undermines our individual freedom.
The press provides an average citizen the opportunity to question, in public, the community’s leaders. CJP and ADL are funded by millions of dollars of community money. Any citizen should be able to question whether the leaders of those organizations are acting properly without worrying that he might be publicly chastised by rabbis. A newspaper should be able to print those questions without worrying that it might be boycotted. Not in a free and democratic society.
I hope that our community agencies and our spiritual leaders will remember the words of Thomas Jefferson: “Our first object should therefore be to leave open to [the citizen] all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”
‘An actual attack that requires a response’
I have been following the ongoing coverage of the [Newton Public Schools’] use of “The Arab World Studies Notebook” and “A Muslim Primer” in the pages of The Advocate. I have been saddened by the ongoing controversy.
I am not sure which has been more damaging and dangerous: the materials that the Newton school system allowed into their curriculum, or the lack of transparency and trust in the ability of the Jewish community to assess the evaluation of said materials by some of our premier advocacy organizations. “There is a report” has changed to “There is no report.” “I read the report” has changed to “I heard the content of the report.” What capped this off for me was the comment by Mr. Burton of the JCRC saying that he would prefer to “respond to actual attacks on the Jewish community.”
Thus far, this certainly feels like, looks like, and smells like an actual attack that requires a response. Sadly, our leadership organizations seem to be unwilling to meet this challenge.
Leaders’ words are ‘troubling’
Journalistic ethics often demand the “calling into question” of community leaders’ statements. Reporters have no duty to support inconsistent versions of stories told by “the finest and most dedicated leaders” of a community. That questioning community leaders strengthens rather than damages the fabric of communities is one premise of ethical news reporting.
The Advocate reported, in its coverage of the CJP/ADL-Newton Schools controversy, statements made that were accurately described as “inconsistent.” A defining claim was made that, based on the reporter’s supporting timeline evidence, appears to have been ipso facto disingenuous.
There is nothing questionable about The Advocate’s ethics in presenting that evidence in good faith. Readers will decide on the strength of the defense presented in the rabbis’ response letter (The Jewish Advocate, Jan. 10) based on the specific claim and the timeline.