Let me begin by saying that I will not get into the specifics of the alleged charges or about the circumstances which surround their fifteen minutes of fame.
Instead, I would like to address a very troubling pattern that the media has been guilty of for quite some time. And what’s amazing to me is that almost none of the countless organizations or elected officials concerned about anti Semitism are addressing it.
When it comes to our community, the media delivers the news by gleefully describing the individuals involved based on their religious affiliation or in the context of their geographical location. This is unacceptable.
Just this past week, a New York Times article published on April 5th informed us that the FBI was investigating possible perks offered to police officials “by members of the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn” and continued to say that “agents were focused on two Orthodox businessmen.”
Similarly, a news article in the Wall Street Journal informed us in its very first sentence that the Mayor is facing questions about investigations “that involve supporters in the Orthodox Jewish community.” Scroll down another few paragraphs and again, it repeats that the investigations involve “members of the Orthodox Jewish community.”
A CNBC story opens with allegations about a probe involving “members of Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish communities,” and adds in the very next paragraph that “investigators (are) looking into two Orthodox Jewish businessmen.” Lest we still don’t get it, we are made aware further in the story that “hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews live in communities throughout Brooklyn,” and that the investigation is focusing on “prominent members of the often insular and politically powerful groups.”
And so on and so forth.
We are living in an age of political correctness, for better or for worse. This means that in most cases the press will bend over backwards not to offend others. In doing so, they seek to demonstrate that all are created equal and that society and government should be fair to everyone without discrimination. These are all noble and virtuous objectives.
Yet for some reason, when it comes to the Orthodox Jewish community, no one feels obligated to even pretend to play by these rules. Instead, they are delighted to besmirch an entire community just because a lone businessman is in the headlines or is accused of an alleged misdeed. Suddenly, he is identified by his religion.
Imagine the uproar if we were to take out the word “Jewish” in any of these articles and substitute “Catholic” or “gay” or African American” or “Latino.” That uproar would certainly be justified. People should be judged as individuals, not in terms of their ethnic background.
To the best of my knowledge, in the two recent stories that have dominated the news, none of the alleged misdeeds were in any way related to the way these individuals worshiped or to their religious background. Yet newspapers as highbrow as the New York Times blatantly publish their stories with quotes about these individuals as being members of the Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish community. What’s the relevance here?
Yes, I understand the media’s fascination with our community. They enjoy calling us insular, although I have no idea why. To the best of my knowledge, the vast majority of our community is engaged in normative behaviors that are expected of society at large. We raise families, we go to work in the morning, and so on. Just because we have our own standard code of conduct which may sound old fashioned to some, that doesn’t mean that we are insular. If it does, then I carry that title proudly.
Yes, many of us dress distinctively Chassidic and I suppose I can understand the legitimate fascination with this. ( I should add, of course, that we should be extra careful not to act offensively even in a benign way as that could lead to a negative portrayal of an entire community.) But that doesn’t mean we should be condemned to the annals of insularity or portrayed as manipulative or as drags on society.
I’ve also noticed that the media, even when begrudgingly acknowledging what could be very positive aspects of our community, they do so in a negative way. Even when stories focus on Hatzolah or any of our myriad chesed/social service organizations (largely funded by the community itself), that too is portrayed negatively as if we only care for our own people and not for society at large. Growing up in Boro Park as a child, I wish I had a nickel for every time an elderly Italian woman called Hatzolah to come and save a family member. Our community is a model community which should be emulated by society at large. And it should be portrayed as such.
Our community provides a vast infrastructure and a social safety net for those less fortunate. That means there’s additional dollars available in the general budget of our city, state, or federal governments for other purposes. In the realm of education, our families don’t utilize the public school system. That translates into savings of untold billions for the taxpayer. We have organizations that feed the poor and heal the sick and the infirm and we try to keep our neighborhoods safe. We do this because we care about each other. But the city at large benefits as well.
I wish I was wrong about this tendency on the part of the media, but it happens way too often and I can no longer remain silent. Can someone explain to me how identifying someone immediately as a member of a specific Jewish community can be described as mainstream professional journalism?
I call upon every responsible news outlet to immediately adopt a fair and proper standard. This should not be tolerated by anyone, and especially not by the various Jewish organizations and elected officials who profess to care about our community.
I sit in amazement, really shocked at how our own elected officials who represent us have lost their voice here. I have not seen them rise to the occasion to defend the fine reputation of their constituents. Normally, they are the first to condemn, protest, or take action, even on international affairs when they feel Jewish lives/honor is at stake. Yet now the silence is deafening.
Most of the organizations have remained silent as well, except for a lone statement of protest by the ADL. Clearly, this is not enough.
It seems to me that there’s a certain underlying attempt by the media to delegitimize an entire community. They are quick to point out any perceived failures. But they won’t even make a half hearted attempt to acknowledge our strengths and self reliance in many areas.
Media outlets should take a good hard look at themselves and once and for all put an end this yellow and sensational journalism.
If nothing more, they are guilty of incitement. And they know it.
Ezra Friedlander is the CEO of the Friedlander Group, a public policy consulting group based in New York City and Washington DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org