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On NR’s (Several) Disgraceful Swipes at Jews
Several days ago, National Review ran a news item about the rise in anti-Semitism in the tri-state area. It had this bizarre quality of trying to give both sides of the situation, but here’s the problem: on one side of the “issue” are Jews getting massacred and on the other, people who call those same Jews “locusts.” The piece intended to give “context” to the rise in tensions, but it operated under a false pretense: there is no excuse for anti-Semitism, Jews are not to blame for Jew-hatred. The writer, Zachary Evans wrote,
The ultra-Orthodox population is also a heavy user of government resources such as Medicaid and food stamps. This is due to the perception that many of the men either don’t work or make low salaries, choosing instead to devote their time to studying religious texts.
“Many in the community look at the Hasidim as locusts, who go from community to community . . . just stripping all the resources out of it,” said a Jewish, but not ultra-Orthodox, resident of upstate New York. The resident, who vociferously objects to ultra-Orthodox development and asked not to be named for fear of retribution by the ultra-Orthodox community, added that “nobody here doesn’t like them because they’re Jews. People don’t like them because of what they do. Rural, hardworking people also want to live our lives too.”
The entire premise was moot considering the assailants in Jersey City and Monsey; they weren’t neighbors of Jews concerned about “overdevelopment” or any other issue bigots across the tri-state area have clung to in order to explain their anti-Semitism against Hasidic Jews. The attackers in both the Jersey City and Monsey attacks drove from out of town to perpetrate their crimes; they weren’t motivated by anything but hate.
In this bizarre news item, the victims of these attacks are portrayed as crooks, moochers and “locusts” and the bigot using this kind of language is protected because he’s afraid of retribution.
It was victim-blaming and incendiary at a time where Hasidic Jews are under attack daily across the New York and New Jersey area.
Online, conservatives and liberals lit the piece on fire. Editors at NR got calls, emails and even an in-person visit from Jews concerned about how the publication allowed the victims of a spike in hate crimes to be portrayed. In response to this outrage, NR ran a bizarre follow-up note on the piece with the original author explaining,
This quote has attracted controversy. My decision to include it obviously does not constitute an endorsement of its language or its argument. Throughout the article, I quote multiple other people who label similar rhetoric, and the attitudes underlying it, as anti-Semitic. My intention in this article was to present a picture of what is happening in the counties surrounding New York and to convey the feelings of all residents of the area, amid a housing boom and the thankfully growing awareness of New York’s anti-Semitism problem (which I have covered before).
This is a complicated subject that can veer into exceptionable territory. It is extremely vital to understand what people in the area are feeling in order to defuse any misunderstandings or ill-will among observant Jews and their neighbors. It is my hope that the reader will come away from the article with a little more knowledge of those attitudes.
Here’s the issue with the quote, spelled out: Jews are not responsible for Jew-hatred. Let me repeat that. Jews. Are. Not. Responsible. For. Jew. Hatred. This kind of exercise, trying to use logic to explain it, only excuses it. The attacks aren’t about overdevelopment in Monsey, Jersey City or Brooklyn. They are about hate. When those saying it are black, conservatives don’t seem to have a hard time understanding that. But the same reasoning applies to a writer for National Review, yes, even if he served in the IDF.
In response to all of the outrage, Kevin Williamson decided to weigh in. And here’s when NR really, really steps in it. He writes,
I don’t think most people who read the news are too stupid to understand the news. I think they are too dishonest.
I am frankly embarrassed that we’ve found it necessary to append a note to Zachary Evans’s report on anti-Semitism to emphasize that quoting a person to illuminate his sentiments does not constitute an endorsement of those sentiments. That’s obvious. Every mentally functional adult is able to understand as much. But because there are people who want to smear National Review for political purposes, they pretend that an article about anti-Semitism written by a veteran of the Israeli military is itself an exercise in anti-Semitism. I have a hard time believing that is an honest error, because people dumb enough to make an error like that, and make it honestly, can’t read.
Here’s the thing: You don’t have to agree with my original assessment that the piece never should have run. But the fact is there were plenty of Jewish conservatives (and a few non-Jewish ones too) who expressed horror at the way Hasidic Jews were characterized. That doesn’t make them stupid. It doesn’t make them dishonest. It doesn’t mean they were motivated to “smear National Review for political purposes.” They saw a piece that attacked the victims of a wave of hatred and they expressed their anger at it.
It’s times like these it’s interesting to see who really means it when they decry anti-Semitism. When attacks happen or when the New York Times or the Washington Post write something stupid about Jews, there are plenty of conservatives ready to pounce. But when it’s one of our own, like National Review, calling Jews concerned about how Jews are portrayed dishonest and acting in bad faith, there’s an awful lot of silence. And that silence speaks volumes.Published in General
“It’s times like these it’s interesting to see who really means it when they decry anti-Semitism. When attacks happen or when the New York Times or the Washington Post write something stupid about Jews, there are plenty of conservatives ready to pounce. But when it’s one of our own, like National Review, calling Jews concerned about how Jews are portrayed dishonest and acting in bad faith, there’s an awful lot of silence. And that silence speaks volumes.”
Bravo @bethanymandel That really is gets to the crux of the matter. Defending Jews when it’s politically expedient is easy for some, but it exposes their cowardice or opportunism, or dishonesty (or all 3) when they don’t do the same when it goes against someone on the same side. Silence speaks volumes. Thank you for not only speaking out, but doing so unapologetically.
The uncharitable (the OP) meets the inartful (the NR article).
I read the original piece in National Review and followed the controversy. It seems to me that the article is really addressing two issues that are distinct and may not even overlap. One, the more tragic and sensational, has to do with recent anti-Semitic violence. The article leads with that, but quickly drops it in favor of the other issue, which is a vaguely described frustration with local politics and housing following development of ultra-Orthodox “settlements” in rural communities.
This juxtaposition is bad, and National Review shouldn’t have allowed it. There is no particular reason to believe that the violence had anything to do with local community and political issues described in the bulk of the article, yet the minor civil frustration was presented as if it were somehow explanatory — as if telling us filled in important details in our understanding of the violence.
Contrary to Mr. Rand’s comment above, I think Bethany was spot on, and the good people — and I do think they’re good people — at National Review should rethink their clumsy conflation of murderous anti-Semitism and relatively minor local politics.
I’m not sure I’d call NR or Zachary Evans anti-Semitic. The people he was reporting about, for sure. I read over the article carefully and found it cringe-inducing. Is that the reporter’s fault? He threaded a very difficult needle and, perhaps, missed the mark a little bit. How would you have reported the issue and used the quotes? His article on growing anti-Semitism in Brooklyn from December was quite informative and well written. Perhaps it’s harder to read when it’s so close to home.
I’m well aware of the “tensions” in Monsey and environs and around Lakewood. There is definitely a problem beyond that of competing neighbors with competing views of the “good life.” Sadly, very sadly, a great deal of it is led by liberal Jews embarrassed by their Observant brethren and I think this is some of what was being expressed and reported, particularly in the ugly quote. There is a similar problem in Israel–have you heard Avigdor Lieberman speak about the religious? There have been discussions on Ricochet and there are members of this site who regularly take issue with their caricatured Jew. It isn’t pretty anywhere.
Back to Evans: I think he writes like a secular Israeli, with a distinct discomfort about the Observant. Not quite anti-Semitic, but not exactly friendly either. There are non-religious Jews among Ricochet’s major contributors, past and present, who seem to share that embarrassment. I’m not going to name names here; I’ll share my observations if you write to me personally.
BTW, use of “Ultra-Orthodox” is itself problematic, but it’s used all the time; no religiously observant Jew ever seems to be called just that. Kind of like we’re all “Arch-Conservatives” politically and there don’t seem to be any good old plain Conservatives.
I spent a long time writing my comment and reading and re-reading Evans’ three articles, so I didn’t see the 2nd and 3rd comments before I posted. I think Henry does a good job of pointing out what was bothering me that I just couldn’t quite identify. Thanks, @henryracette.
I think that the original piece was just an error in writing. I’d be surprised if he had anti Semitic sympathies but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t sloppily written. I don’t usually jump to the assumption that the NYT or WSJ or others are being anti Semitic unless it’s brazen and undeniable enough to conclude that’s what it was. There is also unfortunately a track record and history of the same errors from the same few publications. NR on the other hand isn’t usually guilty of those things so I’m willing to give the writer the benefit of the doubt. Though he’s wrong I’m willing to extend that grace to him. However what Williamson wrote wasn’t acceptable. I really like a lot of his writing and it makes me sad to see his often humorous snark and sarcasm directed and executed poorly. Is this a consistent and reasonable position to hold?
No minority is responsible for bigotry against it.
Reasons for bigotry are just excuses. You can’t reason away something that in its essence does not come from Reason.
And that is something that the assimilated-enough-to-mostly-‘pass’-as-not-that-different-to-the-eye-or-heart among us find difficult to deal with. imho.
I find this article fairly disingenuous. You’re not allowed to criticize the political and social behavior of Hasidim because violent anti-semites exist? Precisely the same tension between Hasidim and a secular society exists and is a political fault line in Israel, where it is a purely intra-Jewish issue.
There are two issues mentioned in the article: 1) violent attacks on Jews, which any decent person decries, and 2) political and social behavior by Hasidim that some find objectionable. The quote mentioned is clearly referring to the second issue and was given by a Jewish man to a Jewish reporter, no less. Maybe Evans shouldn’t have smashed the two issues into the same article, but to call it a “disgraceful swipe at Jews” is a purposeful and misleading conflation.
National Review has been strongly supportive of Jews, Israel, and religious freedom in general. I did not read the article that Bethany posted about, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one or more poorly written or poorly thought out articles appeared in National Review. I doubt if the articles indicate a deviation from being strongly supportive of Jews, Israel, and religious freedom in general.
@bethanymandel : is your issue with the original NR article the fact that it reported on the surrounding context of the North Jersey murders at all, or the fact that the article was written in a sloppy manner?
Your post seems to insinuate that providing any surrounding context to an anti-Semitic hate crime that might reflect even slightly poorly on the victims is automatically illegitimate. I disagree.
The dilemma here is obvious: many heinous acts such as this one have a complex background. And because no human is perfect, part of that will background will very frequently involve some modicum of behavior by the victim which is less than optimal. Trying to accurately depict the entire context of the story will thus almost inevitably include some snippet of information that portrays the victim in a somewhat bad light.
But if we take the hard line that inclusion of such background context for anti-Semitic crimes automatically implies a degree of shared blame by the Jewish victims, then serious reporting on these incidents will become impossible. Yet I get the sense from your OP that you oppose reporting on such context, even if the reporting was done in a much cleaner manner than the NR article.
I agree that what Williamson wrote was in extremely poor taste, but I disagree that this is anything but normal for him.
Like Ann Coulter, he has built up a schtick of taking well-thought-out and defensible intellectual points and expressing them in the persona of an a-hole. Because of that, I’ve never been a huge fan of Williamson’s despite the fact that I actually agree with many of his positions. But that’s his choice and he (and Ann) have obviously found some success with it.
What irritates me, however, are conservatives who love it when Ann or Kevin attack their mutual enemies, but then cry foul when these authors use the exact same rhetoric against their own readers. I think we need to go back to playground rules: if you’re going to egg someone on who’s bullying your opponents, you can’t then complain to the teacher when the exact same type of bullying gets thrown your way.
I’m sorry to see this fight break out between two writers I respect. That said my sympathies are entirely with Kevin on this one. NR reported on intra-Jewish prejudice against the Hasidim and, assuming the intelligence of its readers didn’t feel the need to connect the dots for them as a lesser publication would by marking it with a “this is anti-semitism and therefore bad” trigger warning. If Bethany were an black woman of the left instead of a Jewish American conservative I think we’d all recognize this for the Al-Sharptonism that it is: jaming stubborn facts into a ready made narrative of grievance based identity politics.
Kevin truly treats his writing as a vocation and is willing to lose friends and “cred” on his own side to tell the truth. I’m in awe of him.
I hate disagreeing with Bethany but… I have no problem blaming the victim, when the victim shares some of the blame. A man who waves a $100 bill in the air invites crime. So does an unlocked car with a valuable package inside, or a person who gets drunk and makes themselves vulnerable among strangers.
Jews can certainly be blamed for anti-semitism. We can make people hate us. We may not be wholly responsible for anti-semitism, but we can make people hate us. Anyone can, but Jews seem to have a bit of a superpower in this respect. Being very different from other people is enough to become “the other” – and it magnifies any other flaws because the Hasid stands out already.
Dehumanizing other people (“locusts”) is unacceptable. We should oppose anyone doing it, even if the “victim” makes us crazy.
The NR article shows the dark underbelly of parts of the Jewish community: in some communities there is a lot of negative feeling between Jews of different persuasions. You can always find a Jew who will happily criticize another Jew – the biggest anti-semites tend to be Jews. Freud was a Jew – and hated Judaism. Marx, too. So was the guy (a convert from Judaism) who told the Umayyad caliph to build the Dome of the Rock on top of the old Jewish Temple remains.
So non-Jewish press can always find an easy way to criticize Jews: find another Jew who is happy to talk smack. And this is what was done here. It is not so different from finding Jews willing and happy to criticize Israel. What self-respecting Jew does not have criticism for Israel?!
We can criticize anything! But just because we can, does not mean we should.
Ann Coulter and John Derbyshire
It seems to me that National Review has different standards for ending relationships with their writers depending on who’s ox is gored.
I would say that these two paragraphs are incredibly sloppy. Substitute ultra-Orthodox with Black, Hispanic, or name the ethnic, religious group of your choice.
“Hasidim as locusts”- once again insert any other ethnic group, or religious group into that sentence.
Perception’s as justification for a criminal action, perhaps that is not what the writer meant, but I’m entitled to my perception’s, that doesn’t mean my perception’s, or the writers perception’s are true.
In part of his article, I think it’s clear Evans is referring to what others think of Jews. However, he does say this:
“The ultra-Orthodox population is also a heavy user of government resources such as Medicaid and food stamps. This is due to the perception that many of the men either don’t work or make low salaries, choosing instead to devote their time to studying religious texts.”
First of all, he should cite his source for the statistic about the use of government welfare resources. However, he needs to elaborate more on how studying religious texts precludes people from working, and whether or not it’s his perception, or that of others. I don’t know many Jewish people, but all of them are hard workers.
Regardless, any discussion on touchy subjects is bound to create hard feelings and controversy. Nevertheless, we need to plow forward and keep talking, because remaining silent changes nothing.
Or they have the same standard applied to different facts.
Another part of this problem is that when someone commits a horrific crime is some people start agonizing over the why question. That’s a question for forensic psychiatrists. The interesting thing is that if the destination is the conclusion of why you could lay forensic psychiatrists’ end to end until they circle the globe and still never reach your destination. For every forensic psychiatrist a defense attorney presents in a courtroom the prosecutor can find one that will rebut their testimony.
I agree with @henryracette that the article is awkwardly stitched together since it states the two subjects don’t relate to one another. I’m also not sure if I agree with completely with your take. Continuing to think through the rights and wrongs here some questions that occur to me and I’d appreciate your thoughts:
After the Jersey City killings, media reported reactions by local black residents and at least one city official critical of the ultra-Orthodox influx into the city. Do you think it was proper to report those reactions?
Would the NR article have been okay in your view if it did not reference the recent Monsey report and just focused on local tension between the ultra-Orthodox and other local residents?
Would the NR article have been okay if it did not include the “locust” quote?
I’m from Rockland County, so I am well aware of the situation referenced in the article and thought it was pretty accurate as to the tensions going on there. Also, the quote about the Hasidics being “locusts” is a quote from a local, better to know how people really feel rather than ignore it. Also, Mark Levin used to refer to liberals who escape blue states to red states for the cost savings then vote left when they move there as locusts as well. It’s not nice of course but it’s a short hand descriptor of a situation.
Reporting how some people feel about something isn’t victim blaming. Now, the person you are reporting about may be victim blaming. But you reporting how they feel isn’t victim blaming. It’s just reporting how they feel.
You can say the article is sloppy, in that it isn’t clear that this is what is being done, but you can’t call it bizarre. You can’t call it anti-Semitic.
Commenter’s Note: Nothing above should be considered to be anti-anyone. The commenter goes to great lengths to not be anti-anyone. Nor should the comment be considered to be the view of the OP author, any other commenter, the management at Ricochet, the employer of the commenter, nor anyone remotely associated in any way with the commenter.
Commenter’s Note on the Commenter’s Note: The Commenter’s Note is meant to be parody. We seem to have to place an asterisk next to everything we write in case someone reads it wrong or tires to use it in a way that it isn’t meant to be used.
CN on the CN CN: I’m sure I’ll be fired by noon.
Correct. There is such a thing as “hyper-sensitivity” and the idea that NR is promoting crypto-Anti-Semitism would be hilarious if it hadn’t been said in earnest.
I’ve taken to these pages before to criticize the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel as shirkers for allowing other, productive Jews to both protect and fund their indolent lifestyle.
Yes: indolent. The excuse that they are “Studying Torah” doesn’t wash with me when Israel faces existential threats from hostile outsiders on a daily basis. How many times are they going to study that thing? At some point… You’re done. Have they made any discoveries hidden in there which have not been obvious for the past 2,500 years? Without rehashing my general skepticism of the thing, let me suppose that the answer is “no.”
The first people to sign up for duty with the IDF should be the Ultra-Orthodox out of sheer gratitude for their lives, which other Jews bleed and die to protect daily.
I take a back seat to nobody in my condemnation and horror at these grisly attacks on Jews merely for the fact of their being Jewish. Anti-Semitism is a scourge that needs to be extirpated from the West. It’s a black mark on the history of Europe, punctuated by the fact that the RC Church took until the 60s to acquit the Jewish people of Deicide – an event merely 15 years before my birth.
Does that make the culture of the Ultra-Orthodox above reproach because their enemies are scabrous and vile? I see plenty to criticize.
The First Amendment guarantees the freedom to practice your faith unmolested by the State – a notion which made America the world’s largest and arguably best home for the Jewish people until the Balfour declaration. The First Amendment does not however include the positive right to have your religious devotion subsidized by the public fisc.
If these were Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints in Colorado City (who put their progeny on welfare in order to “bleed the beast”) people would have no trouble finding fault with that… Although there are other reasons, admittedly.
The Ultra-Orthodox deserve the freedom to do as they will with their lives. It would be far easier to take their religious devotion at face value if they did so in a way that wasn’t nakedly reliant upon other people to maintain that lifestyle.
Historic victimhood is not a magical talisman you can wave in front of people to ward off appropriate questions or criticisms in the temporal space.
Is this always true? Should we give voice to everyone who has something nasty to say about someone else?
It is reprehensible. I rejected it when Trump referred to people as animals. I fight it whenever I hear it: dehumanizing other people gives us carte blanche to treat them as less than people. And that is simply unacceptable, wherever we find it.
Should we equally run stories about how people who hate white/black/smart/stupid/fat/old people feel?
At what point does the choice of topic itself constitute bigotry?
For example, I know lots of teenaged boys who think that teenaged girls are bona-fide bat-guano crazy. Should newspapers run stories about how boys think girls should be locked up for insanity until they get a few years older?
You are wrong, of course. The vast majority of my posts on the Torah are not found in the writings of other people on the Torah in the past 2,500 years.
I agree. Indeed, as a libertarian, I always avoid the government as much as possible.
Though one could ask the following question: to some extent everyone games the system. Or at least, everyone with two brain cells to rub together. Suppose that Jews are simply better at gaming the system than are other people – is that bad?
I agree entirely.
Maybe I’m just an asshole but I enjoy the Kevin shtick mostly cuz I think he gives the opposing side a fair shake (maybe I’m wrong but it’s beside the point) I am not calling foul on Kevin because of the way he said what he said but that he said it at all. If he was calling out conservatives or the right in general for being stupid in his usual manner I don’t care. Especially if he’s correct. My problem with what he said is that he was defending the person in the wrong and calling his critics stupid or whatever he said. Point being, I think I’m being consistent in my toleration for Kevin’s shtick but what he said, the content, is abhorrent. My benefit of the doubt comment was more directed at NR as a whole. My confidence is a little shaken in them right now though.
Of course you can take any position, and run it out past the margins until it is nonsense. Everyone knows what teenage boys thing of teenage girls. Why would anyone report on that? On the other hand, if there was suddenly a rash of violence against teenage girls but teenage boys, someone might write about what is going on in the heads of the teenage boys.
I grew up in a town with a lot of migrant farm workers from another country. A lot of people disliked the impact those immigrants had on the community. If I were to lay out the reasons, would anyone here disagree with me and call me a racist? Would they say that, having documented my experience living in that community, that I agree with them?
I had a friend in the Army who was of a particular “race”. He experienced a lot of bigotry as a young man, and came to the military with a chip on his shoulder. I got to know him a bit and began to understand how he thought. This caused us to go from disliking each other to becoming friends. His opinion in general didn’t change. But his opinion of me changed.
Why should we avoid talking about the roots of our bigotry? Oh, that’s right. Because someone will call us a racist.
You are also a highly productive member of society and (from what I gather) a fellow net tax payer. Somehow, you have managed to square your religious devotion with an appropriate disinterest in gaming the system for personal benefit. Mazel Tov!
That smacks of moral equivalence and I reject it. If I strive to pay the least tax I can, am I “gaming the system” or am I playing within the rules? It’s obviously the latter, and says much about how stupid the game is, even if I am still a net payer. No, in their case this isn’t a question of “playing within the rules” as much as a question of “obfuscation and deceit”:
This is an intentional program of fraud, as this article from the LA Times lays out, along with arrests and allegations of millions of dollars of improper claims being made.
Immoral behavior has grave consequences – in this case you have a community so inbred that half of the children have chronic medical disorders? Here in Louisiana we just call that “Alabama” (just kidding, Alabamans!) but if you call a spade a spade in this case you get accused of anti-Semitism?
This happens among Catholics, too. Even the Pope doesn’t seem to care for “rad trads” (radical traditionalists) very much.
Dennis Prager has often pointed out that “holiness” means to be set apart — which is practically the definition of “othering.” Hasidic Jews, like strictly orthodox Catholics, set out to other themselves. And for Catholics, it can be kind of a matter of obstinate pride — “Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you. . .” Or, in modern vernacular, “when you’re taking flak, you know you’re over the target.”