(January 12, 2015 / JNS)
Few (if any) people have suffered the consequences of bigotry as have the Jews. This tragic reality has taught us some lessons, chief among them: Never Again. Likewise, our history has taught us that as Jews, we should be the first to stand up to bigotry wherever it lurks. And I’m proud to say that we are often at the forefront of the effort to stamp out prejudice. But at times, we forget that first and foremost, our community itself must not be guilty of xenophobia. When it comes to anti-Christian prejudice, we have failed. In some parts of our community, such is the last acceptable form of bigotry.
For example, Eli Valley, a contributing editor to the Jewish Daily Forward, recently tweeted a link to an article about a Christian individual who was indicted by Israeli authorities for allegedly seeking to attack Muslim holy sites. Valley prefaced the link with the statement, “I guess this casts a pall over the @CUFI (Christians United for Israel) annual gala.”
I sent an email to Forward editor Jane Eisner and publisher Sam Norich expressing my dismay at Valley’s disgusting remark. “To use the action of one—likely mentally disturbed—individual to cast aspersions about an entire faith group is bigotry, plain and simple,” I wrote.
I further noted that this is not the first time Valley has displayed his hatred for Evangelical Christians on his Twitter feed, and that he has even been allowed to advance his prejudice on the pages of the Forward—through a cartoon described at the time by David Hazony in Commentary Magazine as a “ferociously repugnant” item that used “grotesque caricatures playing on dehumanizing stereotypes… .”
Eisner was unmoved. And the crux of her response was quite candid. “The Forward cannot be held responsible for the social media conduct of its contributing editors,” she wrote.
Interestingly, the Forward’s editorial board had a dramatically different take earlier this year when discussing the social media conduct of a former professor, Steven Salaita, who authored incendiary tweets about Israel:
“If a journalist working at a reputable news organization employed such language, he or she would be fired in a flash. Rules of conduct for social media have become a fundamental expectation in most workplaces. Not, evidently, in academia. (Emphasis added)
“Salaita’s tweets are part of his public record, a reflection of his character no less important than his reportedly stellar student evaluations of his teaching at Virginia Tech. His speech ought not to be suppressed, but it certainly can be evaluated. Universities would do well to consider how behavior on social media reflects on the characters of their scholars, especially in tenure decisions. It’s not censorship to suggest that faculty avoid offensive statements that could make the classroom toxic to students and dishonor their roles as public intellectuals.”
In her email to me, Eisner didn’t defend Valley’s bigotry. Rather, she stated the Forward is not responsible for its contributing editors’ social media statements. I won’t bother replacing all the nouns in the above excerpt, but change academia to journalism and student to reader, and you get the idea.
The double standard is clear and shameful—but so be it, one might say. After all, there will always be hypocrites and bigots in the world. But the issue is worth examining because Eisner’s hypocrisy and Valley’s bigotry are symptoms of a larger problem.
According to a July 2014 Pew Research Center poll, Jews hold exceptionally negative attitudes towards Evangelical Christians. Conversely, white Evangelicals hold exceptionally positive attitudes towards Jews. While the stereotype of the ignorant southern Evangelical might make for snarky tweets, collectively, they are far more tolerant of us than we are of them. So which community has a bigotry problem?
If we accept the logic of the aforementioned Forward editorial, had Valley used the actions of one Jew, Muslim, African American, or member of another religious/ethic group to cast aspersions on an entire community, he would’ve been “fired in a flash.” But he’s still on the Forward’s masthead because, to my utter shame and dismay, some parts of the Jewish community consider it perfectly acceptable to demonize Evangelical Christians.
Ari Morgenstern is the communications director for Christians United for Israel.