When I was approached by CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash to participate in a new documentary “Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America,” I was at first ambivalent. Not because I believe all of CNN’s anchors, hosts and pundits are biased, though some are. I have no doubt that bias, manipulation, misleading information and other flaws exist in CNN’s coverage. To be fair, I would say that about some other mainstream media outlets as well. I am also well aware of CNN’s predisposition to portray former President Donald Trump in a negative light, perhaps more than many other networks.
Despite my misgivings, I decided to participate. If CNN was airing a special episode about anti-Semitism, that was itself noteworthy. I cannot just speak to or write for audiences who think as I do or believe as I believe. I want to share my thoughts with those who do not think as I do, or believe as I believe, in order for those audiences to make decisions based on a wider spectrum of information. I also wanted to argue against the notion that the former president is anti-Semitic, and fosters or condones anti-Semitism. My experience throughout over two decades of working for him proved otherwise. He was a boss who supported and encouraged my religious observance. I publicly defended Trump against these accusations in The Washington Post, The Forward and other outlets. I also describe his approach to me being an observant Jew in my new book In the Path of Abraham.
I was not disappointed with my decision to participate. Though I may disagree with how Bash (at times) and CNN (often) cover Trump, I found her to be thoroughly professional and interested in hearing my thoughts. She asked tough but fair questions. She probed but didn’t attack or try to manipulate. I could tell from the roughly one-hour interview that we had that she was sincere in trying to understand and share my perspective. She and senior producer Melissa Dunst Lipman also lined up a roster of important guests, including Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy to combat and monitor anti-Semitism, and Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League (as far as I know we are not related). I do not share the same views as he does on certain issues (including about Trump), and I have some issues with the approach of the ADL to some of its work. But he certainly is an important player in terms of his thoughts and work to fight anti-Semitism.
I also appreciate that as a result of my interview, CNN aired a clip of the infamous episode from Charlottesville, Va., that is rarely shown, which depicts Trump clearly saying that neo-Nazis and the white nationalists “should be condemned totally.” CNN finally debunked the myth that he did not condemn the anti-Semites who were present there. It should also have aired other examples of Trump’s many condemnations of anti-Semitism. One example is when, after the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018, Trump said that “[t]his evil, anti-Semitic attack is an assault on … humanity,” how we must work “together to extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism from our world” and that “those seeking [the Jews’] destruction, we will seek their destruction.” A clearer condemnation, especially from a president of the United States, would be difficult to find.
For those who think CNN did not do a good enough job on the episode, let’s first acknowledge that this was an important episode; kudos to them for getting this done. Yet, I wanted to share several (hopefully, constructive) criticisms about the episode.
First, one hour to deal with such an important, complicated subject is too short. I understand the nature of today’s media environment, but I hope that the cable-news network will build on this coverage over time. Perhaps CNN can do a follow-up, behind-the-scenes episode and share portions of the interviews that were left on the cutting room floor, to be posted online for those who want to go deeper on the issues. I also think the topic of left-wing versus right-wing anti-Semitism needs much more discussion. While I laud CNN for making the point that anti-Semitism can be found on both the left and the right, I disagree with the view that right-wing anti-Semitism is more dangerous. The violence and penchant for extremism and murderous actions can be found on both sides.
I also think it is important to focus on how anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism overlap; indeed, it would be hard to argue that you can be against the Jewish State of Israel and not be anti-Semitic. That’s not to say you can’t be against Israeli government positions or policies. Nor is it to say that you cannot be pro-Palestinian. But if you hate Israel and its existence, then you are an anti-Semite, plain and simple. The episode also touched on the anti-Israel bias on college campuses, but this pernicious issue needs a much deeper dive. Anti-Zionism is a contemporary manifestation of anti-Semitism. These days, college students are thrust into the dangerous front lines of the hate hurled at Jews and Israel.
CNN may not have gotten everything right, but the network should be commended for the effort. Now I hope they build on this. With more education, perhaps we can begin to turn the tide against anti-Semitism. Thank you to Bash, Dunst Lipman and all those who worked on this episode, as well as my fellow guests on the show, those I agreed with, and those I disagreed with, for speaking out against the world’s oldest hatred.