On September 12, 2022, the Twitter account of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) accused religious Jews of diverting resources from New York public schools to lavishly fund Hasidic yeshivas. The accusation, which is evocative of familiar anti-Semitic tropes, referred to an article by The New York Times that campaigned against Hasidic schools in New York State.
The NYCLU took the article’s accusations and turned them into a race-based attack on whites (in this case, meaning Jews) who allegedly benefit from the exploitation of students of color, saying, “For years, district leaders in East Ramapo have extracted resources from public schools, which are almost entirely attended by students of color, in order to lavishly fund yeshivas attended by white students.”
The Times article that provided the fodder for the anti-Semitic tweet was published in anticipation of a scheduled vote by the New York Board of Regents on enforcement of stricter regulations and greater oversight over education provided by private and parochial schools.
Authored by Eliza Shapiro, Brian Rosenthal and Jonah Markowitz, the headline was “In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush With Public Money” (online) and “Failing Schools, Public Funds” (print). It consisted of a 6,000-word description of the authors’ investigation into Hasidic schools. The article appeared as the front page, above-the-fold feature of the Sept. 11 print edition of the newspaper and was the centerpiece of what appeared to be a preplanned campaign of similar allegations. In addition, an online appeal, complete with a form to submit, invited readers to share “stories” about their experiences in Hasidic schools.
In a subsequent article, “N.Y. State Vote Could Raise Pressure on Officials Over Hasidic Schools” (online Sept. 11, print Sept. 12) the authors reiterated their charges, tying their report to the pressure being put on public officials to exercise greater oversight of such schools. A third article published by the authors, “New York Lawmakers Call for More Oversight of Hasidic Schools” (online Sept. 12, print Sept. 13), again repeated the charges, implying their investigation had prompted the critical views being voiced by some state officials.
The ramifications of the Times’ campaign, however, go well beyond the politics of education. The NYCLU was among the first to use the Times article as a vehicle to scapegoat Jews in order to further its race-based agenda, and it is still uncertain where this will ultimately lead.
Choosing to spotlight and amplify the failures and foibles of people within an already-targeted community puts that entire community at risk. The Times’ relentless media campaign does just that, reinforcing the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes of the “other” and evoking ancient tropes of Jewish control and money-grubbing. There should have been no question that such a presentation would promote resentment and ill-will toward identifiable Jews in New York—a minority that is increasingly the target of racially-motivated violence. It raises further, serious questions about the handling of the Times campaign, as well as the content of its analysis.
If the goal of the exposé was solely to highlight educational deficiencies in Hasidic New York State schools, why was it not presented as a local story in the “New York” section of the newspaper? Why was it amplified with front-page coverage, reiterating the same inflammatory charges, day after day, for four days in a row?
Moreover, the report’s repeated insinuations of wrongdoing, coupled with decontextualized assertions and numbers, raise multiple questions about its findings. For example:
Assertion: “The Times found the Hasidic boys’ schools have found ways of tapping into enormous sums of government money, collecting more than $1 billion in the past four years alone.”
- The phrase “found ways of tapping into” implies deviousness, dishonesty and ill-gotten gains. What is the evidence for this?
- For whom and for what purpose was this government money intended? There is, for example, government funding for hot lunches, early intervention/special needs and school transportation available for private and parochial school students who do not attend their local public school but are residents of a public school district and whose families pay the taxes that fund public schooling. Do the authors suggest these Hasidic students should be denied such funding?
- The aggregate sum of $1 billion and the use of the word “alone” sensationalizes the amount of money collected by the schools. What is the breakdown of the total amount? How much money is granted per program, per annum, per student and how does it compare with funding for public and parochial school students and programs elsewhere in New York?
Headline: “In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush With Public Money”
Heading within article: “Private schools, public money”
Photo caption: “Money is flowing to private Hasidic schools at a time when New York City’s school system, the nation’s largest, is cutting public school budgets.”
Assertion: “…the money is flowing as New York City is cutting public school budgets.”
- The authors acknowledge that the public money going to Hasidic schools is specifically slated for private and parochial schools to manage social services and comply with government mandates. Other non-Hasidic private schools, they acknowledge, similarly access dozens of such programs. How then are the New York City public school budget cuts related to funding that is slated for programs operating in private schools?
- If there are competing claims on the municipal or state budget, isn’t this a political issue to be arbitrated amongst those balancing the budget? Why are Hasidic schools being singled out?
Assertion: “Some government programs provide a disproportionate amount of aid to Hasidic schools, the Times found. The city voucher program that helps low-income families pay for child care now sends nearly a third of its total assistance to Hasidic neighborhoods, even while tens of thousands of people have languished on waiting lists.”
- How many government programs constitute “some”? What is the evidence that they are allocating funds disproportionately?
- Child care vouchers are sent to families based on numbers of children and financial need. Given that Hasidim tend to have many children, their neighborhoods include more families with multiple children who need day care. So what is meant by “disproportionate”? Disproportionate to what? To other neighborhoods? To other families with the same number of children? To other families of similar incomes?
- What is the evidence that aid sent to families living in Hasidic neighborhoods has come at the expense of those who are “languishing on waiting lists”? Are there any families living in Hasidic areas who are also languishing or who have languished on waiting lists before receiving vouchers?
These are just some of the many questions raised about the multiple repeated aspersions the Times report casts on the Hasidic community. These aspersions are presented without context and without the rigorous evidence needed to support them. And they are dangerous because they feed into anti-Jewish tropes about money, greed and exploitation directed against an entire community of identifiable Jews.
While New York Times journalists, editors and supporters no doubt view their investigation as a great success for advocacy journalism, a properly contextualized and statistically-supported report is what was really called for. This report’s shabby journalism, unfortunately, can only further incite those who seek to scapegoat Jews.
Ricki Hollander is a senior media analyst at CAMERA.
This is an edited version of an article originally published by CAMERA.
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