(July 24, 2020 / JNS) Bari Weiss recently resigned from her position as a writer and editor at The New York Times. A self-described “centrist,” Weiss did not hesitate in her writing to call out anti-Semitism on the right and the left. She stood up for Israel. Even as a college student at Columbia University, Weiss challenged anti-Israel professors who tried to intimidate and silence students who spoke the truth about Israel, as well as questioned their professors’ false and hateful narratives.
Weiss paid a price for expressing those views. In her resignation letter, she revealed “constant bullying” she endured from her colleagues at the Times. They called her “a Nazi and a racist,” a “liar” and a “bigot.” They criticized her for “writing about the Jews again.” Some colleagues tried to marginalize Weiss, “badgering” co-workers simply for being friendly to her. Instead of using Slack, an online platform, as intended—as a vehicle for business colleagues to collaborate—Weiss’s co-workers used it to post ax emojis next to her name.
Weiss is surely not the only journalist who has paid such a price. That’s why the Zionist Organization of America recently established a hotline for journalists who are facing bullying, harassment and even threats for calling out anti-Semitism, standing up for Jewish rights and telling the truth about Israel.
The ZOA has a long and effective record of fighting antisemitism and standing up for the rights of Jews and Israel. We do it on Capitol Hill, on campus and in the courts, with recent successes at the UNC and Duke University. Now we are also standing up for journalists and their right to express their views—and the public’s right to hear them.
We at the ZOA know firsthand about the Times’ many failures when it comes to fair and accurate reporting about anti-Semitism, Jewish rights and Israel. In 2016, we sent a detailed letter to the chancellor and board of trustees at the City University of New York (CUNY), describing the threats, harassment and intimidation that Jewish students were enduring at four CUNY schools. At Hunter College, for example, when students planned a rally to protest rising tuition and growing student debt, the anti-Semitic hate group that calls itself “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) turned the rally into a vicious attack on Israel, “Zionists” and Jews.
In Facebook ads for the rally, SJP blamed the financial problems on “the Zionist administration” for hosting Birthright programs and study-abroad programs in “occupied Palestine”—meaning Israel. At the rally itself, SJP and its supporters screamed: “Jews out of CUNY!” “Jews are racist sons of bitches!” “I hope someone gets y’all!” “Go home!” and more. As one Jewish student was leaving the rally, he heard someone yell, “We should drag the Zionists down the street!” After the rally, another Hunter student wrote on Twitter, “Full-blown anti-Semitism allowed at my college. … I witnessed this and froze in fear.”
These and many other chilling revelations in the ZOA’s letter resulted in major news articles in The New York Post and New York’s Daily News. The revelations were of such magnitude that CUNY’s chancellor immediately ordered an independent investigation into anti-Semitism at CUNY.
Yet we never saw a single news article about the CUNY problems in the Times. The Times never contacted us for information or ways to reach the many Jewish students who were targeted and bullied.
In 2018, the Times did cover the Office for Civil Rights’ decision to reopen the ZOA’s civil-rights case against Rutgers University in New Jersey, where Jewish students faced threats, harassment and discrimination—again largely perpetrated by the anti-Israel group on campus. The Times reporter, however, called on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah seeking comments about OCR’s decision, even though she knew that our office would not be open. In fact, her voicemail message acknowledged that she was calling on the holiday, as ours did that we would be unavailable for comment.
The Times published the article about Rutgers on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. No surprise: It was biased and flawed. After the holiday, when we contacted the reporter and questioned why the Times didn’t wait to publish the article with input from the ZOA (with more than just quotes from a ZOA press release) and from Jewish students at Rutgers who were threatened and harassed, the reporter blamed her editors. She also promised another more comprehensive article, which never happened.
The Times deliberately published a one-sided and less informative article about the Jew-hatred at Rutgers. It didn’t see fit to publish anything about the Jew-hatred at CUNY, which is right in the newspaper’s own backyard. Why? Because that would have meant the Times’ acknowledging an uncomfortable truth: that Israel-hating groups purportedly committed to Palestinian-Arab rights were in fact committed to bashing Jews and Israel, and causing Jewish students to feel unwelcome and unsafe on their college campuses. Weiss eloquently summed up the problem in a December 2019 op-ed about how surging Jew-hatred is met with indifference: “[U]nless Jews are murdered by neo-Nazis, the one group everyone of conscience recognizes as evil, Jews’ innocent murders, their beatings, their discrimination, the singling out of their state for demonization will be explained away.”
The Times and other media outlets must change their culture of intolerance and hostility for views that do not fit their desired narrative. To support that goal, the ZOA is standing up for journalists who, like Bari Weiss, are determined to speak the truth about anti-Semitism, Jewish rights and Israel—and who are disgracefully bullied and shunned for doing so.
Journalists who need help and support should contact the ZOA’s hotline at 212-481-1500 or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan B. Tuchman is director of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice. Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.
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