The Washington Post’s protocols

The newspaper’s reporting on Jewish concerns about campus antisemitism revived history’s ugliest antisemitic myths.

“The Washington Post” homepage. Credit: Sharaf Maksumov/Shutterstock
“The Washington Post” homepage. Credit: Sharaf Maksumov/Shutterstock
Steven Burg
Rabbi Steven Burg

Rabbi Steven Burg, Aish’s CEO, serves on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency; as an executive board member of the Rabbinical Council of America; and as a board member of Yeshiva University High Schools and Naaleh High School.

I felt a sickening sense of déjà vu when I read a recent Washington Post article. The article insinuated that American Jewish leaders conspired to improperly influence New York City’s mayor and police to crack down on violent anti-Israel protesters at Columbia University. The echoes of the infamous antisemitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” were unmistakable and chilling.

First published in Russia in 1903, the “Protocols” claimed to describe a Jewish plot to take over the world. That plot never existed. The “Protocols” was an absurd lie. Nonetheless, its false portrayal of Jews as cynical manipulators of world events who use nefarious backroom dealings to gain control of the economy, media and politicians was hugely influential, with dire consequences.

This vile propaganda gave a pseudo-intellectual veneer to ancient anti-Jewish conspiracy theories that falsely charged Jews with exercising nefarious omnipotent power and being disloyal to the nations in which they resided. Sadly, its toxic mythology continues to contaminate public discourse. The Washington Post article in question is the proof.

The article paints a picture of Jews operating as a unified, power-brokering cabal. This cabal, it is implied, exercises ill-gotten “influence” over political leaders in order to suppress free speech on campus. This is textbook “Protocols” and, like the “Protocols,” it is completely false.

First, contrary to the article’s implications, nothing Jewish leaders did was secret. American Jews have been as public as humanly possible about our demand that our sons and daughters be kept safe on campus. We have been begging and pleading with city leaders and police to enforce the law in order to prevent further harassment and violence against Jewish students.

We shouldn’t have to do this. The law should have been enforced months ago. Everyone has the right to be safe, including on a college campus. Students have the right to receive the education for which they have paid tens of thousands of dollars without interference from campus racists. Unfortunately,  we all saw the congressional hearing at which the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT refused to say whether calls for the genocide of the Jews violated their codes of conduct. The hearing proved that universities around the country consider antisemitic violence to be protected speech. This is, of course, absurd and morally bankrupt.

The results were inevitable: The “protests” have only escalated. There have been numerous hate crimes against Jewish students. Those students have been bullied, terrorized and assaulted; not because of their views on Israel but because they are Jewish. This is not protected speech. They are illegal actions. They are crimes. Nonetheless, the universities in question refused to enforce their own rules against racist violence. As a result, Jewish leaders were forced to act.

Moreover, contrary to the Post article’s claims, Jewish philanthropists do not act as a single entity. Like any minority group, they have diverse views on many topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They did not move in lockstep to influence elected officials. They merely asked those officials to enforce their own laws. This is not a conspiracy, it is a demand for accountability. This, ironically, is an actual exercise in free speech.

Indeed, the article itself admits that, when he acted against the protesters, Mayor Eric Adams was following standard protocols regarding alleged criminal activity and responding to administrative requests to restore order. He was motivated by the law, not clandestine Jewish machinations.

Adams, to his credit and all on his own, had already asked for the NYPD to be allowed on campus. NYPD heads had requested the same multiple times. The university refused.

Moreover, all Jews know that if these protests had taken place in any other New York neighborhood against any other population, the police would have been sent in immediately. They were not in this case because Columbia chose to collaborate with antisemitism and racism.

Worse still, it has been reported that almost half of the protesters were not even students. They were organized, often paid agitators sent to campus by unknown parties. This is a real conspiracy. But when it comes to conspiracy, The Washington Post sees only Jews.

But the Post’s evocation of the “Protocols” is not just an inexcusable moral failure. It is also extremely dangerous.

The “Protocols,” it should be remembered, was wildly popular. It convinced millions that Jews could not be trusted to be loyal citizens with honorable intentions. This prompted generations of antisemitic violence. The Post article has the potential to do the same.

One can disagree with the policies of the Israeli government while opposing the systemic oppression of Jewish students. News outlets are entitled to scrutinize substantive concerns resulting from legitimate reporting. But indulging in tropes that echo some of history’s most destructive antisemitic falsehoods is beyond the pale.

We cannot remain silent when a major newspaper betrays the most sacred responsibility of a free press: To serve as a vehicle for truth rather than the lies that tear society apart.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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