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Hiding truths from the Goyim--and ourselves.

After I graduated college in 1982, the year Israel invaded Lebanon, I hosted a luncheon at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC. I was an intern at the time and the speaker was Karen DeYoung, who then served as foreign editor of The Washington Post. The newspaper, then as now, was under a great deal of pressure from various Washington-based Jewish organizations for its coverage of Israel--these were the days of the siege of Beirut and the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla--and it felt compelled to invite some members of said community to the newsroom to observe the process of how it chose what stories to cover and what information went into them before they were published in the paper.

According to DeYoung, a report came in from Beirut that Israeli soldiers had taken over a Palestinian think-tank and were urinating and defecating on Palestinian documents they found there in a fit of macho pique. But when the editor moved to publish this detail, the representative of one of the invited Jewish organizations demanded that it be taken out of the story because it could not possibly be true. No Jewish boy would ever do such a thing. The reporter was simply inventing it. It didn't matter that the Washington Post reporter was a professional--indeed a Pulitzer Prize winner--who had witnessed the events in question. The guy in Washington, who knew nothing whatsoever about it, knew all he needed to know to try to censor the story.

I have a book I've been saving since I purchased it in 1986 called The Media's War Against Israel. With a red banner "The Full Expose of the Book No One Dared Publish" across its front cover, it consists of articles about the press coverage of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon reprinted from The New Republic, Commentary, etc. that demonstrates, with slightly greater sophistication, exactly the same tactic. The articles have titles like "The New York Times Propaganda War Against Israel" and "Time Against Israel," "The Media Blames Israel" and "The Great Media Cover-up."

TNR owner Marty Peretz, who had been escorted around Lebanon by the Israel Defense Forces, assured his readers, "Much of what you have read in the newspapers and news-magazines about the war in Lebanon--and even more of what you have seen and heard on television--is simply not true." Commentary's editor-in-chief, Norman Podhoretz, per usual, went him one step better, equating the coverage of the war with "acquiescence in terrorism [and the]...appeasement of totalitarianism. And I accuse all of those who have joined in these attacks not merely of anti-Semitism but of the broader sin of faithlessness to the interest of the United States and indeed to the values of Western civilization as a whole."

Yeah, right. The Columbia Journalism Review's assessment of the coverage of the invasion found that most members of the U.S. media "reported what it saw for the most part fairly and accurately, and sometimes brilliantly, provided balanced comment, and provoked and absorbed controversy. For performance under fire, readers and viewers could have asked for little more." The wisdom of those who care deeply about the fate of Israel, but understood at the time that the invasion would likely lead to catastrophe, has been more than borne out. But never mind that.

I was reminded of these sorts of attacks when, in late July, five revered Orthodox rabbis from New Jersey and New York were arrested on charges of operating a multimillion dollar money-laundering ring that relied on a network of Jewish charities. One of those arrested was Rabbi Saul J. Kassin, the leader of Brooklyn's Shaare Zion, the largest Sephardic synagogue in the U.S.

Quick to come to Kassin's defense was David Ben-Hooren, a member of the congregation and publisher of The Jewish Voice newspaper, without access to any of the information that had led to the spectacular arrests. As Ben-Hooren explained to The New York Times: "When the facts come out, we'll find out that those rabbis never broke the law.... I believe they're going to be vindicated. Knowing those rabbis for many years, I know that they devoted their lives to charity, and there's no way that they benefited from any of those activities."

Well, good for him. He is only following the example of so many leaders of the Jewish community like those quoted above. When it comes to Jews, Israel and anything else that to my bubbe, may she rest in peace, might serve as a shande for the goyim, they tell you that what you are seeing and hearing is not really what you are seeing and hearing.

Sometimes this practice takes comic proportions. David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, wrote a letter to The New York Times in December complaining that the paper should not pay so much attention to the fact of Bernie Madoff's Jewishness and its "relevan[ce] to his being arrested for cheating investors" and "his evolution as a businessman," because they were not, somehow, central to the story. Does any sane person believe that? Abe Foxman, Grand Poobah of the Anti-Defamation League, complained to Joel Stein of Time that "the number of people who think Jews run Hollywood is still too high," when, as Stein easily demonstrated, it's pretty damn obvious that Hollywood is and always has been, for better and for worse, controlled by people who happen to be Jews.

Thing is, nobody--not even my late bubbe--believed this stuff. It just made her feel better to hear someone say it, and I imagine she was willing to pony up her requisite contribution to these organizations to allow them to keep doing it, credible or not. And I suppose, as many a Jew over time has been heard to say, "it's a living," but one that I'm guessing convinces fewer and fewer people these days.

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman is a professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and City University of New York's graduate school. His latest book is Why We're Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America.
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Title Annotation:OPINION
Author:Alterman, Eric
Publication:Moment
Article Type:Reprint
Date:Sep 1, 2009
Words:1015
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