Monday, June 20, 2011

Censored by Jewish Ledger

Sometimes blogging is the only way...

I live in a Jewish community with an "independent" Jewish newspaper, The Jewish Ledger. Some local Jewish newspapers are simply arms of the local Federation, but some are "independent." As with most local community papers, The Ledger has been around for some time, since 1929 when it was founded by Samuel Neusner (yes, the father of one Jacob Neusner). By the time I arrived in Hartford, in 1983, it had been under the ownership of Bert Gaster, a very decent man and fine local journalist, for 17 years. In 1992, Bert sold the paper to N. Richard Greenfield. And then The Ledger went to shit.

Greenfield turned the paper into a mutant, extremist, right-wing rag. After Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, The Ledger published a laudatory front-page interview with one Rabbi Abraham Hecht, who had declared months before the assassination that the rabbinic rule of "pursuer" applied to Rabin, making licit (for followers of the rabbi) Rabin's murder. The Ledger editorially opposed Oslo, supported followers of the extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, opposed all deals with the Arabs, and even criticized Netanyahu for making his limited deal in 1997. Before I canceled my subscription, I wrote a letter to the editor, which was published (with slight revisions) on January 12, 1996 only because I simultaneously sent it to the leaders of the local Jewish community. In part:
The Connecticut Jewish Ledger, once a beacon of civility and communal conscience, has become under the guidance of its new owner a shameful disgrace...
Hartfordites should not be surprised at this turn of events... When no other paper in America provided a platform for Rabbi Hecht, there was the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, running a front-page "exclusive" article in defense of the man who said, "if a man kills [Rabin], he has done a good deed." On the weekend leading up to the Madison Square Garden rally in Rabin’s honor, not a word could be found in the Ledger of the efforts made locally to provide transportation to the rally, nor a report of the moving shloshim ceremony held at Beth El Synagogue. Instead the Manhattan rally was snidely dismissed by the Ledger as a "Garden party" of do-gooders, and it was challenged for not providing a platform for Rabin’s enemies...
With this letter, I formally ask that my subscription to the Ledger be canceled. I also ask all readers and all communal leaders consider ostracizing and repudiating this mutant voice of extremism which has sprouted in our midst.
Needless to say, I quit following The Ledger. Nevertheless, this pathetic excuse for a newspaper sometimes comes to my attention. Two weeks ago, Greenfield published an editorial entitled "Supporting J Street Harms Israel," signed by the owner himself. The occasion for this editorial was a planned co-sponsored event between the local Jewish Community Relations Council and J Street Connecticut, at which Colette Avital, former Consul General of Israel in New York, former Labor MK and former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, was to speak. Claimed Greenfield: "J Street stands outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior for most Jews." It was an extreme, beyond-the-pale bit of drivel, typical for Greenfield. Simultaneously, The Ledger published a letter from a collection of local opponents of J Street which called upon the JCRC to sever its ties with J Street and renounce the co-sponsorship.

The event went forward on June 13 to a full house (and was not covered by The Ledger).

A group of colleagues at Trinity College, representing diverse positions when it comes to Israel (all supportive), sent in response a letter to the editor, which Greenfield refused to print, because (as I have known for nearly 20 years) he is an extremist ideologue who hasn't the slightest idea how to run a respectable communal newspaper. Here is the letter:

To the Editor:

We are writing to take exception to your editorial condemning the Hartford JCRC for joining with J Street to sponsor a talk by Colette Avital, former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Israeli Consul General to New York. None of us are members or promoters of J Street. All of us, like the overwhelming majority of American Jews, support a 2-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are strong advocates of a safe Israel living amongst its neighbors in security and peace. At Trinity College, we have fought the proponents of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. 

The editorial attack, which claims that J Street is beyond the pale of Jewish acceptability, is supported by arguments from Frank Luntz, CAMERA, and Caroline Glick that are no more representative of  the Jewish consensus in the United States than are the views of extreme left-wing Jewish activists in our midst who try to slander Israel at every turn. For every critical interpretation of J Street’s history, one can find thoughtful Americans and Israelis who see the organization in a different light. Even a critic of J Street such as Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has repeatedly stated that J Street exists within the mainstream of American Jewish political life. Colette Avital, whom we all know well from her years of superb work in New York—and who is highly regarded as a mainstream politician in Israel—obviously agrees, because she has joined J Street as Senior Advisor to the political arm of the organization.

Contrary to what you claim, J Street exists comfortably under the umbrella of worldwide Jewish support of Israel. To be sure, there are profound disagreements beneath that large umbrella, in Israel as well as in America. While we may have our own disagreements with J Street, we believe that its policies and actions on behalf of a Jewish and democratic Israel are fully consonant with American Jewish political discourse. And we believe that it would be both wrong and counterproductive to exclude J Street from American Jewish or Diaspora-Israel discussions, as you urge. Rather, it is important to foster a respectful and constructive discussion amongst all who advocate on behalf of a Jewish and democratic state of Israel, and not rush to label those with whom we disagree as inauthentic or illegitimate. Far from being condemned, the JCRC is to be applauded for using its auspices to bring Colette Avital to our community.

Samuel Kassow
Charles H. Northam Professor of History
Trinity College

Ronald Kiener
Professor of Religion
Director, Jewish Studies Program
Trinity College

Barry Kosmin
Research Professor of Public Policy and Law
Director, Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture
Trinity College

Mark Silk
Professor of Religion in Public Life
Director, Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life
Trinity College

Michael Sacks
Professor of Sociology
Trinity College