There is an old Chassidic tradition of sending off the Passover holiday with a festive meal known as the “Seudat Moshiach” — the Redemption Meal.
One of my favorite moments of the Jewish year, these few hours are a time for Jews to indulge in wine, matzah, Chassidic hymns, and discussions of the messianic future. Year after year, the Seudat Moshiach leaves me flush with feelings of unity, hope, and inspiration.
This year, tragically, the warmth of these messianic dreams was be abruptly cooled by an influx of tragic news.
It was only once the Sabbath had ended that I was able to check what had transpired over the past two days. Instantly, I was hit with the news that just hours before, a nineteen-year-old man from San Diego, California, had burst into a Chabad synagogue in nearby Poway, killing sixty-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye, a mother and one of the synagogue’s most dedicated members and supporters.
Three others were wounded, including an eight-year-old girl and the Shul’s heroic Chabad Rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, who took a bullet to the hand trying to block the shooter’s path into the sanctuary. (Miraculously, the shooter’s gun jammed before he could inflict a greater death-toll, and he was later apprehended by the authorities.)
Despite having lost his fingers, Rabbi Goldstein ran back to help evacuate the building before delivering his Sabbath sermon to his terrified congregants, huddled outside and waiting for help to arrive.
That this heartless act of antisemitic hate and terror would occur just six months after the last synagogue shooting — where eleven worshippers were gunned down in Pittsburgh in America’s worst ever antisemitic attack — made it not only terribly tragic but terribly concerning.
Will America, too, head in the direction of Europe, where Jewish schools are armed like redoubts and every synagogue is a fortress?
These feelings of pain, loss, and confusion, however, soon gave way to rage.
Shortly after receiving news of the shooting, I was shown a picture of a cartoon published Thursday in the international edition of the New York Times. The cartoon depicted an apparently blind President Trump clad in black-out sunglasses and a yarmulke. Leading the American president was a dog, except that instead of an ordinary dog-face, this dog bore the visage of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Instead of an ordinary name-tag, it had a star of David dangling from its collar.
The cartoon fanned antisemitic imagery with the audacity of a peacock in heat. It depicted the prime minister of the world’s only Jewish state — and probably the most famous Jew alive — as not only an animal, but a dog. A Qatar-based daily did the same last year — only that time the dog wore a star of David earring and had President trump cleaning blood off its teeth. Who could have imagined that the New York Times — to many, the most trusted journalistic institution on earth — could have followed suit?
Worse yet, the cartoon depicted Netanyahu with antisemites’ favored “Jewish” features — including a large, bent nose and deep, black eyes. Handing on the dog’s collar was a Star of David, the international symbol not only for the state of Israel but for world Jewry as a whole. This, in line with most examples of modern antisemitism, implies that world Jewry is somehow culpable for Israeli policies and, as the cartoon implies, its ruses.
Also worth noting is the fact that the cartoon “Jewified” President Trump by putting a yarmulke on his head. Considering even Netanyahu doesn’t wear a yarmulke, the Times’ choice to include one in the cartoon implied that the target wasn’t Israel, but rather the Jews.
Worse than its imagery was its point. Trump, the cartoon implies, doesn’t support Israel because it’s a staunch ally, a close strategic and economic partner, and the only democracy in the Middle East. Nor does he do so because tens of millions of his most ardent supporters bear love and affinity for the Jewish State and its stellar values. Trump, the cartoon suggests, supports Israel because he’s blind and is being led astray by a Jewish guide dog — who, on the way, even threw a yarmulke on his head. It’s a sick and twisted charge of mysterious Jewish power over world leaders and institutions — precisely the kind posited by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, The International Jew, and Der Stürmer.
As a paper centered in and around one of the most Jewish cities on earth, I expected the Times to apologize profusely for what must have been a mistake. I expected executives to be handing in their resignations, for the deserving heads to roll.
Instead, the Times merely acknowledged the fact that the caricature “included anti-Semitic tropes,” before writing it off as a simple “error of judgment.” Even after Jewish blood was shed in California over the very ideas carried by the cartoon, the paper still refused to apologize explicitly.
A day later, under ferocious criticism and pressure, the Times did acknowledge the cartoon’s antisemitic imagery and said that a single executive with no oversight had made the decision to publish it, adding that there would be a review.
So, their defense is that they’re not antisemitic, but incompetent. And this from the world’s most trusted news source.
In the aftermath of the Unite the Right March in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Times churned out a torrent of the harshest condemnations of President Donald Trump for what they said was his failure properly to condemn the antisemitic tropes being parroted by the march’s detestable participants. According to the Times’ editorial board, the march had “presented Mr. Trump with the most glaring opportunity yet to separate himself decisively from the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who have cheered him on … and to make clear that America has no room for what they stand for.” The Times‘ diagnosis: “He blew it.”
In that same op-ed, the board also pointed out that “in fact, white supremacists have been responsible for 49 homicides in the past 16 years, more than any other domestic extremist movement…”.
I would have the Times know that by the time they ran their sick cartoon, those 49 homicides had become 60, with eleven Jews gunned down by a man who believed that “the Jews” controlled America much in the way the cartoon depicts. Days ago, that number grew to 61, because yet another man decided to punish the Jews for the destructive influence they supposedly hold over America.
In publishing so vile a caricature, the Times abdicated every shred of moral authority. Far from failing to condemn them, it chose to print — in full color and a quarter-of-a-million times — the very theories responsible for the last two white supremacist killing sprees.
For the millions of American Jews beginning to register the expanse of antisemitism in their own home, the New York Times didn’t just ‘blow it.’ They’re actively helping to “grow it.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” is the international best-selling author of 32 books including his new book, Lust for Love, co-authored with Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.