How Does the Media Relate to Anti-Semitism?

The cartoon screamed “blood libel” to many of us. The initial reaction of the Sunday Times wasto state its belief that the cartoon was “not anti-Semitic. It is aimed squarely at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people.”

But who are the media to define what constitutes anti-Semitism and what Jews should find or not find offensive? After all, why would I be qualified to tell a member of an ethnic community or minority group that I do not belong to, what is or is not offensive to them?

Too many times I’ve seen my own organization and other pro-Israel advocates accused of labeling all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic in order to shut down legitimate debate.

Indeed, at the Global Forum, one journalist complained that media watchdogs had accused her of being an anti-Semite. While I cannot speak for others, I know that this charge is rarely used in my own organization. In the absence of a journalist openly admitting to hating Jews, it is difficult to prove that someone is a bona fide anti-Semite. To accuse someone of being one without being 100% sure of an individual’s intentions is self-defeating.

Intentions are important. In the case of Gerald Scarfe above, it is highly unlikely that Scarfe is an anti-Semite. Yet it is a major concern that an anti-Semitic trope such as the blood libel can enter what is considered to be mainstream and acceptable discourse without be recognized as offensive.

In this case, Scarfe apologized for causing offense and rejected the suggestion that he had set out to produce an anti-Semitic cartoon. In the absence of a track record of similar offensive material, we can only take his word for it.

We have to recognize that most of the anti-Semitic tropes that are appearing in the mainstream media were, most likely, not produced with anti-Semitic intent. This gap between intentions and results needs to be bridged through educating the media as to where the red lines should be drawn.

Drawing the media’s attention to the EUMC Working Definition is a good start. Hopefully one result of the Global Forum will be its widespread dissemination so that the media can avoid printing offensive material and we do not have to see anti-Semitism disguised as criticism of Israel in print or online.

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