Canadian Judaism on Page One: Antisemitism, blood libels, fear & hatred

If you wanted to take the pulse of the Canadian Jewish community and all you had to rely on was the Jewish Tribune, the “largest Jewish weekly in Canada,” you might assume that Canadian Jewry was in a constant state of existential panic and anxiety.

A quick glance at the cover stories from the Tribune over the past few months reveals the following headlines:

“Antisemitism is no longer in the closet and Jewish students…don’t know how to deal with it”
“Growing anti-semitism has Jews fleeing Sweden”
“Jews flee Malmö as antisemitism grows”
“Antisemitic blood libel aimed at IDF in Haiti”
“Israel Olympic flag stickers vandalized”
“B’nai Brith audit to include national poll on antisemitism”
“Obama Antisemitism ‘czar’ slammed for criticizing Israel’s Oren”
BLOOD LIBEL CIRCULATING IN CANADA(All caps, bold, and unusually large font courtesy of original publication)
“Passenger shouts ‘Kill Jews’ on Miami plane”
“Leaders discuss ways to combat antisemitism”
“BLEAK FUTURE FOR DANISH JEWS?”
“Third Global Forum on Antisemitism set for next week”
“Antisemitic incidents in Australia hit record high”
“Digital hate: ‘No guarantees good guys are going to win’”
“Canada, UK ‘pioneers’ of campus antisemitism, expert says”

I’m sensing a trend here. To be sure, nearly every edition of the paper from the past three months leads with front page stories on Canadian or worldwide antisemitism. Blood libels. Czars. Death. Hate. Fleeing Jews. Vandalized stickers. How depressing. These headlines smack of Yellow Journalism, and are more fitting of rag tabloids than a supposedly substantial Jewish paper.

Out of 33 front-page stories from the past three months, 16 are related to antisemitism. That’s nearly 50%. And that doesn’t include the weekly “If you are the victim of antisemitism, call the anti-hate hotline…” banner appearing at the top of every edition. One also notices that most of these are stories taking place outside of Canada. Interesting.

Is this truly the story of Canadian Judaism week-to-week? When telling the story of what it means to be Jewish in Canada, is half of it about hatred and antisemitism? I don’t believe so.

Now obviously the newspaper includes more than just the headlines on page one. And obviously the story of Canadian Judaism reaches deep beyond what’s printed on the first page of one newspaper. But I’m judging the Jewish Tribune on the grounds that the most crucial, newsworthy, ground-breaking, pulse-feeling stories are those printed on the first page. Ask any journalist and they’ll tell you the same thing. Perhaps someone from the Tribune should google “How do newspapers decide which stories to put on the first page” and see what turns up.

Page one is what people see when they pass newspaper boxes on the street and it’s the first thing they see when they open the paper at breakfast. Page one sets the tone for the entire paper. Truly, it is where the pulse is taken. It seems to me that the writers and editors at the Tribune might be taking Canadian Jewry’s pulse on the wrong part of the body.

At best, this trend amounts to poor journalistic standards. Surely there are stories taking place around Canada that are more deserving of front page status. Surely there are innovative, exciting, and newsworthy events worthy of highlighting on the front page of the largest weekly Canadian Jewish newspaper. Surely a story about a single deranged American passenger on an American flight to Miami does not qualify for front-page status. According to the Tribune, it does.

At its worst, this trend amounts to dangerous fear-mongering. Focusing on antisemitism to this extent creates an atmosphere of fear and hatred. It grossly misrepresents what it means to be Jewish in Canada. As Canadian journalist and political analyst Gerald Caplan recently noted in a Globe and Mail article:

“By any conceivable standard, we Canadian Jews are surely among the most privileged, most secure, most successful, most influential minorities in Canada and indeed in the entire world. We don’t have a powerful Christian right-wing that is openly prejudiced, as in the United States, and the anti-Semitic incidents that do occasionally happen, while deplorable, are almost invariably caused by kids, crackpot white supremacists or marginalized thugs.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned with growing antisemitism. Of course we should. And should we not be concerned with events beyond our own borders? Most certainly we should. But how about a diversified portfolio? How about journalistic integrity? How about an expanded viewpoint? How about a balanced mix of interesting, local, Canadian Jewish news stories? Lately, that’s not what you’ll find in the Jewish Tribune.

One final, important point regarding the Tribune’s and B’nai Brith’s (the Tribune is a subsidiary of B’nai Brith) perception of antisemitism and its relationship to the actual state of Canadian Jewry. While cases of antisemitism are likely of concern to Canadian Jews, they are not indicative of and should not be conflated with an existential danger to Canadian Jews. As Caplan notes in his article:

The B’nai Brith annually publishes the number of anti-Semitic incidents that are reported to it, but these reports are never checked out or confirmed. And whatever those numbers, the vast majority of Canadians Jews know perfectly well that they now live their entire lives completely untouched by anti-Semitism.

In its journalistic choices, the Tribune is failing to accurately portray the state of Canadian Jewry today. As the self-proclaimed “largest Jewish weekly,” they should rise to the challenge of delving deep into stories that highlight the unique flavour of Canadian Judaism, and in doing so ask themselves what kind of newspaper they want to be. They should strive to place stories on the cover of their newspaper that are truly newsworthy, not only stories that are eye-catching in their alarmism. And when stories of antisemitism merit deep attention, they should report on them from the context of Canadian Jewry in 2010, not from the paradigm of 1930s Germany.

Perhaps the ultimate question to pose to the Tribune isn’t ‘who do you want to be?’ rather, ‘who do you think we Canadian Jews really are?’ Are we a vibrant and safe people, or are we cowering in the corner in fear of persecution at the hands of people waving “Der Sturmer-type propaganda”?

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