Let me start by saying I enjoy Jon Stewart. He is a brilliant man, one of the truly great entertainers of the early days of the 21st century. He is also possibly the last real journalist on TV. Stewart and his team (along with Stephen Colbert and his team) are doing research, collecting material, connecting the dots and even spicing it up with brilliant humor. After all, it is on Comedy Central.
I watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report regularly and believe they make for a great hour of TV and a wonderful source one can relay on for all one’s daily news needs.
It is also great that they are getting involved in issues. Both organized The Rally to Restore Sanity; Colbert led the campaign against Super PACs and their corrupting influence on politics, and was successful in raising awareness; and recently Stewart led the fight against forcing women to go through invasive exams in Virginia. Those and others are very important campaigns for a country that wants to keep its sanity and fight the growing influence of the few and wealthy.
But I do take issue with the way Stewart is handling one topic: The Jews. On Tuesday night Stewart devoted both of his segments to the AIPAC conference in DC. The first dealt with the pressure and rhetorics of war and the second with the influence of the pro-Israel lobby and its supporters on American politics.
Later that evening, Stephen Colbert’s studio guest was author Jonathan Safran Foer, who discussed a new edition of the Hagaddah, the book of the Jewish holiday of Passover; an item that is relevant to few in the Jewish community, not to mention the millions of non-Jewish Americans watching the show. All this on Super-Tuesday, when the majority of journalists and coverage focused on the GOP primary in 10 states. And Colbert isn’t even Jewish. Maybe because his wonderful writers are.
A couple of days earlier, Stewart did a segment about an Iranian winning the Oscar for best foreign film, and used it to bash Israel. The bottom line of the segment was: “Iran, if you want more Oscars, watch out, since Jews control the entertainment industry”.
It’s obvious Stewart cares about, and is genuinely interested in, his Jewish roots and Israel. But I believe that these segments and their ongoing discussion of Jewish money and influence, as well as Israel’s sway over American politics, are counter-productive and “bad for the Jews.”
Stewart is a very influential man in today’s discourse. He is not merely a comedian, and has not been just that for years. He is the only one standing up to Fox News’s biased reporting and the conservative propaganda machine. But his treatment of Jewish issues and Israel, while not necessarily interesting to his audience (even the young Jews who watch him are more left-leaning), can have a detrimental effect.
I believe this practice essentially “pulls the rug out from under” the issue. It is obvious that Stewart wants to educate, wants to push to resolve issues, wants to help; but over-reporting these issues causes discomfort and resentment in non-Jews, and even among young Jews who are watching on campus and, like every teenager, yearn to be “like everyone else.”
I must say Stewart and Colbert are not the source of the problem. Reports of donations of 10 million dollars from Sheldon Adelson to a GOP primary contender; the AIPAC celebration in DC, where members of Congress and Senators competed on whose rhetoric is more hawkish; the talks of war with Iran, pushed by the Israeli government and lobby; the economic crisis; the stories of Madoff and Abramoff — these issues and others that emerge in the media far too often are not “good for the Jews” either.
But Stewart and Colbert are talking to the young, 18-35 crowd. Though they are older, they are the voice of this generation: a wonderful voice promoting activism and involvement in making their country great. But inadvertently they are influencing this generation with messages that might not serve a constructive purpose. They might even be raising emotions that American Jews — Republican, Democrats, pro-Israel or even unaffiliated — simply don’t want out there.