As media continues to manipulate narratives, threats on Jewish lives persist
‘Jewish lives are in danger globally and the media has blood on its hands’: A conversation with Dr. Ira Savetsky on the impact of a century-plus of Jewish hatred and misinformation in a massive media company with multinational reach
Once upon a time, in a bustling city in America, there was an emerging media empire that prided itself on being the go-to source for news and current events. The reporters, editors, and opinion columnists alike were diligent in their work, but as time went on, a disturbing trend began to emerge: a lack of quality control when reporting on—let alone facilitating—antisemitism.
Over its nearly-two century history, it has grown to become a top-3 circulated publication in America and among the most-read publications in the world. As a result of that massive growth, influence, and power, its perpetrators of blatant antisemitism have largely avoided any semblance of consequences for their hatred and complete lack of journalistic ethics.
Indeed, their hatred of Jews has infected every facet of its empire:
- their illustrators and swastika-loving puzzle makers (on Hanukkah, no less, the day after an anti-Israel piece, and on multiple occasions);
- their style guide decision makers;
- their dangerously horrifying mission to constantly target their attack on Hasidic Yeshiva schools in New York, supported by an editorial board member;
- irresponsible coverage of the Holocaust;
- their decisions to omit critical facts and use terribly inaccurate buzz phrases
Doing so without consequence has greatly aided in influencing a morbid history of appalling anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, anti-zionist rhetoric that has had profoundly dangerous, violent, massive lasting consequences, platformed antisemitism being one of them.
“You know, it’s just sad, because it feels like the media in general is no longer reporting the news; it feels like they’re just trying to spread an agenda, and that agenda often feels like antisemitism,” Dr. Ira Savetsky, an accomplished board-certified plastic surgeon, Jewish activist, and the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor, said. “[Anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment] seems to be becoming more and more like a partisan issue, which is absurd. The media has politicized support for Israel and Jewish safety.”
It wasn’t always the case that reporters nationwide were intentionally biased, but rather, they had their own misguided education and irresponsible influences that informed their biased reporting. Some were more sympathetic to certain political ideologies, while others had a history of dismissing claims of antisemitism as overblown or exaggerated. The proliferation of anti-Jewish reporting and normalization of being openly anti-Jewish in a massive media market and publication has certainly contributed to future generations of reporters and columnists.
Consequently, the public perception of the legitimacy of antisemitism in America was often—and continues to be—skewed, with some dismissing it as a non-issue due to Jewish individuals being overly-sensitive.
“When there’s hate towards a specific group of people, that’s just something that should be easily called out by everybody,” Savetsky said. “Personally, and among people close to me, when other groups of people have been marginalized over the last few years, whether it be the Black community or the Asian community, we stood with them, as we should. But when something hits the Jews, it just feels like you’re often out on an island on your own.”
In response to this alienation of Jewish individuals who have been seemingly screaming into a void and having their voices suppressed, growing concern about biased reporting on antisemitism is being highlighted by activists on social media who face daily hatred and threats of violence. Once more: because some reporters have their own biases against Jewish people and Israel, those biases end up influencing public perception of the legitimacy of antisemitism in America, empowering open and proud hatred of Jewish individuals and ensuing threats with no consequences.
“The media in general has been very anti-Israel, which ultimately, directly leads to antisemitic beliefs,” Savetsky said. “They’re one and the same. People try to separate them or claim, ‘I can be anti-Israel but not be antisemitic’ but we’ve seen over and over again how one directly leads to the other. Our friend Joey Borgen was viciously beaten up in Times Square following a Palestinian protest by a group of the protest attendees. Joey wasn’t at the protest. He was beaten because he was wearing a yarmulke. Joey’s Jewish visibility had nothing to do with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He was targeted right here in NYC, just for being Jewish. Joey’s story is just one of hundreds. As Israel continues to be portrayed by the media in a very poor light, it causes hatred around the world against Jews. Jewish lives are in danger globally and the media has blood on its hands.
“You know, it’s crazy this kind of dangerous propaganda can get past so many checks and balances at such a big publication,” Savetsky said. “And regardless of whether something like that is deliberate, it happened, the Jewish people are hurt by it. At the very least, I feel like they should just issue some type of apology, but they have no remorse.”
Instead, the perpetrator became evermore resolute in deflecting the blame with excuses, absolving themselves of any wrongdoing and failing to acknowledge that if certain geometrical patterns and crossword generating algorithms result in something resembling a swastika, measures should be in place so that such a symbol isn’t broadcast to readers worldwide.
“It’s just very odd that they doubled down on excuses,” Savetsky said. “There has been a pattern of these antisemitic occurrences with some of their puzzles. It’s just a little too alarming. I would never tell another person whether or not something I did or said was offensive to them; if it’s offensive to them, it’s offensive to them. It’s our job to listen and learn and do better. It’s not like, ‘Well, you shouldn’t be offended by it because I don’t think you should.’ That in and of itself is very offensive.”
Recent incidents of antisemitism have further served to underscore the problem. An all-time record of single-year antisemitic incidents in America was set in 2021, despite the fact that any list of such incidents is necessarily incomplete, often because some news outlets downplay the antisemitic nature of the attacks, influential figures propagate hateful messages towards Jews, or because the gatekeepers of crime data fail to list antisemitism as the motive—or they mishandle the data altogether.
Journalists who hold biases against Jewish people and Israel, and who downplay or ignore incidents of antisemitism because they don’t view it as a legitimate problem, infest publications around the world. From massive newspapers with circulations ranking among the top 10 in the country, to independent outlets that pride themselves on journalistic ethics and well-researched reporting, the bias against Jewish people seems to never preclude individuals from rising to high-ranking positions, no matter how brazen and open they are with their hatred on social media.
“It’s a deep hatred, I mean, it’s the oldest hatred,” Savetsky said. “Spielberg recently said on Stephen Colbert that he’s never seen this amount of blatant antisemitism in his entire life, and none of us have. My great uncle, who is a Holocaust survivor, said in his Shoah testimonial that anytime there’s distress in the world, whether it be financial recessions or wars around the world, history has taught us that the Jews are always a scapegoat. It’s an old, deeply ingrained hatred.”
These narratives, of course, give birth to serious consequences. When incidents of antisemitism are downplayed or ignored, and Jewish individuals are scapegoated as the reasons for the world’s ills, a normalization of hatred towards Jewish people ensues. It makes it downright impossible for Jewish leaders and smaller activists alike to address the problem and seek justice for victims of antisemitic attacks.
There is a significant amount of work needed to get to a place of even general competency in widespread awareness of biases against Jewish people and Israel, from incomplete DEIJ trainings to activist spaces on social media that exclude concerns for Jewish lives, to media outlets hiring journalists with even a modicum of ethics.
If media outlets and their respective reporters were to engage with Jewish leaders and activists like Dr. Savetsky in order to better understand their concerns and perspectives, this could go a long way towards building trust and ensuring that incidents of antisemitism are reported accurately and responsibly with much greater cultural sensitivity.
Media outlets should likewise engage in more proactive approaches to combating antisemitism, such as producing regular features on the history and impact of antisemitism, as well as reporting on efforts to combat hate crimes and promote tolerance.
Ultimately, the issue of biased reporting on antisemitism is a complex one that requires a multifaceted approach. It requires a combination of education, outreach, and advocacy to ensure that the media is doing its part to combat America’s centuries-long ignorance and instead promote tolerance and understanding.