An introduction: “Jewish Exponent Watch” holds community charity-subisidized Jewish local journalism accountable
Guest column by Moshe Phillips
Published Thursday, September 22, 2011. 1:25 PM
I have a confession to make: I don’t read The Jewish Exponent enough.
I probably don’t visit the websites for the New York Times or the Washington Post enough either.
I prefer to get my news and views from less “mainstream” sources. I don’t like pay walls and I don’t like wire services. I’m not looking to read op-eds by columnists with whom I vehemently disagree unless they are articulate and interesting and unless compelling arguments are made.
Show me something I haven’t seen or tell me something I don’t know about, and I’ll visit your website more often. I am especially disgusted when I see editors publishing op-eds by haters (of either America or Israel) in an attempt to show that their publication’s editorial board is more “evenhanded” than the other guy’s.
Which brings me back to The Jewish Exponent.
The Exponent is a house publication of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia charity umbrella organization, and, as such, the Exponent should be held accountable by the community. For years, the Exponent has received a pass from many in the pro-Israel community.
One reason is that, with the Philadelphia Inquirer employing such ant-Israel advocates as Tony Auth, who noticed the Exponent’s transgressions?
Another reason was that the senior editorial staff, Bertram Korn Jr., then later Jonathan Tobin, were among the very top tier of professional Jewish journalists.
But the editorial stance at the Exponent has veered off course. Wildly off course.
And so we have created “Exponent Watch.”
Each week we’ll explore a few things the Exponent has published.
Here’s our take on the weekly issue which came out today, the September 22 issue:
Staff writer Bryan Schwartzman’s report “Rev. Discusses His Take on Peace in Middle East” is a good place to start this process.
Schwartzman basically provides a forum to criticize Israel to local Presbyterian minister, Rev. William Borror, who is anti-Israel, even if less so than other ministers within the Presbyterian Church. For example, Schwartzman writes that Borror is “highly critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arguing that the current government has done little, if anything, to advance the peace agenda”; Borror “opposes the language about cutting American aid to the Palestinian Authority”). The Exponent fails to interview even one critic of Presbyterian anti-Israel policies and fails to adequately explain the depth of anti-Israel hostility within the Presbyterian Church.
The Exponent, apparently not finding enough worthwhile voices within the greater Philadelphia Jewish community, uses its limited op-ed space to publish a piece by a rabbinical student at the non-denominational and not-particularly-respected Academy for Jewish Religion … in Los Angeles. (Why, again, is the Exponent being subsidized by the Jewish Federation of Greater PHILADELPHIA?) In any case, the op-ed by Ilana Goldhaber-Gordon, “Finding Strength From the ‘Binding of Isaac’”, fails to mention Jerusalem, the Land of Israel or Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount) once in her essay. Where the heck did the ‘Binding of Isaac’ take place, Ilana? In Los Angeles?
Additionally, it is not clear why the writer and the Exponent use scare quotes to describe the Akeidah, one of the most important events in the history of Judaism. (Actually, to some of us familiar with the mindset of places like the Academy for Jewish Religion, it is quite clear why…)
Leonard Felder’s essay on the High Holidays, actually printed (at least originally printed; the Exponent may yet make a correction in the online edition) with a title actually reading: “Opinion: Five Ways to Be More Present at the High Holicayus” (Mazel Tov on the excellent copy-editing there!), similarly fails to mention Jerusalem, the Land of Israel or the Holy Temple.
And the above examples point to the real issue. Editorial decisions at the Exponent often make no sense.
In last week’s issue, Harris Devor and Asaf Romirowsky were permitted to write: “As almost everyone knows by now, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is planning to march into the United Nations this month and demand statehood for the [‘]Palestinians[‘] by way of a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.”
Devor and Romirowsky were right. Everyone knows these events are important. The Exponent’s editors, though, chose to publish just one op-ed column (Devor and Romirowsky) online about it in two weeks. And nothing the week of the UN General Assembly.
That is beyond a sin of omission.
On a bright note, there are worthwhile Letters to the Editor this week (although, as is often the case, those letters were motivated by outrage with something the Exponent has printed) . These letters can be accessed at this link. The best line among the letters comes from Lee B. Zeplowitz of Bala Cynwyd: “When she writes ‘when extremists attacked the United States,’ I thought: They were not ‘extremists’; they were — and are — Islamic Jihadists.” (Zeplowitz’s letter was motivated by an op-ed last week by Abby Stamelman Hocky called “Striving to Create a Different Kind of Post-9/11 Building Project,”)
Tell us about your reactions to reading the Exponent at email@example.com.
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Moshe Phillips is the president of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans For a Safe Israel/AFSI. The chapter’s website is at: www.phillyafsi.com, and Moshe’s blog can be found at http://phillyafsi.blogtownhall.com.