In one of the more bizarre stories of recent years, the owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times — a small Anglo-Jewish newspaper like this one — wrote an editorial in the paper’s Jan. 13 edition promulgating the Israeli assassination of President Barack Obama.
A JTA story, which appears on Page 3 of this week’s print edition, outlines Adler’s incredibly stupid column, which was titled “What would you do?” The most grossly offensive part of the piece, which deals with three possible scenarios for dealing with Iran, suggests that Israeli leaders could “give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States’ policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies.”
Lest anyone misunderstand Adler’s premise, he clarified his third point: “Yes, you read ‘three’ correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence. Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don’t you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel’s most inner circles?”
As you might expect, Adler was widely denounced by the organized Jewish community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta announced that it would cut its ties with the Atlanta Jewish Times. Adler expressed regret for his editorial, and went on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasting network’s cable TV show, where he tearfully apologized to the wide circle of those he had offended. (You can see the interview on the AJW Web site here.)
Then, on Jan. 23, Adler announced that he would resign as publisher of the Jewish community newspaper. The AJT’s Web site features a prominent apology note from Adler on its homepage. The former publisher writes that he never advocated the assassination of the president, or wished for “the death of any individual.”
From my perspective, which I assume is shared by many in my peculiar journalistic niche, it is baffling to see a colleague do himself in, in a professional sense, by publishing one singularly idiotic piece of writing. As the JTA story notes, Obama is not universally beloved among Jews in the United States; many of our coreligionists, and their non-Jewish compatriots on the political right wing, are fixed on the idea that the president has it in for Israel.
So, Adler’s benighted column, which is preposterous from many angles — after the Jewish state assassinates the president, the vice president would feel friendlier toward Israel? — can be seen as symptomatic of an illness in the civic discourse. We are now in the 2012 election season, if you haven’t noticed somehow, and the mud is furiously flying. And the volume of attack ads this year is being buoyed by hundreds of millions of dollars in Super PAC money.
As regards Obama, the 2008 political season, in which an ascendant Tea Party movement figured prominently, was characterized by an ugly current of racism and xenophobia. I had the opportunity to ask presidential candidate Obama a question during a teleconference with Jewish newspaper editors. The then U.S. senator from Illinois was eager to speak with the Jewish press, because of the scurrilous lies — that the president was a Muslim, an anti-Semite — that had gained credence among Jews.
Before closing the book on Andy Adler, who obviously rose to his level of journalistic incompetence at the Atlanta Jewish Times, I want to amplify one strand of comments by Alana Newhouse, the editor-in-chief of Tablet, the excellent online magazine of Jewish arts, culture and politics. Newhouse took on the nature of the criticism, the online sniping from Gawker and other bloggers and trolls that met the blunder by Adler (“clearly no great thinker and no skilled journalist”).
“These people, one presumes, want to be spoken for by more responsible, thoughtful journalists, and yet not enough of them have been interested in actually paying for this expertise,” wrote Newhouse. “Barely a year goes by without news of yet another Jewish newspaper folding — the most recent of which, in Portland, actually died as the community itself grew. How loudly can I scream this from a rooftop? Journalism is hard and expensive, and communities that don’t pony up adequate resources for this privilege have only themselves to blame when they find unskilled men and women making un-thought-through comments ostensibly in their name.”
In this vein, I will briefly add that the newspaper you are holding in your hands exists because subscription and advertising revenue pays the bills. If you value having an independent Jewish newspaper in Minnesota, please encourage your friends and relatives to subscribe, and please let our advertisers know that your patronage came about because of their ad in the Jewish World.
We will get past the sorry Adler affair — worse calamities have befallen the Jewish people — and we will concentrate on how to shape a more respectful communal dialogue about Israel. It has been getting better; and another community forum — “Is a Two-State Solution Still Possible?” is the topic — will take place 10 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 5 at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul. I hope to see you there.
— Mordecai Specktor / email@example.com
(American Jewish World, 2.3.12)