Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jewish Fact Check: The alleged opposition to the anti-Semitism czar

Over the last couple years as a journalist covering the Jewish community, I've noticed that there seems to be an increasing number of rumors, untruths and distortions in the Jewish political world that get repeated enough that they're unfortunately treated as fact. So now, as an unemployed Jewish journalist, I figured I'd spend some time trying to refute these misstatements before they spread. Why? Because it makes me mad when people make up their own facts.

Today's edition: This Haaretz article interviewing the new head of the Obama administration's Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal.

For now, let's put aside the headline of the article, Rosenthal's criticism of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for his criticism of J Street, and check out this paragraph of Barak Ravid's piece:

She said criticism of her appointment in the Obama administration, from the leaders of some American Jewish organizations, was "from a very few people who blog a lot."

The problem with this paragraph is that no leaders of American Jewish organizations ever criticized Rosenthal's appointment. The only people to criticize the pick of Rosenthal were, as she correctly states, "a very few people who blog a lot." The American Thinker's Ed Lasky,The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb, and WorldNetDaily's Aaron Klein all did criticize Rosenthal's appointment, and they all blog a lot--but they don't lead American Jewish organizations.

Why the mix-up? Perhaps the writer was thinking about something the writers mentioned above had written about--that the ADL's Abe Foxman had criticized Rosenthal in a piece in The Jewish Week. But that criticism came more than 18 months ago and was in response to a piece that Rosenthal wrote criticizing some in the pro-Israel community. But Foxman and the ADL didn't criticize Rosenthal's appointment--in fact, he praised it, and said he looked forward to working with Rosenthal.

Unfortunately, this is the second time a well-read website has reported erroneously that Rosenthal's appointment was opposed by American Jewish organizations. The first was earlier this month in Foriegn Policy, when Stephen Walt got it wrong (what else is new) in his blog, stating "the Zionist Organization of America and other rightwing Jewish groups are complaining about the appointment of Hannah Rosenthal to direct the Office to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism." That was wrong and a complete misreading of the article he links to, Natasha Mozgovaya's Haaretz piece -- which notes ZOA and other organizations' criticism of the appointments of Chuck Hagel and Chas Freeman, but specifically says that "conservative web sites" are the ones upset over Rosenthal.

So, let's stop repeating this false statement. Hannah Rosenthal's appointment to head the Obama administration's office to monitor anti-Semitism was not criticized by any major Jewish organization. Now should Rosenthal, in her new position, be giving interviews in which she's criticizing the Israeli ambassador for his position on J Street? That's a very interesting and worthy question for debate--but for now, I'll just stick to the fact checking.

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