Recent boycotts of media outlets, launched mostly by grass-roots groups concerned about anti-Israel bias, have prompted criticism from a few establishment Jewish organizations that have argued that because the Jews and Israel have been the victims of boycotts, the tactic is illegitimate and immoral.
But these arguments ignore certain basics.
First, to state the obvious, the current campaigns bear no resemblance to the protracted, global economic, diplomatic and cultural exclusions Israel has suffered or the ferocious campaigns against Jewish businesses in Nazi-era Europe. Those anti-Jewish boycotts, dictated by ruling regimes, were rooted in a hateful bigotry and aimed at the elimination of a people and a state, not the redress of an offending policy.
The protests against The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and others are initiatives by individuals, not governments, and are freely joined by anyone who accepts the arguments of the campaigners. No one is compelled to end their subscriptions to the publications, just as no one, surely, is compelled to continue them.
Boycotts in the American context have long been a tool of consumer complaint and social policy activism, sometimes an effective one -- often not -- and Jews, including Jewish organizations, have participated in them.
For example, was the Central Conference of American Rabbis wrong in 1985 to call on 1.2 million Reform congregants to boycott nonunion California grapes in support of Cesar Chavez's campaign?
From another perspective, to say that boycotts should not be used by Jews because Jews have been the victims of boycotts makes no more sense than to assert that because guns and soldiers have been wielded against Jews and Israel, Jews should forego their use, no matter what the provocation, in order to present a more pure moral face to the world.
Although the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has not initiated or sponsored boycott campaigns against any national or regional newspapers, there has been a call to suspend financial support for one media outlet until its harmful anti-Israel bias ends.
That institution is National Public Radio (NPR).
The network receives tax support, both directly and indirectly, via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and aggressively solicits financial gifts from listeners and underwriters (who are actually business and institutional advertisers). A matrix of local and national boards cultivates supporters and helps advance NPR's fundraising efforts.
Are Jewish listeners under obligation to provide both the involuntary support to NPR, entailed in their taxes allotted to the network, and additional donations in response to the constant entreaties by station managers and NPR officials?
Are Jewish listeners duty bound to send checks to help finance programming in which grave allegations are routinely leveled at Israel without a single Israeli given the right of response?
The many examples of distortion are far too numerous to recite in detail. A July 1 program, for instance, charged that Israel continuously shoots at innocent sewer repairmen in Gaza, thwarting efforts to assure healthy conditions for Palestinian civilians. So relentless are Israeli snipers, according to NPR, that international "activists" must position themselves, physically, between the shooters and the repairmen. Palestinian "human rights" and medical workers all join in attesting to the allegedly malevolent role of Israel.
But not a single Israeli is permitted to answer the charges.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesmen categorically denied the NPR claims to CAMERA and said, moreover, NPR had never contacted them about the story. The IDF spokesman also noted that the network's reporters rarely call to fact check allegations made against the military.
Under public pressure in this instance, NPR posted a note on its Web site expressing "regrets" for failing to include any Israeli spokesman. The regrets were not broadcast on-air where a substantial audience might hear them, nor was there a follow-up story presenting the Israeli version of events.
The "regrets" were evidently insincere since one-sided, accusatory coverage continues unabated.
An especially incendiary story on Aug. 31 by Anne Garrels included six Palestinians leveling charges against Israel for allegedly depriving them of needed water in West Bank towns.
No Israeli or pro-Israel voices were included.
Garrels herself added to the deceptions, twice stating that only half of West Bank towns have tap water. What she neglected to mention is that all towns were given the option of being connected to the National Water Carrier to tap water, but some refused on political grounds, refusing to recognize Israel's presence in any guise.
That excluded bit of information would have radically altered Garrels' story of blameless Palestinians victimized by stone-hearted Israelis. But her reports are typically short on factual accuracy and long on emotive editorializing.
Troubled at rising public dismay over the coverage, NPR executives have responded, not by rigorous attention to assuring every broadcast is balanced and accurate, but by hiring a PR firm to help spin their image in the Jewish community.
All the while, the distortions continue.
A media outlet unwilling to address serious substantive complaints through the normal channels of interaction over a more than a decade, which is the case with NPR, cannot expect the Jewish community to underwrite unfair and damaging distortions.
What self-respecting people supports its own defamation?
Andrea Levin is executive director of CAMERA, www.camera.org.
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