Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Thousand Words

Matza Brawl. That's the title of the article. That same article included a picture of a Charedi riot and the following caption: Haredim riot in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood.

Yet another Charedi riot? Not exactly. In fact there was no riot at all. Just a file photo of some past riot. Neither the title, the photo, nor the caption had anything to do with the article. If one just glances at the title and looks at the photo one will think that another Charedi riot took place over yet another of their religious issues. Which of course, it didn't. This kind of reporting is worthy of the worst of tabloid journalism. Only it wasn't a tabloid. It was the respectable Jerusalem Post! And that is unconscionable!

As I’ve said in the past, I believe that, generally speaking, the accusation that there is anti Charedi bias in much of the secular Jewish media is way over blown. For the most part stories are fairly reported. As was this one in the Jerusalem Post. Sometimes errors are made but they are usually honest errors. And though there is always some bias in the report it is minimal and presented as fairly as humanly possible. And the Jerusalem Post is generally among the better media outlets in restraining bias. In fact I think that is still for the most part true.

But not this time. This time the bias was flagrant. And I am appalled by it. Yellow Journalism at its most insidious. Both subtle and sinister. The photo and caption accompanying the article speaks louder than its words.

The article describes the situation I wrote about recently about an observant judge's interpretation of the Chametz law. Her ruling permitted the sale of Chametz during Pesach by restaurants and stores as long as it was indoors. This obviously upset religious legislators.

I believe it was fair and factual article and did not make Charedim look bad at all. But to title the article as a Matza 'brawl' and the display of a photo of rioting Charedim does not serve truth. It serves only to perpetuate an untrue and unfair stereotype of the Charedi world as violent and reactionary.

Charedim are not by nature violent people. Those Charedim who do riot are the extremists among them. And I have strongly criticized them when it happens and have even suggested possible causes related to the type of Chinuch these individual extremists get and the reluctance by Charedi leadership to forcefully condemn these individuals and to follow that up with strong sanctions. But it was extremists - not mainstream Charedim that were actually violent not the general Charedi populace.

This time no Charedim rioted. Not one. There was no brawl. Nothing even remotely close. But that didn’t stop the Jerusalem Post from smearing them that way. What was the point of putting a picture like that into the article?

The message sent is that Charedim are by nature a violent reactionary group. Charedim are associated with riots because – well… let’s face it - that’s just who they are!

That is a bold faced lie. It’s disgusting. It’s wrong. And the Jerusalem Post ought to apologize for photo and caption that on their front pages. And they ought to fire the employee responsible for it.