Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Rise and Fall of Joseph Aaron

Joe Aaron - publisher of the Chicago Jewish News
What a frustrating time it must be for  Chicago Jewish News  editor and publisher, Joe Aaron.  The paper’s circulation numbers are apparently so low, that it cannot survive on its advertising income. It has to be subsidized by a local philanthropist. This is sad not only for him, but even for Chicago Jewry.

The Chicago Jewish News had so much potential. It could have been the voice of Chicago Jewry. It could have been the primary source for Jewish news and opinion. I had high hopes for it when it was founded.  But instead of being a beacon of light shining on Chicago’s Jewish community it has turned into a personal weekly rant against the current Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Now it’s true that the paper does report on Jewish news and events. But its biggest asset was Joe Aaron. He was a hard hitting journalist who was unafraid to rock the establishment. His writing style is unique. I pick up a copy of his paper every week and  his editorial is the first thing I read. Most of the time I agree with him. And sometimes I vehemently disagree.

Joe Aaron also happens to be an observant Jew. But his paper was fair to all denominations and even featured a weekly Torah Portion column by a rotating group of rabbis of all denominations. Something for which he was severely criticized by the Orthodox establishment. I occasionally read those columns and found them all to be consistent with Orthodoxy. I am not endorsing what he did. But in fairness I will say that presumably he required all rabbis to write Torah columns that would be compatible with all denominations. Including Orthodoxy. Joe’s attitude was one of Achdus.

I had been a fan of Joe Aaron since his days as the editor of the JUF News, the Chicago Jewish Federation newspaper. It was refreshing I thought to have an observant Jew in charge and seeing an Orthodox perspective in his editorials. When he decided to start the Chicago Jewish News, I thought it was great that Chicago’s Jewish newspaper of record would have as its head, an Orthodox Jew.

Perhaps the pressure of what increasingly seems to be a failing enterprise has gotten to him. His editorials of late are a virtual barrage of hatred against the Prime  Minster of Israel.

I happen to be a supporter of Israel’s democratically elected leader. One who will no doubt continue being so after the next election. But if one were to read Joe’s recent editorials you would that the Jews of Israel had elected ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to office and intend on keeping him there!  From his latest editorial
It is hard to exaggerate how destructive to Judaism Prime Minister Netanyahu is being, both internally and externally. Yes, here I go again pointing out how the leader of the Jewish state is doing such damage to us. Lots of Jews are concerned today about ISIS. But the fact is the far greater threat to the well-being of the Jewish people is BIBI. No, I’m not being unfair and no I’m not overblowing it. Bibi trades in fear, wallows in the negative, behaves without a trace of concern for what is right, what is moral, what is Jewish. 
It is truly breathtaking that an Orthodox Jew who I know loves his people and the State of Israel can say that about its sitting prime minister, and what that implies about the Israelis who voted for the party that put him into office.

What is even more breathtaking is how he goes about demonstrating just how evil and dangerous he thinks the Prime Minister is. Aaron is not beneath, smearing, lying (via omission), and embellishing the facts. Nor is he beneath making misleading conclusions from it. He is not beneath slinging any mud that will stick no matter how trivial, just to show how unscrupulous Netanyahu is. I have no clue what he thinks all this criticism will do, except to smear Israel right along with its prime minister. Surely he can’t think that he has even the slightest influence on a single Israeli voter.

I know that there are a lot of Jews - some of them Orthodox - that do not like Netanyahu and might agree with every negative word ever uttered by anybody about him. But for a supposedly responsible journalist to stoop so low as to call Israel’s democratically elected leader a greater danger to Israel than ISIS borders on the irrational. It is irresponsible in the extreme. It does not serve world Jewry well for editor of a Jewish newspaper of a major American city with a large Jewish population to spew rabid irrational hatred of the Prime Minister of the Jewish State.

It isn’t whether his issues with Netanyahu are legitimate or not. He is entitled to his opinion. What he is not entitled to is lie (via omission), to embellish, to smear, and to conclude as he does based on all that.

What bothers Aaron this time are two issues that I have discussed. One is his upcoming speech to congress and the other is his call for mass immigration of European Jews to Israel. I even agree with him about the latter and said so. I think it was wrong to urge Jews from those countries to make mass Aliyah (immigrate) out of fear. The Europe of 2015 is not anywhere near the Europe of 1939. 

I do not agree with him on the former. I think Netanyahu  did nothing wrong in accepting an invitation from House Speaker Boehner to address a joint session of congress. One can disagree but one should respect that there is another way to look at this issue.

But  Aaron sees it only one way. And totally overstates the negative impact of Netanyhu’s speech to the point of fear mongering! Using smear tactics to bolster his views.  

His claim (and the claim of many that dislike Netanyahu) is that it politicizes and thereby erodes support by alienating Democrats. His proof is that here have already been announcements by respected members of congress that they will not attend. Really? A few members of congress not attending his speech erodes support of Israel?

Well, if one speech by a sitting Prime Minister of Israel can do that, then that support was not very deep to begin with… if it was ever really there at all. Besides, I would be willing to bet that the boycotters will declare that their support for Israel has not changed. It will remain the same.

They will say that they are only standing up for the honor of the Presidency. And they say that in any case they will hear nothing new. (I guess that must have gotten an advance copy of the Prime Minister’s speech.)  If anyone is politicizing it, it is the boycotters. Thankfully there are hard core Democrats like Charles Shumer that are urging fellow Democrats to attend. (I guess Netanyahu forgot to give him an advance copy of his speech.) Netanyahu wants to address all of congress, not just the Republicans.  

Aaron says that the American people do not approve of speaker Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu. But what Aaron fails to mention is that the American people also do not approve of the President’s refusal to meet with him, once he’s here.  It appears then that they are more upset at Boehner than they are at Netanyahu. But Aaron is so blinded by his hate of Netanyahu that Boehner is barely even in his radar. And the President's refusal to meet is meaningless to him despite the American people’s disapproval of it.

Even though Aaron is an admitted dyed in the wool Democrat - that does not excuse him. I have to wonder what has caused this once great journalist to lose any semblance of objectivity. That he disagrees with Netanyahu is his right. But seeing a deterioration of relations between the US and Israel because of a speech is pure fantasy. Calling Netanyahu a greater danger to Israel than ISIS is an outrage. And yet he had no problem saying it. I am beginning to wonder if it isn’t Joe Aaron who is the bigger danger.