The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

MAY 2006

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News and Op/Ed

Letters to the Editor
Jewish Exponent circa 1919

Exponentially Right-Wing

For years, Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent, the official voice of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, has been right-wing in its editorial policy. In a city where Jews (as they do almost everywhere in America) vote heavily for liberal Democrats, the paper has leaned heavily to conservative Republican candidates.

But its political stance does not stop at its legitimate platform, the editorial page. The editor, Jonathan Tobin, not only writes right-wing editorials; he writes long right-wing "Op/Ed" pieces [which of course are not "Op" --- that is, "opposite" --- the editorial page]. When he publishes letters that criticize the paper's stance, he appends right-wing comments. And sometimes he decides not to publish some critical letters at all. During the last Presidential campaign, the paper even contrived to give extraordinary display to Republican ads while burying Democratic ones deep inside the invisible parts of the paper. These habits might well be described as not merely multiple but exponential right-wing bias. 
During the last few months, on one occasion the president of Americans for Peace Now, and on two occasions I myself, have tried to correct falsehoods published in the Exponent by writing letters to its editor.

On two of these occasions, Mr. Tobin (letters actually go directly to him, and he actually personally writes comments when he doesn't like the letters) insisted on responding by distorting the record and repeating the falsehood. In one case, he slashed the letter to eliminate a critique of the Exponent. And in one case, he simply didn't publish the letter. 

In the latest case, the Exponent published a letter to the editor that attacked Cindy Sheehan (and The Shalom Center for honoring her). The attack was based on repeating an indisputably false statement about Cindy, that she has made "oft-repeated remarks that the war with Iraq has been conducted to protect Israel, rather than the United States." 

Any knowledgeable journalist should have known this was false. Ms. Sheehan has denied this canard again and again, even on national television. It was spread across the world by the National Jewish Republican Coalition when Ms. Sheehan was sitting near the President's ranch in Texas, demanding that he explain for what noble cause her son Casey had to die, and igniting what had been widespread but quiescent opposition to Bush's War. 

The Republican attack on her even ascribed her views to the Democratic Party -- an absurd untruth, seeing how many journalists have derided the Democrats for having no policy on the war. What the Republicans were trying to do was save their President from the upsurge of opposition. Any canard would do. The attack on Sheehan could not have been more nakedly inspired by partisan politics.

In actual fact, Ms. Sheehan has said again and again that her son was sent to die for oil -- not for America's security or freedom.

Even though Mr. Tobin habitually responds to and critiques letters he does not like, he did not straighten out the facts on this one. So I wrote a letter showing how false was the accusation against Ms. Sheehan . It has not been published at all. 

Earlier, the Exponent had distorted Sheehan's arrest in the US Capitol on State of the Union night, in an article reporting on her being honored by The Shalom Center as one of the prophetic voices of our day. 

In its article, the Exponent asserted that Sheehan was "caught" demonstrating against the war --- though she had been not furtive or sly but totally open about her opposition, and had been properly invited to the event by a Member of Congress. Even worse, the Exponent failed to report that next morning, the police dropped all charges against her and apologized.

My letter criticized the Exponent for misstating the facts in such a way as to undercut the First Amendment, instead of celebrating it as a newspaper should. Mr. Tobin simply cut that part of the letter altogether, and appended a restatement that what Sheehan did was wrong. 

Finally there is how the Exponent dealt with a letter from Debra DeLee, national president of Americans for Peace Now, which began, "Jonathan Tobin's column on Dr. Khalil Shikaki , 'Do Terror Ties Really Matter?') gives McCarthyism a bad name."

Tobin had accused a Brandeis University professor of actively assisting terrorists, though no law-enforcement agency had charged him with what is actually a crime. DeLee pointed out that the accusations originated from the Zionist Organization of America ? so right-wing extremist a group that it denounced Prime Minister Arik Sharon for selling out Israel by withdrawing from Gaza.

Tobin could not let the letter be. Changing costume to appear in his role as editor, not as the "Op/Ed" columnist whose essay DeLee was criticizing, he commented: "Victims of 'McCarthyism' were falsely accused, but her attempts to divert our attention from what Shikaki actually did does not change the fact that his association with a terrorist group that murdered Israelis and Americans during this period is not in question. The real question is why doesn't Peace Now -- or a university named after a man who sought truth - care about it?" 

In other words, not mere McCarthyism but exponential McCarthyism.

Why is the Exponent behaving in this way, and what should we do about it?

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which owns the Exponent, is itself controlled by extremely rich donors who have very "conservative" politics. One highly placed liberal on the Federation staff said privately they must please these people in order to keep the money coming that keeps hospitals and social-work agencies afloat. 

The irony is that the reason the money of these wealthy right-wingers is so desperately needed is that these same wealthy right-wingers have been able to radically reduce the governmental money that used to go to meet these public needs. They use their charitable gifts to advance their right-wing politics, and use their right-wing politics to aggrandize the power of their charitable contributions. 

How should Jews --- not just liberal and progressive Jews, but any Philadelphians who would like to get a reasonably open presentation of different views on their own terms --- deal with this constant bias?

One way is to write Harold Goldman, Executive Vice-President, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, 2100 Arch St, Philadelphia PA 19103, to complain. The complaint may not be effective unless you are able to donate a quarter million dollars a year. 

Another is to strengthen this publication. The Philadelphia Jewish Voice emerged precisely because some liberal Jews in Philadelphia were outraged by the Exponent's behavior in the 2004 Presidential campaign. It can use contributions of money and articles

A third would be to give money for Jewish causes through some other means. The Federation of the East Bay in California is well-known as a place of open discussion that makes available a wide spectrum of Jewish opinion on public issues. And one independent-minded support system for Israel is the New Israel Fund, 1101 14th St. NW, 6th Floor, Washington, DC 20005. To strengthen the age-old Jewish mission of repairing the world through social action, one key support group is Jewish Funds for Justice, 8459 Ridge Ave., 2d Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19128.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow directs The Shalom Center and is the author of Godwrestling --- Round 2, among many other books of Jewish thought and practice.