Last week, I received a text message from someone I know asking for a friend if I knew of a major organization that fights anti-Semitism. This person claims he and his business were victims of a hit piece by a publication that was allegedly laced with thinly disguised anti-Semitic tropes. They had an agenda and they stuck with it, despite some obvious misrepresentations.
In fact, during the interview for the article, the interviewer asked the company rep if certain assumptions about the company were correct. The interviewer was shown factually how those assumptions were incorrect. Despite knowing that, the publisher went to print with the proven-wrong assumptions. When confronted after the publication, the publisher “generously” offered to print those corrections in the next edition. How nice. You know what that will accomplish.
It hit me that there is no organization to take on the publication. Dov Hikind is great, but he is alone in his work and does not have the wherewithal to take on a large publication or go to the mat with them. The ADL? Forget about it. They will never take on a left-leaning outfit, which the publication is. Neither will any of the secular organizations. The Orthodox establishment? You know my feelings on that matter. Very sad for that reality to set in.
“I always heard of ‘fake news,’ said the businessman, “but now I see it unfold for myself!” He said that the whole piece was fabricated from just about beginning to end, and it is being accepted as the truth in the market. It indeed has caused some ripple effects with their business associates.
It is said of a very respected rav and rosh ha’yeshivah at Yeshiva University that he never speaks to the press, even for the most innocuous topics. Very smart advice.
A week ago, I received an email from a digital newspaper to ask me my opinion as to whether it is true that in synagogues now, fewer men are formally attired on Shabbos. The publication is secular in nature, so I did not respond. Who knows how they would have spun my response, even concerning such an innocent topic.
Take the Mar-a-Lago episode. The New York Times wrote that the redacted version of the US Attorney General’s cause for the raid shows clearly how Donald Trump put American spies and the country at risk. Yet the same day, The Wall Street Journal’s lead editorial claimed that the new revelations showed nothing that would justify the AG’s action. Whom do you believe?
Fake news is for real. And our country is suffering deeply from its effects. The trick is to detect the falsehoods. The problem is one man’s falsehoods are the other man’s gospel. We are a nation divided, and our current leadership has only made matters worse.
If we could only live up to the motto of Hillel and Shamai of the Talmud, who were noted antagonists in halachic matters; yet, “Ha’emes v’ha’shalom ehavu –they loved peace and truth.” Thus, they kept their differences in the study hall, as they and their disciples lived harmoniously together. We need to dream that maybe one day we will see the likes of Hillel and Shamai walk in our midst again. If we could only find the common ground of truth.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.