Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New York Times: The Art of Insult

In what was most certainly intended to be a cute, little human interest story by reporter Eric A. Stern for the New York Times, THIS ARTICLE, once in the hands of the crack(ed out) editorial staff of the often anti-Israel paper, turned into a shallow and insulting piece of thinly-veiled Anti-Semitism.

Now, you might consider this one a stretch. Well, thats because it is. We all know the obvious problems inherent at this rag. There are many organizations, among them CAMERA and HONESTREPORTING that do an incredible job of pointing out the misinformation, mis-facts and general anti-Israel bias at the NY Times. From problematic word choices (i.e. calling "Terrorists" such romantic things as "Freedom Fighters") to straight on lies and falsehoods, both the pre-mentioned organizations are on top of it. And, the Israel advocacy community should thank them for their tireless and comprehensive efforts.

What is missing though, is a more subtle and nuanced review of how the Anti-Israel bias and Anti-Semitism sneaks into even the most mundane and, otherwise, harmless stories. It takes a poet to notice these issues. Luckily, I like the words.

First, begin at the beginning. The lead paragraph paints the Hasid as a shadowy figure, a criminal being surveilled by the local policeman. Not only is the policeman on edge by this Jew, but so is his dog. Whatever connotations a police dog might bring to your mind, one thing is certain: the dog is trained to spot trouble. The dog is not like a human officer, prone to bias or bad judgement. The dog must know something is wrong. He might only be a dog, but he is one mighty fine officer.

Such an obvious set-up can serve one of two purposes. Either it is foreshadowing some expected result (the criminal Rabbi) or it is intended as a misdirection, making the less than nefarious Rabbinical pursuit seem even more innocent in comparison to the initial assumption. For this latter approach to work, a reader must stay committed all the way to the end of the article. However, long attention spans are not what newspaper readers are known for.

The story then moves to a description of the disappearing Jewish population. The editors quite literally place the seemingly plotting Jew in a ghost town. Is he responsible? Have the Jews been killed off, as if some bearded dinosaurs by the meteorite of Jewish scheming?

Of course not. It turns out that the shadowy, Lubavitch figure was merely a misdirection to discuss Israel's training of bomb-sniffing dogs. Israel also trains dogs for the disabled and other such service dogs. But, the NYT would never allow an article about Jews or Israel to run without mentioning the conflict.

Which leads us to the pay-off, the conclusion that the dog and the Rabbi understand each other. That, quite literally, they speak the same language. Potentially touching in an Old Yeller kind of way without, we hope, the final gunshot. But, rather than be sentimental and romantic, the article concludes in a rather odd way:

So all is well in the Jewish community here because the Hasidic rabbi is helping the Montana cop speak Hebrew to his dog. It is good news all around. The officer keeps the Capitol safe, and the Hebrew pooch is feeling more at home hearing his native tongue.

But the big winner is the rabbi, a recent arrival from Brooklyn who is working hard (against tough odds) to bring his Lubavitch movement to Montana. He has been scouring the state for anyone who can speak Hebrew, and is elated to have found a German shepherd he can talk to.

Some not so difficult assumptions to make from this closing:

1. The Rabbi and the dog are one. The Rabbi has sought a congregation and found a dog. Dogs are like Jews, I guess.
2. The Rabbi has manipulated the situation to be the big winner, above the non-Jews.
3. There is some connection between Germany and Judaism, a not so subtle Holocaust reference.
4. Cops protect. Dogs want the feeling of home. Rabbis troll for followers.

Before we go crazy condemning these assumptions as paranoid or melodramatic, consider the profound impact of subtle ideas. Consider how television shows and soundbites have shaped your cultural understanding. Consider that, as Kurt Cobain paraphrased: Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not after you.

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