Why the title of Jeffrey Goldberg’s post is, at best, irresponsible

I primarily created this blog to document things that amuse me, not to document things that annoy me. But for the second day in a row, I find myself addressing Jeffrey Goldberg’s takedown of the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption in his post Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews.

This second post stems from a conversation I had with someone who sent me Goldberg’s post. He had read my original response – and if you haven’t, I suggest you take a look at that first – but took issue with my claim that Goldberg would not have garnered the same level of attention had he chosen a less-provocative, albeit more-accurate title for his post. I wrote:

Going out of his way to allege that the boyfriend is an American Jew is spurious, groundless, and ultimately serves as the basis for Goldberg’s inflammatory blog post title – which, I imagine, is the reason it has bounced across my laptop screen all day.

While I stand by my assertion that the campaign has little to say about American Jews, and that Goldberg is essentially making an issue of a poor advertising campaign, I would like to take the opportunity to discuss the influence an author has to shape the tone of a debate.

Since Goldberg’s post went live, it has been picked up by a number of other sites around the internet. Some, like Andrew Sullivan in Netanyahu’s War on Christmas, simply repeat Goldberg’s core unsubstantiated assertion:

The latest craziness from Jerusalem is an ad campaign directed at Israeli ex-pats not to marry American Jews.

Others, like Allison Yarrow in Israeli Government Tells Israelis Not to Marry American Jews, not only take Goldberg at face value, but take their protest one shrill note further.

She wraps up her column:

This public offensive voices what American Jews should already know, and should be angrier about: that many Israeli writers, thought leaders, politicians, and rabbis believe assimilated American Jews are not Jews at all. People who make it their business to say who is and who isn’t a Jew are as old as the religion itself. That paradigm is hardly a useful one. Nobody listens to people who only want to exclude. There are more of us here than in Israel. Questions of Jewishness may not permeate our everyday activities, but maybe that’s Israeliness and not Jewishness at all.

Besides, if there are no Jews here in America, who would be left to plant all those trees?

But there is another way. The writers at Gawker (Israel Warns Jews That America Will Turn Their Kids Into Christmas-Lovers) took their time to examine the ads for themselves and managed to come up with a reasonable description:

[The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption] website is running short propaganda videos, like the one above, about the dangers posed to Judaism by stupid America culture.

Nowhere does Gawker discuss Israeli-Jewish intermarriage. Instead, it gets the message more or less right. Again, this is a message people are free to disagree with, but at least those people have an idea of what exactly they’re disagreeing with.

The alternative is trusting whatever you saw posted on the internet – and in order for you to see it, someone has to have thought it sufficiently interesting to send it your way.

The problem is, Israelis think Jews should live in Israel isn’t a headline; it’s Zionism. And that’s how you end up with alarmist titles like Israel: Don’t Marry U.S. Jews! and Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews. It’s more or less a straight line from reading titles like those to ‘Wow, those Israelis are so racist. Forget Palestinians, they won’t even marry American Jews.’ Why bother watching the videos for yourself?

Evaluating the discussion that follows differently-framed posts on the subject is instructive on this point. Sullivan and Goldberg do not allow comments on their blogs, so let’s compare some of the responses from Gawker’s responsible post to those following Yarrow’s less-responsible post.

Gawker, which focused on the war on Christmas – and not baseless allegations of racism – generated a mostly-reasonable debate about the value of tradition. Here are some representative excerpts (you are, of course, free to investigate the accuracy of my excerptions for yourself):

I normally don’t agree with the far right on religious matters. I’m not that religious myself and their policy on [conversion] pissed the hell out of me. But I can’t feel bad about a commercial that tells people to not celebrate Christmas.

It’s not as simple as saying tradition is bad and innovation is good or vice versa. This element exists in every culture. Try bringing hummus to your Black family cookout. Try walking into your Asian grandmother’s house with your cool new American sneakers on. There will be pushback.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who kinda sees where they’re coming from. That’s not to say Israel isn’t crazy, but I kind of feel like Jewish culture is dying out amongst non-Orthodox (or Conservadox) Jews in this country, and that makes me sad. We can’t let the Conservadox speak for American Jewry; they’re fucking annoying.

Now, consider some of the comments that appear after Yarrow’s article in the Daily Beast:

IF YOU DONT WANT TO MARRY AMERICANS JEWS,STAY THE HELL OUT OF AMERICA,WE DID NOT CALL YOU TO COME HERE.STAY IN ISRAEL AND MARRY THOSE LONG BEARDS AND LOCK HAIR PEOPLE THAT DONT SHOWER.

Wow~ I guess keeping family close even got closer. Who said inbreeding was wrong? Marry who ever the hell you want. Please for the sake of and love of GOD stop producing idiots and marry outside your enclosed box of relatives.

The secular Jews are in charge of the Worldwide Financial Markets. The Orthodontist Jews are not. Except for Diamonds, but still……

Much ado about nothing. Please. I live in Brooklyn, NY, & the Hassidic Jews here don’t look at me as Jewish, either. Big deal. As if I need their reassurance that I’m a Jew. Same is true of the Israelis.

Don’t marry. Ask them to take our pennies.

Can someone please tell me why the U.S. is a subordinate country to Israel?

And as an example of what happens when you transition from a respected, theoretically-moderated news/opinion outlet to the dregs of the internet, check out some of the comments Yarrow’s article, reposted word for word on Yahoo!, managed to attract:

Interesting! Seems some Jews think they are more “chosen” than other Jews I guess.

what would be the outcome if a white non jew put up billboards like that…

I think American Jews should put the United States first, Not Israel… that is a foreign country.

The subtext of this ad campaign seems to be, “We don’t like American Jews but we love American money.”

Wow, .that is a really offensive ad campaig, I’m serious. US is Israel’s biggest supporter and finacier, but “Doon’t marry American Jews?” I’m stunned.

How Prejudice, Bias,Bigoted!

Seems like they want to follow in the footsteps of their Muslim neighbors, deciding who is Jewish ENOUGH.

So, the Israeli Jews think they are superior to American Jews. Are they? I don’t know. It’s the attitude of superiority that stinks. And that applies to every race and religion.

Didn’t the Nazi’s also practice selective breeding?

Isn’t that equivalent to what the nazis said about blue eyed, blonde haired people only?

Shameful. On top of that Israel should be grateful there are American Jews. Imagine if there weren’t any. This is insulting and people should be fired over this.

I don’t need to spell out the differences for you. When people read an article about the struggles faced by a minority tradition, they respectfully discuss the struggles faced by a minority tradition. When people read an article about alleged Israeli ‘racism’ towards – can you believe it? – other Jews, Godwin’ s Law follows not far behind.

Part of the tragedy is that had Yarrow taken the time to evaluate the commercials for herself, I suspect she would have found herself in agreement with its core message. For instance, she writes:

Not only is Israel’s clinical-sounding Ministry for Immigrant Absorption telling its citizens whom to marry, it is also beckoning them home.

It’s common and advisable that countries publicly court their departed citizens, especially ones with troubled economies in need of repair. India sends its scholars to the States for an education, then entices them back to work. Ireland encourages natives to travel the world and then return. Most recently, Tunisia is asking back nationals after the spring revolution.

The way Yarrow frames the ads, their primary purpose is to warn Israelis against marrying American Jews. Oh, and they also have a secondary goal, to attract Israelis home.

Just one problem: What to Yarrow is a secondary, minor goal, is in fact the advertisements’ only goal. What the ads in this campaign have in common is their closing voiceover, which implores viewers to

Help them return to [Israel]

The problem is, in order to understand it, you have to understand the Hebrew:

עיזרו להם לחזור לארץ

I think herein lies the root of the problem. The ads are targeted at Israelis. But they’ve gone viral to a much wider audience, one that doesn’t understand the videos themselves but relies on people like Goldberg, Sullivan, and Yarrow to tell them what they’re watching.

So I’ve created a subtitled version of the two most widely-viewed videos so people who don’t speak Hebrew can watch and decide for themselves.

Here’s Christmas:

And here’s Goldberg’s ‘Josh/Jeremy’:

I don’t expect everyone who watches these versions to agree with their message, but at least I can hope to avoid more articles like Israeli ads implore Jews to not marry Americans, which betray less than no understanding whatsoever:

Thinking about tying the knot with your Jewish-American boyfriend or girlfriend? Don’t let Netanyahu in on it.

Enough, alright?

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18 thoughts on “Why the title of Jeffrey Goldberg’s post is, at best, irresponsible”

  1. They didn’t need to say not to marry Americans. The fact that it’s bad for Jews to call their father “daddy,” that it’s bad for a child to like Christmas, or that it’s bad for a boyfriend to not know a Jewish holiday is extremely prejudiced and suggests that Jews should stick together at the very least. How would you like a commercial that says marrying black men has negative consequences? What’s the difference?

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    1. JW, thanks for commenting!

      I think I both disagree and agree with you on a number of points, but your reply also includes a few understandable misunderstandings that I would like to address first.

      So just to clear some things up: none of the things you mentioned are about Jews or Judaism or ‘Jews sticking together’. Yom HaZikaron is not a Jewish holiday, per se, but an Israeli holiday. It was chosen – as opposed to a religious holiday like, say, Yom Kippur – because the ads are targeted at Israelis, and the messages are meant to reflect the anxiety of Israelis living abroad about their disconnect from mainstream Israeli culture in an attempt to coax those Israeli citizens home. I know many Jews who call their fathers something other than ‘abba’ – but for a Hebrew-speaking Israeli, this would be unusual. And I know many Jews who like or appreciate or even celebrate Christmas – but for a Hebrew-speaking Israeli to look at her grandparents sitting in front of a lit menorah and to not be able to correctly answer the question ‘What holiday is it?’ would be – forgive my understatement – unusual, and somewhat telling.

      I also don’t think a message of ‘Jews should stick together’ would have proven controversial, or garnered any attention within the Jewish world or without. You can spend about ten seconds on the google and find millions of pages with this theme, as you can for just about any ethnic group/culture/religious group/nationality that has a reasonably-sized English-speaking population. Goldberg’s protest drew attention because his headline suggested the Netanyahu government was urging Jews not to stick together, which – if accurate – would have been both a departure from the norm and a curious development.

      I’ll finish with something on which we agree: your last sentence. But I think this highlights an important point regarding my posts: I’m not saying I like the ad campaign or that it has many, if any, redeeming qualities. What I take issue with is the way Goldberg misrepresented their content and turned them into anything more than a minor non-issue. Dozens of poor ad campaigns debut every day. Most of them don’t earn their way into every major news outlet on the continent.

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    1. The fact that you still think this ad campaign is directed at ‘Jews’ indicates you didn’t read my response.

      That said, if you think the Boyfriend ad was directing Jews to stay away from outsiders, then at least you agree with me that the title of Jeffrey Goldberg’s post bears little relation to reality.

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  2. Your reply missed the point and instead focused on the idea that the add targeted “secular Israelis” (even though they are upset by the mention of Christmas). Even then, the message is against outsiders.

    American Jews are obviously not Israelis and are therefore “outsiders.” His post was not so deceptive. You refuse to engage in conversation and use hostile language targeting me as a human being. That does not impress me and it will not impress your readers.

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