The CNN special report “Rising Hate: Antisemitism on America” featured a passionate Dana Bash, and it’s about time CNN did such a report. It should have been much longer than an hour and should have aired two or more years ago, but something is better than nothing.
As someone who has covered antisemitism and spoken with victims, I was both encouraged and disappointed with different parts of the special. Here is my list of the hits and misses of the report.
- CNN properly contradicted its previous false narrative
For countless hours of programming, CNN put forward that former President Donald’s Trump’s “very fine people on both sides” comment was directed at neo-Nazis. It was taken out of context. CNN actually had the chutzpah here to show the whole tape where Trump clearly says he is not talking about neo-Nazis, whom he says “should be condemned totally.” The “fine people” quote was about people who wanted monuments to stay up. Though I would not call them fine people, facts are facts. Anyone watching the program basically sees that CNN is admitting to previously pushing a false narrative on its viewers.
- Trump should have called out David Duke
The report shows Trump saying he wasn’t familiar with David Duke. Not condemning David Duke, one of the most well-known antisemites, was a major mistake by Trump. There is no explanation for it. Could Trump, in the moment, have forgotten who David Duke was? I don’t think so. This was in fact a frightening moment. “I don’t know anything about David Duke,” Trump said. If somehow, he had never heard of David Duke, which is hard to believe, that is still troubling.
- The interview with Cassie Blotner
Can antisemites sink any lower? I’m not sure. We know about the Women’s March and how intersectionality works. In areas that have nothing to do with Jewishness, such as fighting against income inequality, climate change, equal rights and/or women’s rights, suddenly if someone is Jewish and or supports Israel, they will be delegitimized and there will be attempts to eject them. In the special, Blotner recounted that people online called for her to be spat on and that her father had to pick her up and take her from SUNY New Paltz at 3 o’clock in the morning. Blotner had started a group called New Paltz Accountability to give strength to herself and other victims of sexual violence. The group she started pushed her out because she reposted a pro-Israel comment online. With the help of the Brandeis Center, she has filed a formal civil complaint.
“I feel like I’m having a bit of an identity crisis because I’ve been feeling like I had to decide if I was more a survivor of sexual violence or if I was really more Jewish that day, because they wanted me to choose between the two,” Blotner said in the special. CNN rightly included that the administration would not comment and aired a meaningless statement from the university as is standard. I wish CNN would have tried to interview every college president who has turned a blind eye to antisemitism.
- Dana Bash and Julia Ioffe
Julia Ioffe, a Jewish reporter, did a great job in the limited time she had. It is clear she is passionate about the topic. She is one of the few reporters to challenge some false narratives. Whoever selected her or allowed her to do the report made the right move but should have given her a three-hour special or a week-long one-hour segment. They were also correct to point out that Trump should have spoken out against the antisemitism against her. Even though Ioffe made an ill-advised joke about the president and his daughter Ivanka, for which she was fired from Politico, that doesn’t excuse antisemitic attacks against her, which should have been condemned.
- Deborah Lipstadt and Alyza D. Lewin
There should have been a special with just Deborah Lipstadt, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, and Alyza D. Lewin, head of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. They were articulate and it was crucially important for America to hear their words of wisdom. While Lipstadt is already known as a national figure, Lewin’s stock is rising for her immense work and she is finally being recognized as a major leader in the space.
- 6. Explaining how antisemitism rose during Covid
While obvious to some, it is important to note that there were antisemitic conspiracy theories, and people will lash out in more desperate times. Lipstadt noted that Jews have been scapegoated in history when there was a plague or when the economy was bad.
- No sufficient explanation of or time devoted to how anti-Zionism is almost always antisemitism
As this is the real plan of antisemites – to delegitimize Jews under the false pretense of it being about politics – this should have taken place in the first few minutes and been clearly explained. Big fail. They give it a few seconds where Rabbi Jill Jacobs says anti-Zionism can become antisemitism. While anti-Zionism is not antisemitism is every single case, it is in the vast majority of cases and is the favorite tactic used. To explain this properly might have been the most important thing the special could have done to combat antisemitism.
- No mention of unprecedented New York City Council hearing on antisemitism
There’s a more than six-hour video easily available where City Council members questioned CUNY officials, who were woefully unprepared, and numerous Jewish faculty and students spoke of their experiences of antisemitism. Not including even a second of this makes us wonder if CNN can be taken seriously. Let’s hope it’s in the follow-up report. Thankfully, they at least interviewed Inna Vernikov, who represents District 48 in Brooklyn and has been a leading voice fighting antisemitism.
- No mention of Ilhan Omar
The report was correct to blast Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Green for comparing Covid to the Holocaust. She doesn’t deserve to be in charge of a vegetable store, let alone hold political office to represent anyone. But by not mentioning Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, who tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world” and that U.S. support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins,” it gives the appearance that Republicans should be called out but not Democrats.
- No interview with Brooklyn Chasidim who have been victims
While the report did feature the rabbi from Chabad of Poway, where a horrible terrorist attack in 2019 left one woman dead, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to interview one of the many chasidim in Brooklyn who have been attacked for being Jewish? It would not be too hard to find one. That chasidim and Jews who dress in an identifiably Jewish way are on the front lines should have been mentioned. It wasn’t.
- No counter to Jonathan Greenblatt’s “Tornado vs. Climate Change” example
I am not here to argue whether there is more antisemitism from the right or the left. Statistics of total violent attacks against Jews have not been presented, which would help in any comparison. As the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Greenblatt is an authority with the right to his opinion. In this special, he said, “So on the extreme right, they are the tornado that will tear apart your house and kill everyone inside in an instant. The far left is like climate change. Slowly, but surely, the temperature is rising. Some people deny it and some people say we can adapt to it. But suddenly it reaches the point, the temperature has become so inhospitable, that people can no longer live there.”
It goes without saying that there has been horrific violence and carnage from the right. There were terrible scapegoating charges from the right that Jews somehow were to blame for Covid. But an intruder literally came in like a tornado and attacked chasidim in Monsey with a machete on December 28, 2019 and Josef Neumann would eventually die from his wounds. The attacker was not from the right. When Joseph Borgen was violently attacked for wearing a yarmulka in Times Square, that attack did not come from the right. Blake Zavadsky said he was punched in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, after refusing to take off an IDF sweatshirt. The attack did not come from the right.
Numerous students are threatened at college campuses. The attacks mostly do not come from the right. Jeffrey Lax, chair of the business department and an Orthodox professor at Kingsborough Community College, co-founded an organization called S.A.F.E. C.U.N.Y. He was specifically excluded from a meeting that was held on the Sabbath on purpose and a federal determination was made in his favor. He said a tire was also slashed and he’s received threats. They did not come from the right.
A counterpoint should have been shown, as I believe if Greenblatt currently spoke to the family of Neumann or those listed above, they might disagree with his characterization as the temperature has not simply risen by a few degrees.
- Please call a terrorist a terrorist
Terrorism is violence committed for political goals. The man who came into Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville took Jews hostage because they were Jews. Bank robbers are gunmen who want money and don’t have any political problem with people using a bank. Bank robbers are gunmen. In the special, the man who was greeted by a rabbi with tea and returned kindness with threats of death was called a “gunman.” Call him what he is – a terrorist, plain and simple.