On August 28th, 2014, The Jewish Daily Forward published an outrageous op-ed by Alvin H. Rosenfeld entitled, “Moral Emptiness of Holocaust Survivors Who Took on Israel”. Rosenfeld’s piece was written in response to a letter published in the New York Times and signed by over forty Jewish survivors and over 300 descendents of Jewish survivors and victims of the Holocaust demanding justice in Gaza. Not only did the Forward provide editorial space to Mr. Rosenfeld, who used it to personally slander and minimize prominent human rights activists, but it then denied the original letter’s signatories an opportunity to respond.
Rosenfeld’s piece, which was absent any substantive engagement with the actual content of the NYT letter, includes attacks on Hedy Epstein and Hajo Meyer, both proud signatories to the letter, life-long activists for social justice, and survivors of the Nazi genocide. Writing about Hedy Epstein’s arrest in Ferguson, MO, after joining protests to demand justice for Michael Brown, Rosenfeld says, “She seems to thrive on flashing her dubious credentials as a ‘survivor’ and, even at age 90, will step forward to join protests, especially if they are against Israel.” Rather than applaud Epstein for living up to the refrain, “Never again for anyone,” the Forward provides Rosenfeld a platform for attacking her. Such personal attacks apparently pass for journalism at the Forward.
Edith Bell, a German born survivor of Camp Westerbork, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Kurzbach and 50-plus year member of member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, speaks her outrage at Rosenfeld’s presumption, “How dare he accuse us of using the Holocaust as a cloak of authority, when the ardent Israel supporters have been using the Holocaust forever as an excuse to stomp on the Palestinians. It is a real slap in the face.”
“Rosenfeld’s attack piece did not counter in any meaningful way the piece published in the New York Times, its content, or those of us who signed on”, said Jesse Strauss, grandson of Polish Holocausts survivors and community organizer in Oakland, CA. “Rosenfeld asserts that our experience as Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors makes us think we have moral authority over Israel. To the contrary, we signed our names to publicly reclaim them from the brutal occupation, from the systematic killings, and from the deprivation of means of survival of the Palestinian people living in historic Palestine.”
In response to Rosenfeld’s editorial, several signatories and supporters have submitted op-eds (including this op-ed authored by Jesse Strauss) to The Forward and requests asking for the opportunity to respond. The online article has inspired nearly 200 comments, most of them expressing disappointment with The Forward for publishing the piece and indignation with Rosenfeld for his baseless criticism and contradictory claims. Despite this substantial readership reaction, The Forward has not only refused to run a formal response piece, but has declined to respond to the requests. When The Forward uses its editorial discretion to run a piece attacking people without printing a defense, it is not responsible journalism; it is pushing a political agenda.
As Bruce Ballin, founding member of Jewish Voice for Peace and Former National Program Director of the Jewish Peace Fellowship, says in the op-ed he submitted to The Forward which was also refused, “He seems not to be able to simply say he disagrees with the signers. Why shouldn’t all survivors and their descendants have their testimonies and conclusions from the Holocaust be seen as valid? In any case he rejects the opinions of 40 direct survivors, so his assertion about distance from Auschwitz becomes absurd. And one might ask, do only survivors who agree with Israel have wisdom, or possibly could all survivors have wisdom regardless of their opinion?…Validation of experience does not come from conformity of thought. Validation comes from honest expression and respect from others who otherwise may agree or disagree.”
As Rosenfeld’s commentary demonstrates, no Jewish person publicly critical of Israel is safe from personal attack or from groundless accusations of being self-hating, traitorous, or self-aggrandizing. Given this pervasive threat to expression and the systematic stifling of critical voices, it is not surprising that there is so little media coverage – and even less objective coverage – of the growing number of Jews who are taking a stand against Israeli occupation and violence. One signer of the letter – despite her outrage – decided not to submit a response to Rosenfeld’s piece out of fear of losing her job.
The refusal to publish the perspectives of Jewish survivors and descendants of those who survived and were victims of the Nazi genocide, directly contradicts the recent public claim of Forward publisher Samuel Norich: “You expect and get more from the Forward. We present and facilitate an open, often sharp exchange of perspectives. On the conflict in Gaza. On resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe. On interfaith relationships. On the latest Woody Allen film. On whatever issues are facing, and fascinating, American Jews.” Clearly there is a limit to the Jewish experience, opinions, and values that The Jewish Daily Forward is willing to create space for in their “open, often sharp exchange of perspectives.”
When a Jewish paper that has projected itself as a voice of Jewish progressive values and debate for almost a century refuses a platform to over 40 Jewish survivors of the Nazi genocide and over 300 descendants of survivors and victims, after providing editorial space for personal attacks on them, we have to ask ourselves whose voice is considered legitimate by the Jewish establishment. If it’s only those who do not criticize Israel, it will be a shrinking minority.