The JC Comment Blog No.2 - Is it wrong to expose failings in the Jewish community?

JC reporter Lee Harpin asks 'Is it 'anti-Jewish' for a Jewish journalist to cover Jewish wrongdoing?

March 19, 2018 17:27

I have now heard the same argument advanced by Orthodox, Reform and Chasidic leaders within the community. 

It is, according to these highly-qualified individuals, "anti-Jewish" to write an article for the JC about an individual, or indeed an organisation from within our own community, that alleges specific wrong-doing on their part.

“You are doing the work of the antisemites for them,” goes the standard argument. Or else: “The JC should stick to showing our community in a good light - not a bad one.”

The halachic concept of lashon hara – translated literally as "evil tongue" - is also frequently cited. Its central theme being refraining from sharing negative information about someone – even if that information happens to be true.

In my 20-odd year career in national newspaper journalism - during which it is fair to say I did not dwell on writing about the achievements and failings of our community - I had not heard any of these arguments advanced, even once.

In the past year, working at the JC, I have heard these opinions suggested on an almost weekly basis. And I find this troubling.

Unlike a general national newspaper, the JC clearly exists to serve a very specific community - mainly in the UK, but also residing further afield.

But if a newspaper, or website, chooses to serve its community by offering journalism with only a positive slant it is self-evidently offering up diluted journalism. Are we saying this is what the community deserves?

The history of the Jewish people is one of great triumph in the face of much adversity.  We have become strong and influential across many professions and sectors of society.

To offer up a weakened form of journalism in order to obscure the fact that human nature means a small percentage of Jews may occasionally fall foul of the laws of this great country, is surely letting down the very community this newspaper seeks to serve.

Faced with criticism recently that articles I had written were merely playing into the hands of antisemites, I sought the advice of two individuals whose opinions I greatly respect – a lawyer and an MP, both Jewish.

“The worst thing for antisemitism would be if the journalists just sat on it,” reasoned the lawyer. “It has been said since Watergate – ‘it is not the crime but the cover up'.”

Meanwhile the MP I spoke to suggested: "If you choose to stand for public office hiding a previous wrongdoing, you can have no complaint if you are eventually found out.”

Which brings me neatly to the halachic concept of lifnei iver lo titen michshol. 

While this idea has a number of meanings, surely the most relevant in the context of journalism is the suggestion that if you know something about someone which could harm other people, but say nothing, you have sinned. 

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March 19, 2018 17:27

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