Anti-Semitism is sometimes referred to as the oldest hatred, but its intensity ebbs and flows throughout history and in America it is surging.
That was according to journalism pioneer and award-winning editorial writer Jane Eisner, who was the featured speaker at the Fourth Annual Rabbi Hillel Cohn Endowed Lecture on the Contemporary Jewish Experience held virtually on Feb. 18 by Cal State San Bernardino’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
The theme of Eisner’s talk was “From The Holocaust To Hate Groups: How American Media Covers Anti-Semitism.” The lecture is available for viewing at: Rabbi Hillel Cohn Endowed Lecture on the Contemporary Jewish Experience – Jane Eisner.
“Beginning in 2016, the numbers (of hate crimes) jumped and remained at record highs correlated to the toxic political discourse encouraged by (former President Donald) Trump in his praise for white nationalist and xenophobic attitudes towards immigrants and other minorities,” said Eisner of her experiences as editor-in-chief of the influential Jewish national news organization, the Forward.
“My (editorial) staff withstood a dramatic, and at times frightening, uptick in harassment of email and social media largely from the newly emboldened alt-right.”
She said the Anti-Defamation League codified this phenomenon in October 2016 in the report, Anti-Semitic Targeting of Journalists During the 2016 Presidential Campaign, “detailing the significant uptick in online anti-Semitic harassment of journalists. The aggressors were disproportionately Trump supporters. Nonetheless, journalists cannot allow a simplistic politicized characterization to shape their reporting.”
Eisner started her talk by discussing anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, and how American media played down or ignored the atrocities, mass shootings of Jews and the death camps. She said it was in part because of the stubborn anti-Semitism awash in the United States at the time, and also skepticism from Americans and the press.
“They thought it was German propaganda. They couldn’t believe that Germans could do this,” said Eisner, who added that Edward R. Murrow, the most respected broadcast journalist at the time and the first reporter on the scene at the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, “had to beg listeners to trust the horrific scenes he described as the truth.”
Eisner also talked about mass shootings, including the deadly attack in October 2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were murdered and six more were injured. She said the news media’s coverage was “dramatically more comprehensive and compassionate.”
“The deadliest attack against Jews in United States history occurred in America’s heartland. Not some distant terrain, committed by a man with a perverted extreme vision of nationalism. This was homegrown terror. The shooter had once worked in a local bakery,” Eisner said. “Now, more than two years later, it is clear that Pittsburgh marked an inflection point after which journalists paid more attention to anti-Semitism and were more understanding of its place and presence in America.”
Eisner’s lecture was postponed from last April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the university to suspend all large gatherings, events and face-to-face classes on campus.
An accomplished journalist, educator, nonprofit leader and public speaker, Eisner is currently director of academic affairs at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, overseeing the Master of Arts program.
For more than a decade, she was the Forward’s editor-in-chief, the first woman to hold the position at America’s foremost national Jewish news organization.
The Rabbi Hillel Cohn Endowed Lecture on the Contemporary Jewish Experience was established at Cal State San Bernardino in 2017 in recognition of Rabbi Cohn’s many achievements as a religious and community leader. This is the first time in the history of the entire California State University system that a rabbi has been so honored.