From the Desk of Avi Benlolo: Challenging the Media's "Alternative Facts"

January 27, 2017


Challenging the Media's "Alternative Facts"

Fear about "alternative facts" or "fake news" is one of the major themes alarming the media and general public today, as it is rightly seen as a form of deceptive propaganda motivated to influence opinion. For Jewish communities around the world, propaganda deployed to foster hate is hardly breaking news. Although the method of delivery changes as technology progresses, the end product is always the same. Prior to the advent of the printing press, Jewish communities suffered from hateful stories and gossip circulating towns and villages and preached by religious leaders: "The Jews kidnapped a Christian boy to make matzah"; "The Jews poisoned our wells"; "The Jews killed Jesus."

And on it went.

Poisoned news propaganda became much easier with the advent of the printing press well into the 18th and 19th centuries. Newspapers, magazines and books easily began to circulate hateful depictions of Jews. It became easier to distribute drawings of 'hooked nosed' Jews with a devilish grin. Publishing and circulating forgeries like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and hateful tracts like Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf was simple. The Nazis advanced "fake news" through the work of propagandist Joseph Goebbels, who perfected the use of radio, film and mass circulated newspapers to sow antisemitism, hate and intolerance. It was in fact Goebbels, the Nazi mastermind of news manipulation, who stated that if you tell a lie often enough it becomes the truth.

Fake news led to the murder of six million Jews and millions more. It set the world aflame with hate. Fake news then led to Holocaust denial - both state sponsored from the likes of Iran and through the rise of white supremacism. 

Over the last sixteen years - starting with the international Durban, South Africa conference "against hate" in 2001, we have seen a ramping up of fake news against Israel, including accusations that it is an "apartheid state"; that it is a "Nazi State" and that the Jewish people, bereft of a historic presence in the region, simply don't belong there. As technology changed again with the advent of the Internet, fake news against the Jewish people has become even more prevalent and more easily dispersed. 

I was, however, particularly surprised to find such facile manipulation of the facts in a generally fair and objective newspaper like the Globe and Mail. Jewish communities across Canada are bewildered by the publication of one article stating that Israel is "occupying" a city considered for more than 3,000 years as the holiest of holy places in the Jewish faith, and another that only admits grudgingly, as an afterthought, that Jerusalem has religious and emotional significance to the Jewish people. It is an article that considers politics alone. No mention of the profound, millennia-long Jewish attachment to Jerusalem is cited or discussed.

This is an astonishing level of rhetorical bias for a paper that is considered 'Canada's newspaper of record'; In the space of two brief columns, the entire history of the Jewish people has been questioned. The repeated dispossessions and the resulting Diaspora of the Jewish people simply no longer exist. The most egregious example of cultural appropriation - when a mosque was built right on top of the holy temple of the Jews in Jerusalem, is not questioned. The prohibition against Jews praying at this holy site when Jordan ruled the territory is never mentioned. The fact that this site - the holiest site in all of Judaism - was used as a garbage dump when Jordan ruled this territory, is disregarded.

Historical revisionism or casual oversight, which foster the sort of "alternative facts" that we all find so alarming, aim to erase the Jewish people from our own history. It represents the type of easy manipulation of the truth which Goebbels would have been proud to pen. Sadly, despite its crude hostility, it is nothing new; the Jewish people have borne the brunt of this "fake news" for much of our history.

But there is nothing stronger than the truth. It is up to each one of us to re-educate our community and our friends, and to counter falsehoods about us and about our history before it is too late. I encourage you to share the truth with as many friends as possible.  

Shabbat Shalom!


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