A few days after publishing what I and others consider the most egregious piece of anti-Semitic filth in years, the editor of Tablet, Alana Newhouse, has published something or other intended to respond to its critics. It’s not an apology, exactly, even though the words “deeply sorry” appear. It’s more a…I can hardly believe I’m writing these words…tribute to Tablet. Her response is self-referential, self-aggrandizing, and ultimately self-infatuated.
She writes that she is “used to our pieces eliciting strong emotions. But the reactions to Anna Breslaw’s article have been exceptional.” Yes, exceptional, in the sense that most of us who read it were appalled and disgusted in a nearly unprecedented way. And then, in the cowardly fashion of media organizations caught in the midst of a disaster of their own making, she attempts the ludicrous claim that there are two sides to the response.
“For some readers, her piece explored the consequences of growing up in one specific family touched by an enormous Jewish tragedy, and publishing it asserted the message that young people needn’t express only safely held conventional wisdoms to be involved and engaged with Jewish life,” she writes.
Judging not only from the other discussions of the piece in the media besides mine and from the hundreds of comments on her own site, those “some readers” number maybe in the single digits, while everybody else reared in horror. So there is no controversy. What there is is a nearly universal condemnation.
She then goes on to characterize the response as follows: “Others saw in it a blanket condemnation of all Holocaust survivors—an impression that caused many to wonder why Tablet published it. Quite a few expressed extreme hurt.” Actually, no one expressed hurt; people expressed outrage, which is something entirely different. And not because the article was a “blanket condemnation of all Holocaust survivors.” The piece was an anti-Semitic outrage because it suggested that in the act of surviving the Holocaust, survivors had fulfilled the worst stereotypes of the Jews—Nazi stereotypes—as grasping, greedy, and selfish. That is not a condemnation. It is a slander. It is a libel. One might even go so far as to call it a blood libel.
Newhouse then praises herself for her deliberative delay in responding to the explosion of outrage by saying she thought it necessary to spend some time thinking about how Tablet came to publish the article, with some staffers saying it was good and other staffers saying it was blah blah blah. And then she commits herself and Tablet to a more thorough examination of…Tablet. Her staff decided they must commit themselves with even deeper seriousness to answer some deep questions:
What—if any—is the communal responsibility to the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors? Do we have a duty to hear them out, even when their thoughts are—as Breslaw described her own—“unappealing and didactic,” or worse? And what of other writers looking to explore other painful questions about their Jewish identities? What does the intense response to this piece say about what the rules here should be, about what precisely the red lines are in Jewish communal discourse. What we all did agree on is that it is our duty to more vigilantly and responsibly engage with all of these questions, and with our readers’ legitimate concerns.
How nice. So having published something that could have appeared in Der Sturmer, Newhouse now strokes her chin and wonders how she and her team might “responsibly engage” with questions of Jewish identity.
Anything Tablet has to say on “questions of Jewish identity” from now on will fail to take root, as it will wither and die in the black shadow of Anna Breslaw’s foul article—and in the appalling self-justifications of its editor.