On Wednesday morning, May 1, a couple of hours after returning home from a glorious Passover in Israel, my wife and I called The New York Times and explained to a very respectful representative why we wanted to end 60 years of on-and-off home delivery of the paper. We told him that the cartoon that was published in The New York Times International Edition on Thursday, April 25 — depicting a guide dog with Benjamin Netanyahu’s face leading a blind, fat Donald Trump wearing dark glasses and a black kippa — crossed every boundary that separates us from virulent antisemitism, bigotry, and obscenity. It exposed, in our eyes, something rotten in what used to be known as “the paper of record” and brought the Times to a level which might have been acceptable in Germany in the 1930s, but is intolerable in our world today.
The decision to dump the Times was not easy, but it was necessary. Twice during the last 25 years, I have launched campaigns to temporarily suspend delivery of The New York Times because of its unfair — a mild term — treatment of Israel in its news columns and editorial pages. The most recent campaign was after Passover 2002, when the IDF invaded the West Bank to stop the explosive growth of terrorism inside Israel that had caused more than 1,000 deaths and countless injuries during the previous 12 months. Many responded to that call and also to the suggestion that synagogues stop placing paid death notices on the obituary pages of the Times — which now, as a result, are much smaller than before.
After the suspension, we personally resumed receiving the paper’s Saturday and Sunday editions because of the special sections that are so enticing. After April 25, however — with the publication of the obscene cartoon savaging the Jewish people, the prime minister of Israel, and the president of the United States — it became clear to us that The New York Times has no place in our home or, for that matter, in any respectable home, Jewish or not.
We are living in a world of increasingly active — and often violent — antisemitism. Those who hate us from the left and the right have taken off the gloves. They now feel emboldened by the media and even by political leaders to say things, to write words, and to print cartoons that would have been viewed as repulsive and grotesque as recently as two or three years ago.
I don’t claim to know why this has happened; I can only look at the America in which we live, at the England that used to be a model of civility, at France and the rest of Western Europe where Jews no longer feel safe, and draw one conclusion: It is up to every decent American, and especially every serious Jew, to stand up and do whatever he or she can do to fight this frightening trend before it continues further.
Thank God, unlike in the 1930s and ‘40s, we have organizations that are active, outspoken and, hopefully, will take the mantle of leadership in a battle that must be fought and won. But what can each of us as individuals do? The answer is to refuse to accept vicious antisemitism whenever it is published, broadcast, or televised. Each of us must protest and not simply kvetch.
In the case of The New York Times, as Alan Dershowitz, in his recent brilliant critique argued, it may very well be that freedom of speech entitles it to print whatever it pleases, but you and I have a responsibility to denounce vicious caricatures of Jews and Zionists whenever and wherever we see them. Dershowitz writes that he will continue to read the Times in order to be able to refute it. You and I do not have that luxury. No one will listen to our refutations. We have one major recourse by which we can let our revulsion be known: We can refuse to let The New York Times enter our homes.
It is a small action, but if it is taken by many individuals, it will deliver a strong message. If we believe that antisemitism is on the rise, and that it presents a danger to the Jewish people and to the America that we love, we have to do more than worry about it. We have to believe that our acts will make a difference and will help to purify the culture and the politics that are changing before our eyes. Take action now. It is time to dump the Times!
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.