Category Archives: Anti-Semitism

Incident at Frankfurt

Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline, ended up with sauerkraut on its corporate face recently, after more than 120 visibly Jewish men and women in Frankfurt’s airport on May 4 were banned from boarding their connecting flights. 

Most of the Jewish passengers were heading to Hungary, to visit the burial placeof a revered rabbi, Reb Shayeleh Kerestirer, on the anniversary of his death. They had to scramble to get on flights with other airlines.

In a statement shortly after the incident, the airline claimed that the travelers had been blocked from the flights because, on their earlier flight from New York, they had refused requests to honor the airline’s medical mask requirement. 

Numerous passengers, however, told news outlets that they and the vast majority of Jewish travelers had heeded the mask mandate and had been unfairly grouped together and punished because of a small number of rule-violators.

Holding anyone who happened to look Jewish accountable for the infraction of a few was, obviously, well… Problematik.

Exacerbating things was one of several videos disseminated by Dan’s Deals, an air travel website, that went viral schnell. In it, after an irate passenger heatedly protested the collective punishment, a Lufthansa supervisor blurted out that it had been “Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems.”

Lufthansa found itself in quite a Kuddlemuddle.

Many were upset by the accounts and videos. Agudath Israel executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel wrote a letter to Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr the following Monday asking that he research the “disturbing accounts” about the flight, which indicated that “People were being punished simply because they shared ethnicity and religion with the alleged rule violators.”

The next day, Lufthansa said that it “regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude the affected passengers from the flight.” “We apologize to all the passengers unable to travel on this flight,” the airline added, “not only for the inconvenience, but also for the offense caused and personal impact.”

“What transpired,” it continued, “is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values. We have zero tolerance for racism, antisemitism and discrimination of any type.

“We will be engaging with the affected passengers to better understand their concerns and openly discuss how we may improve our customer service.”

While an apology was certainly warranted, many were less-than-impressed with this one. Yad Vashem director Dani Dayan, the ADL and the Agudah were among the disappointed.

They, variously, made the points that regretting the “circumstances surrounding the decision” was not the same as regretting the decision; that no reference was made to the remark about how “Jewish people… were the mess”; that passengers’ “concerns” were blatantly obvious, namely, that they were targeted for mistreatment only because they are Jews; and that focus should be trained not on “how [Lufthansa] may improve its customer service” but rather on the egregious nature of what transpired and on steps Lufthansa will take to make sure that such incidents never occur again.

In the wake of those complaints, on the 11th, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr personally apologized for the incident in a video call to the rabbi of Berlin, Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal.

“Antisemitism has no place in Lufthansa,” Mr. Spohr told the rabbi. “What happened should not have happened. Our company represents a connection between people, cultures, and nations. Openness and tolerance are the cornerstones and there is no room for antisemitism.”

Rabbi Teichtal subsequently told Dan’s Deals that the CEO’s apology sounded genuine and that he was told that the employees involved in the incident have been suspended, pending an investigation.

There is much to unpack from the incident. Firstly, despite the airline workers’ indefensible actions, if in fact there were any passengers who were asked to mask and refused, they were not only wrong but the ultimate cause of what all the other affected passengers had to endure.

Secondly, is angrily badgering a person, like what evoked the “Jewish people who were the mess” comment, the Jewish way to deal with even an unconscionable decision? Would the Chofetz Chaim have indignantly berated an airline employee? Yes, the indignation brought forth an ugly response. But scratch many a person enough (let aside a German) and you’ll strike antisemitic sentiments. But is such scratching a mitzvah? Or proper?

Thirdly, and more happily, I was struck by a snippet of one video taken at the time. It was of a group of heavily-armed German police standing at the ready. From somewhere in the crowd of irate passengers flew a crude accusation: “Nazis!”

The policeman in charge positively simmered and then stepped forward. “Who was it?” he asked. And then, when there was no response, he raised his voice: “WHO WAS IT? WHO SAID THAT?”

No one came forward to claim the slur.

But the officer clearly considered it deeply insulting. 

(c) 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Empathy and History

We should all feel outrage at the Russian onslaught against Ukraine and sympathy for the beleaguered innocent citizens under attack. But letting those proper feelings obscure history is the opposite of proper. Heartfelt feelings, yes; falsified facts, no.

To read what I mean, please click here .

Too Many American Jews Still Believe Putin-style Lies

A piece I wrote about how Vladimir Putin’s transparent lies, recognized as such by most Americans, should sensitize all of us to the lies that have been swallowed on the domestic front by all too many of us. It can be read here.

If your access to the Haaretz site is blocked, you can send a request for a PDF of the article to [email protected] .

The Collision Course

The case of Quintez Brown, the man who entered Louisville, Kentucky mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg’s office and opened fire on Mr. Greenberg and others present with a 9mm Glock handgun re-raises the issue of the nexus that seems to exist between at least some types of mental illness and rabid, violent antisemitism.

My thought on the matter is at https://www.amimagazine.org/2022/02/23/the-collision-course/

Blinded to One’s Own Bias

Talk about tone-deaf.

A teaser for an “investigative” article by “The Journal News,” which serves several New York counties and whose online moniker is “Lohud,” consisted of the image of a clenched puppetmaster’s hand wielding pencils with strings controlling silhouettes of children, perched atop a large pile of dollars. The caption reads: “Rabbi holds the strings on $76M for East Ramapo School District… Coming Feb. 9.

The paper has a long history of what critics contend is unfair reportage about Orthodox Jews in Rockland County. That the imagery of the teaser, though, promoted a long-dishonored antisemitic canard was unarguable.Two days after gobsmacked readers began contacting the paper, its executive editor, Mary Dolan, issued an apology, explaining that its teaser’s “words and imagery unintentionally featured an antisemitic trope.”

“Members of our team, including myself,” she asserted, “did not recognize the stereotype that degrades and demeans Jews in the image and accompanying language.”

It is good to know that the paper was willing to admit its misstep, but not so good to know that seasoned journalists were unfamiliar, if indeed they were, with the time-dishonored imagery of the Jew as a conspiratorial puppet master, sinisterly manipulating others. It was, of course, much employed by the Nazis, and the canard it represents have stoked not only past pogroms but recent attacks on Jews, as in the case of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, who, in 2018, killed 11 worshippers in the largest modern mass shooting against Jews in America.

The Journal News has something of a history of “exposing” supposed sins of “rabbis” in Rockland County, with regard to the allocation of funds by the East Ramapo school board to local schools. The area has many Orthodox Jewish residents, and some of them serve on the board. As of 2020, there were approximately 11,000 students attending public schools in the district, but 27,000 students attending private schools, mostly Jewish ones.

The teased story, Ms. Dolan noted, “raises questions” about “how officials” (presumably the “rabbi”) “have chosen to allocate millions of dollars in public funds.”

The story finally appeared, after a delay, and, indeed, it contained “raised questions” – in quotations from people with records of animus against Orthodox institutions and individuals. What it didn’t contain was any factual assertion of wrongdoings. Because there have been none.

Yes, federal funds have been used to support services to children attending Jewish schools. But that is entirely in accordance with state formulas and federal laws mandating the provision of textbooks, school transportation and special education services to all school children — yes, dear Journal News, even Jewish ones.

Parents of nonpublic school children pay federal and state taxes like any citizen, and that includes the property taxes that do much to fund localities’ schools. In fact, since not all governmental services provided to public schools and their students are constitutionally available to nonpublic schools and their students, parents of the latter receive less in return for their taxes than parents of public school students.

The article’s target was Rabbi Hersh Horowitz, the executive director of a local group called the Community Education Center,” and, before the article was published, he released a statement explaining that “over the past year, Lohud has repeatedly attempted to slander me personally, and my organization as a whole.”

He went on to note that all contracts awarded by the East Ramapo Central School District have been through a rigorous “Request for Proposal” process, devoid of any private lobbying efforts; that his organization has been audited by state agencies multiple times, with no findings of misdeeds; that its most recent contract was cleared of any conflict of interest by NYS Commissioner of Education, Betty Rosa; that the its allocations, to be distributed over ten years, is federally funded and specifically earmarked – by the federal government – for private school children.

And, defiantly, he declared that his organization “will continue, undeterred and undistracted, to provide myriad essential educational services to thousands of children in multiple districts attending private schools across Rockland and Orange County.”

The Journal News hit piece didn’t mention Bruce Singer, the school district’s appointed monitor. But, before the article was released, Mr. Singer told the daily Jewish paper Hamodia that the claims made in Rabbi Horowitz’s statement are “100%” accurate. Singer also criticized the reporter of the then yet unpublished article for “misrepresenting the truth.” He also told the reporter that Rabbi Horowitz’s organization had been the subject of many audits, “and there have always been outstanding comments regarding his operation.”

In her apology for propagating the antisemitic image in the teaser, Ms. Dolan took pains to condemn “all forms of antisemitism in all ways that it is expressed.”

It’s a nice sentiment. But it brings to mind something William Saletan once wrote: “There’s a word for bias you can’t see: yours.”

The above essay appears at Times of Israel, here.