One of the big national stories today is a sting operation conducted by conservative activists against a high-level fundraiser for National Public Radio. The activists posed as members of a fictitious American Muslim group considering making a large donation to NPR. In the course of the business lunch, the NPR fundraiser, Ron Schiller, made several racist and bigoted remarks about Republicans, especially members of the Tea Party, and didn’t blink when the activists made comments supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. (See: NYT, Washington Post, USA Today, AP)
One aspect of the sting that has not been adequately reported on is Schiller’s reaction — or lack thereof — when the provocateurs explicitly claimed that Jews control the media, which occurs at the beginning of the seventh minute of the edited video:
“You’re not really supposed to say it but I think it highlights — I mean about the Jewish funding that dried up — the extent to which the Jews do kind of control the media. I mean certainly the Zionists and the people who have an interest in swaying media coverage toward a favorable direction toward Israel…”
Throughout this statement, including the moment when the activist said that “Jews do kind of control the media,” Schiller continues eating, and he even nods slightly at the end of the statement when the activist talked about Zionists. The transcript continues:
Activist: I’m not too upset about maybe a little bit less influence of Jewish money on NPR, but the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere–
Schiller: I don’t actually find it at NPR.
Activist: What exactly?
Schiller: The Zionist or pro-Israel [sic], even among funders. I means it’s there in those who own the newspapers obviously, but no one owns NPR, so I don’t find it…
I don’t want to discuss right now the conflation of Jews and Zionists in the words of both the activist and Schiller. I’ll blog some other time about it — but suffice it to say that in the history of anti-Semitism we have seen many times the phenomenon of Jews being castigated as a group for holding a political view that their opponents view as disloyal or damaging; attacking “Jewish Zionism” is very similar to attacking “Jewish Communism,” which was an important component of anti-Semitism in the first half of the twentieth century. What is important here in this video is that you have a blatant anti-Semitic comment — that Jews “control the media” — going unchallenged in polite society.
One of the great things about America since the 1950s is the fact that mainstream society largely repudiated anti-Semitism. Sure, you have hardcore anti-Semites on the margins of society, and there was still lots of discrimination against Jews in employment and housing through the 1970s. But overt expressions of anti-Semitism have had very little traction in mainstream America. We need to keep it that way. Once it becomes acceptable to express anti-Semitism in public, the door has been opened to the penetration of anti-Semitism into politics and the possible use of anti-Semitism by demagogues. We know where that can lead.
I know that fundraisers feel pressure to not challenge every bizarre idea of potential donors, but blatant bigotry and anti-Semitism need to be confronted, always.