Lesson from Atlanta
Last week’s announcement that the owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, Andrew Adler, has resigned and is seeking a buyer following a Jan. 13 column he wrote speculating that Israel would consider assassinating President Obama, should be a lesson to the Jewish media, the Jewish community and to all America: Political rhetoric in this country is out of control.
In describing a hypothetical “no-win” war scenario that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might face, Adler suggested three options the PM might consider, one of which being to have Mossad agents “take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel” so the vice president could step up and dictate a forceful pro-Israel policy.
“If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario,” Adler wrote in his column, “don’t you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel’s most inner circles?”
He added, “You have got to believe, like I do, that all options are on the table.”
As the editor of a reputable Jewish newspaper, Adler should have known better than to make such a reckless and provocative suggestion. And that’s what is so scary about this incident. He apparently thought nothing wrong with it.
But there was something very wrong. People are influenced by what they hear and read in the media, by what their religious leaders or any figures of authority in their eyes might say.
Think no one will take a shot at President Obama because of a newspaper editorial? Well, we hope not, anyway, but we can’t help but remember what happened to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — gunned down in Tel Aviv by a Jewish assassin who believed he was religiously justified to take his life — something some far-right rabbis have even said.
Certainly, it was Adler’s right to print whatever he pleased in a democracy as great as ours; it was also the obligation of responsible Americans to immediately shout him down for his incitement, which, thankfully, is what Atlanta’s Jewish leaders, and the readers of his paper, did.
Unfortunately, what Adler did is not unique. Campaign rhetoric this season has frequently gone over a cliff. Last week, at a Florida campaign rally for Newt Gingrich, supporters of the candidate chanted “Kenya,” referencing the place where they want to send the president. In so doing, they attempted to keep alive the malicious lie that the president is not an American citizen. The right thing for the former Speaker of the House to have done was to scold those few extremists, which would have been an act of leadership. But he didn’t.
Thankfully, Adler is doing the right thing — the only thing — by resigning and putting his paper up for sale. But he needs to do more. As the Atlanta Jewish Federation said in a statement, “While we acknowledge his public apology and remorse, the damage done to the people of Israel, the global Jewish people, and especially the Jewish Community of Atlanta is irreparable.”
Maybe, but Adler could — and should — at least offer himself as a spokesman against the toxic climate, much like a reformed alcoholic speaking at an AA meeting about his dark past.
Don’t like President Obama? Don’t vote for him. Do like him? Do vote for him. But there are 10 more months to go in this campaign. If the rhetoric only deteriorates from here, it could be a volatile 10 months, indeed.