Anti-Semitism in the San Antonio Express-News?

Sermon given February 15, 2002, by Rabbi Barry H. Block

Rabbi Stahl tells this wonderful story about the Jewish man who loves to read anti-Semitic newspapers. When his friend asks him why he would read such garbage, he responds by saying that reading the anti-Semitic journals makes him feel great. The Jewish press is always talking about how persecuted and oppressed we are. The anti-Semitic papers, on the other hand, describe Jewish domination of government, banking and media. Reading these tracts can really make a Jew feel good about the might and power of our people!

The story, of course, is from Europe, many decades ago. In the early part of the twentieth century, a common anti-Semitic canard was that Jews had developed and successfully implemented a plan to dominate world commerce and government. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a widely-disseminated forgery, outlined this global Jewish plot in detail. Even in America, many hateful or ignorant people believed the Protocols to be a true reflection of the Jewish people’s desire to control the world, and our amazing ability to hoodwink or bribe world leaders to do our bidding. Such propaganda played a significant role in countless pogroms in Europe, leading to the rise of the Nazis and in the slaughter of six million Jews.

Thank God, America at the dawn of the millennium is not Europe of the 1920s. American Jews enjoy positive relations with our non-Jewish neighbors, unprecedented in the history of Jewish settlement in nations with a Christian majority. While the anti-Semitic fringe does raise its ugly head every now and then, the truth is that anti-Semitism is not a major phenomenon in America today. While many of our children do face some religious pressure from the Christian right, most of our young people grow up without ever experiencing a blatantly anti-Semitic incident. Racism, homophobia, and xenophobic targeting of immigrants are much greater problems than anti-Semitism in our experience. I, for one, am not the type to find anti-Semitism under every rock.

In fact, I also do not detect anti-Semitism in most articles, editorials, and columns that are critical of the policies and actions of the Israeli government. The State of Israel is a democracy, with freedom of speech, press and assembly. Israeli government practices are frequently criticized by Israelis, and by the Rabbis of Temple Beth-El, just as American government activities are occasionally challenged by Americans, the Rabbis of Temple Beth-El included. We are in sad shape when all critics of the U.S. government are labeled anti-American, and we are similarly misguided if we brand all critiques of Israel as anti-Semitic or even anti-Israel. The charge of anti-Semitism must be alleged carefully, sparingly, and only when well-justified.

Unfortunately, our very own San Antonio Express-News has repeatedly in recent months published the anti-Semitic ravings of one Julio Noboa, a regular columnist at the paper. Despite frequent protests from the Jewish community, the Express-News has continued to publish his columns, including his classic anti-Semitic canards. Until now, our community’s complaints have been handled relatively quietly. Yes, letters have been written and published in the paper. Perhaps more significantly, leaders of the Jewish community, myself included, have communicated privately with Editors of the Express-News or with its Publisher. Mark Freedman and Judy Lackritz of the Jewish Federation have clearly stated our concerns to the Editors; Jonathan Gurwitz has done the same. We can all be grateful to them. And yet, the lack of serious response or action on the part of the paper has been astounding. The time has come to speak out from the pulpit of Temple Beth-El.

Before I launch into the specifics with regard to Mr. Noboa, I do want to make clear that I do not regard the Editors or Publisher of the Express-News as anti-Semites. Bob Rivard, the Editor, and Lynell Burkett, the Editorial Page editor, are reasonable people, and I have every reason to believe that they are sincerely concerned about the welfare of our community. While I can not understand why these otherwise good and noble individuals have not taken strong action with regard to the columns of Julio Noboa, I do not believe them to be anti-Semites.

In general, Express-News editorials regarding Israel are fair. While Israel’s Prime Minister would probably not agree with most of those pieces, I generally do. Even when I disagree, I have never viewed the paper’s opinion as anti-Semitic, and rarely do I find it to be based on inaccuracies. Reasonable people can and do disagree.

Occasionally, there is a lapse in news coverage of Israel. From time to time, a headline will be slanted unnecessarily, in a way that reflects poorly upon the Jewish State. I suspect that those on the other side feel equally slighted, and again, I don’t believe anti-Semitism to be the culprit there.

Moreover, Express-News coverage of our local Jewish community has consistently been fair and positive. In particular, Express-News religion writers J. Michael Parker and John Gutierrez-Muir have taken great pains to get to know our congregation and community well. Temple Beth-El and its Rabbis are fortunate to count these gentlemen among our friends; any Jewish community would be blessed to have Michael and John on its religion beat.

When the Express-News religion editor, Henry Krause, saw my sermon title, he was afraid that I might excoriate the paper for its coverage of so-called Messianic Judaism. Yes, I think it laughable that the paper prints those congregations’ press releases in its calendar section so frequently. And yet, the religion writers have been careful to distinguish these Messianic congregations from legitimate Jewish congregations in most instances. Any lapses do not seem to me to be the results of anti-Semitism.

Some folks, no doubt, thought that I would be talking about Maury Maverick tonight. Maverick occasionally gets his facts wrong about Israel. Worse, and more often, he exalts the supposed merit of anti-Zionist Jewish organizations that work against the welfare of world Jewry. He frequently claims extensive knowledge of the Jewish community, through life-long association with some particular Jews of his political persuasion, but demonstrates scant understanding of the subtleties of American Jewish life or of the harsh realities of Jewish history. But no, I don’t think Maury Maverick is an anti-Semite either.

Julio Noboa is another story. The first example of his anti-Semitism in the Express-News was a ridiculous column about the television phenomenon Seinfeld. Noboa writes about an episode in which clumsy character Kramer accidentally stomps on a Puerto Rican flag. I do not dispute Noboa’s charge that the story line might have been insensitive. Be that as it may, Noboa shows his true colors when he repeatedly uses the Yiddish word “klutz” to describe Kramer, not so subtly charging that the show’s alleged offense was specifically Jewish. Worse, Noboa asks: “I wonder what would have happened if the writers had placed Seinfeld and company in a Jewish celebration of their 50th anniversary and had King Klutz Kramer light, burn and stomp on an Israeli flag?” Noboa’s suggestion is that Jews control American media, and therefore, such a display could never be possible. His theory comes straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, with the added touch of his turn of phrase, “King Klutz Kramer,” a Jewish K.K.K.

Then, last May, in an opinion piece entitled, “Learn the truth about Mideast,” Noboa grossly distorts the truth, writing: “It was Zionist terrorism that, after two decades, drove the British out of Palestine to establish a Jewish state.” For Noboa, apparently, there was no Holocaust, no massive problem of displaced Jewish people after World War II, no United Nations resolution to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Only a rank anti-Semite would characterize the establishment of Israel as attributable solely to so-called “Zionist terrorism.”

Lest anybody think that Noboa’s inaccuracies are innocent, later in the same article, he directs readers to a web site, where they can allegedly find the “truth” about the Middle East. Instead, what one finds there is the work of those who would deny or minimize the Holocaust, in addition to anti-Israel propaganda.

The problem gets worse. When members of the Jewish community complained about that particular column, the Express-News published letters to the editor on “both sides,” as though a responsible newspaper can claim that there are two sides to such a gross distortion of the facts and even to Holocaust denial. The paper did not print any manner of apology or retraction. Instead, the Editors continued to publish Noboa’s inflammatory columns.

Anti-Israel columns continued to appear under Noboa’s by-line in June, August and September of last year. On September 1, in a “double-whammy” on the same page as an anti-Israel column by Maury Maverick, Noboa wrote of the “stranglehold that the Israeli lobby has on Washington.” Noboa’s anti-Semitism had descended to a new level. Now, instead of implying Jewish power on the level of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he was practically quoting the purveyors of that anti-Semitic fabrication.

In September, leaders of our community and our friends pointed out to Express-News editors that they were publishing rank anti-Semitism. Perhaps Express-News editors thought they were being fair, when they began to run Noboa’s columns every other week, alternating with columns by our own Jonathan Gurwitz. While I am delighted to see Jonathan’s pieces in the paper, even when I disagree with him, I am outraged that Express-News editors believe that flat-out anti-Semitism can be balanced by offering a different point of view.

After yet another offending piece on December 8, the straw that broke the camel’s back came on December 22. Then, in black and white, in our very own San Antonio Express-News, we find Julio Noboa alleging, and I quote: “Israel’s . . . virtual control of the American media and Congress.” Apparently, Noboa agrees with the purveyors of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Jews do control the world, or at least the United States of America.

Frankly, I’m not surprised that there is somebody in our community who would think and write such trash. What shocks me is that the editors of the San Antonio Express-News would publish anti-Semite propaganda. Julio Noboa is paid by the Express-News to disseminate hatred and lies to the people of San Antonio every other Saturday. This is an outrage! The Jewish community of San Antonio demands that it end, now. Nothing less than apology and retraction from Express-News editors and the dismissal of Julio Noboa will suffice.

Just yesterday, Editorial page Editor Lynell Burkett contacted me in reference to comments I had sent to her many weeks ago. She was legitimately delayed in responding to me; sadly, she was attending to her dying father in East Texas. And yet, she admitted that the timing of her call was in part influenced by tonight’s announced sermon title. Today, after reviewing the most recent column, and carefully listening to my concerns, Ms. Burkett indicated that she would reconsider Julio Noboa’s future with the paper. She did demonstrate understanding of the problem, and she does hear our demand. Though she gave me no indication of what she would do, I trust her to act appropriately.

Tomorrow morning, before coming to services, I shall trudge out to the front of my house, to get the Express-News. I expect to see Julio Noboa’s face and his falsehoods on the op-ed page. I am also confident that I will find thorough and intriguing coverage in the weekly Religion section, thoughtful editorials, and insightful sports coverage, not to mention my favorite, the comics. Let us all pray for a future, with our San Antonio Express-News, without anti-Semitism.