A few weeks ago, one of our op ed columnists, Helen Maryles Shankman, wrote about her agonized split with the New York Times, the broadsheet that won her heart when she was young.
Because she is a wonderful writer, Helen effortlessly made clear the fact that she is a liberal, and so the break was hard, but still her allegiance not only to Israel but to fairness made it necessary and inevitable.
We here have not reached Helen’s level of resolve, but once again the Times has proved her point.
Last Sunday, two related stories, beginning on the front page of the whole massive rubber-banded bundle, delved into the horrors of Israeli organ donations and transplants. Under the headlines “Transplant Brokers in Israel Lure Desperate Kidney Patients to Costa Rica” and “A Clash of Religion and Bioethics Complicates Organ Donation in Israel,” the stories, both by reporter Kevin Sack, showed Israelis to be ensnared both by what he sketched as archaic religious law and by pernicious, soul-deadening selfishness. They are unwilling to allow their own organs to be donated, he wrote. Instead, he implied, they prey on the poor; what they are not willing to give themselves they are willing to buy, for next to nothing, from desperately poor people. The Israeli thugs profiled are sinister – “wily” and “dodging” law enforcement; they have “nimbly shifted operations” and in return have “pocketed enormous sums.”
Does that sound familiar to you? Maybe it sounds like the Jewish villains who have disgraced the pages of Western classics for centuries?
The main Times story is almost unreadably long, a detailed, emotionally charged piece of writing with unmistakable villains – they’re the Jews with the tattoos – and misled, misused victims.
It is probably true. There is no reason to doubt the reporting.
It is also true, as the sidebar story points out, that traditional Jewish strictures against organ donation have made Israeli families, like Jewish families around the world, less willing to donate their organs when beloved relatives die. (Often that decision has to be made in the first shock of sudden death, because when people die slowly their organs tend to be unusable.)
In this country, rabbis from across the Jewish spectrum, including the Orthodox world, have stressed the importance of organ donation. They say that it is an active mitzvah, because it saves lives.
It is true that not enough Jews are comfortable enough with organ donation, and many organizations, including the Halachic Organ Donor Society, which is Orthodox, are trying to change that. It is also true that rabbis are finding it to be a harder sell in Israel, where there still is a great deal of rabbinic opposition that combines with a natural distaste, than it is in this country.
But it is impossible not to think about the story’s placement and timing and wonder what the Times editors possibly might have been thinking. Although its front-page placement blared its importance, it was not particularly timely; it was based on information and interviews carried out over the course of the last few years. But it did come on the heels of inflammatory story after inflammatory headline after inflammatory photograph about Israel and Gaza.
So, New York Times, what’s up? Was Helen prescient? Why was this story placed when and where it was? What can you possibly be thinking? And what are we to think about you?