The editor of Ami Magazine acknowledged in this week’s edition that the cover of last week’s issue depicting the White House draped in Nazi flags with Nazi storm troopers marching in front “was insensitive at best.”
Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter admitted the error in a message at the end of a letter to the editor from Miriam Schlesinger, who wrote that she had read the rabbi’s apology last week in the online edition of The Jewish Week.
“I want to commend you for your forthright and brave apology for last week’s cover,” Schlesinger wrote. “You have shown, by taking this step, that to be a strong editor you do not have to always justify every article or picture that you print.”
Rabbi Frankfurter wrote that he found her “kind words encouraging.” He added that the cover was “something we regrettably did not realize before we went to print. There is no reason for us not to acknowledge that error.”
In an e-mail to The Jewish Week, Rabbi Frankfurter pointed out that in addition to his print apology, “I issued a public apology this past Tuesday on the widely listened-to radio program, ‘Talkline with Zev Brenner.’ I acknowledged that the cover was insensitive, at best, and took full responsibility for the illustration. There is nothing for us to add.”
In the online edition of The Jewish Week, where the story about Ami’s cover first appeared last week, Rabbi Frankurter had explained that the front-page illustration was designed to illustrate a story about the increase in anti-Semitism in the United States.
“The swastika is the present-day symbol of Nazism and we did it to make a journalistic statement about the spread of neo-Nazism,” he said. “The White House was used as a symbol of the U.S. and not to suggest anything about the present administration or its occupants.”
The magazine, which is not affiliated with any organization, is published each Wednesday in New York and Israel. It is aimed at the cross spectrum of Orthodox Jews ranging from the Modern Orthodox to the haredi or fervently Orthodox.
Although the cover generated some complaints, Rabbi Frankfurter said: “I would not call it a storm.”
“We’ve had storms in the past about editorial positions we took or articles we ran,” he said. “We had people ask us this week about our choice [of cover illustration], but I wouldn’t say there was an uproar. … Some people said they felt it was a poor choice, and in retrospect we think it may have been.”
Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America and a regular contributor to the magazine, said in an e-mail that he was “taken aback” by the cover.
“The intent, of course, was not in any way referring to [President Barack] Obama but to a nightmare future scenario of American neo-Nazis taking over,” he wrote. “Still and all, the image itself was offensive. I told the editors so, and they agree it was a bad judgment.”
Rabbi Frankfurter said this was a particularly “sensitive” time to have run the illustration so soon after the recent street demonstration in Jerusalem by 1,500 fervently Orthodox Jews, some of whom wore yellow Stars of David on their jackets with the word “Jude” in the center. And some children in the protest wore striped black-and-white uniforms associated with Nazi concentration camps. One child raised his hands in surrender, mimicking the iconic photo of a Jewish boy in the Warsaw ghetto. They were protesting what they said was a nationwide campaign against their belief in the strict separation of the sexes.
Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel, called the use of Nazi imagery during the protest “disgraceful.”
“Because of the uproar in Israel over the use of the Jewish star, we may have made a poor choice and we regret putting that in this week’s issue,” Rabbi Frankfurter had said.
He pointed out that his magazine “condemned” the Nazi imagery used in the street protest in “very strong” terms.
Rabbi Shafran said he does not see “any comparison between using concentration camp garb to accuse parts of Israel society of anti-haredi animus (real as that animus, unfortunately, is) and seeking to illustrate an article about the growth of actual neo-Nazis in America with the photo at issue.”
In the Ami article, author John Loftus wrote that anti-Semitism has been increasing in the U.S. for the last 30 years and “by leaps and bounds around the world.” He said he has detected an “all too-common tendency of government and social organizations to sweep anti-Semitic or terrorist incidents under the rug. The FBI has been frequently accused in the press of deliberately mislabeling attempted terrorist attacks to improve their statistics. My friends inside the Bureau blushingly admit that the accusation has merit.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The Jewish Week that that the problem of anti-Semitism is “serious enough not to have to exaggerate.” He said that although it has increased worldwide, it has declined in the U.S. over the last 30 to 40 years.
“That is not to say that America is immune from anti-Semitism, but certainly the White House or America is not overrun by Nazis and neo-Nazis,” Foxman added. “There may be an increase in anti-Semitism, but comparing America to Germany — it will never reach that situation. Both the drawing and article are an exaggeration.”