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Npr Series About Yiddish Radio Prompts Rash of Anti-semitic E-mail

April 29, 2002
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A radio series about the history of Yiddish radio has touched off a flurry of anti- Semitic e-mails.

National Public Radio, which is airing the 10-part “Yiddish Radio Project,” has received more than 75 e-mails criticizing the series, many of them anti-Semitic, according to Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR’s ombudsman.

While the anti-Semitic messages are a minority of the total number of e-mails NPR has received about the series, the Yiddish retrospective is just the latest Jewish-related programming on NPR that has generated controversy during the 19 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Many of the e-mails received employ age-old canards, including the allegation that NPR is running the series because the Jews control the media — or because the network wants to drum up sympathy for the Jews at a time when many are criticizing Israel for its military operations actions in the West Bank.

As one e-mail writer put it, “How do you say, ‘Hey these guys learned all the wrong lessons from the Nazis!’ In Yiddish?”

The series, which began airing on Tuesday afternoons in mid-March and is running for 10 weeks, had been in the works for a long time and had been scheduled long before Israel intensified its military reaction to Palestinian violence.

“As soon as any one compares what happens in the Middle East with this show, my alarm goes off,” said Henry Sapoznik, one of the project’s co-producers. “There is no doubt that that’s racism and anti-Semitism.”

Ironically, Jewish groups have blasted the network’s Middle East programming for being too pro-Palestinian.

Some Jewish listeners have called on NPR listeners to withhold contributions to the partially member-supported network to protest NPR’s coverage of the Middle East.

Others, however, have complained that the coverage is too pro-Israel, Dvorkin said.

Coverage of the Middle East by the network, which has 16 million listeners on its 640 stations, has generated thousands of passionate e-mails during the past 18 months.

“People feel that the survival of Israel or the future of Palestine is at stake here, and they are incredibly emotional about it,” Dvorkin said. “I’ve been in the news business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The network plans to continue running the series, which uses more than 1,000 discs collected by Sapoznik to tell the story of the heyday of Yiddish radio, from 1930-1955.

Sapoznik prefers to focus on the positive, noting that many e-mails NPR has received in reaction to the series have been favorable.

“I’m more inspired and touched and moved by the mail of people who aren’t Jewish” and are praising the series, he said. “That to me is far more important and meaningful.”

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