Maybe it's been a slow news day. Maybe there's been a lull in Web traffic because people are still returning from their Memorial Day vacations. But there is no good excuse for this very misguided article published by Business Insider Chief Editor Henry Blodget.
At around 12:30 p.m., Blodget posted an article entitled Why Do People Hate Jews? The inspiration for the piece was a story about a British religious-studies exam that featured the same question.
Blodget's article, however, wasn't a lengthy essay about Jewish history and persecution, nor was it a philosophical diatribe on why racism or hatred of ethnic groups exist. It provided a few hundred words of poorly researched context and posed the question to the trolling cybermasses.
Hitler, for example, hated the Jews so much that he murdered 6 million of them. Why? Blodget asks.
Oy, did that article receive some serious backlash, both from Jews like myself and those outside the tribe. After just a couple of hours, Blodget added six updates, changed the photo twice and altered the headline three times. By 5:30 p.m., he posted an apology note.
Whatever interesting responses came from the post, I now regret writing it, Blodget wrote.
Blodget, a former Wall Street analyst who built a successful tech and business website after being banned from the trade, seems like a really smart guy, so I was surprised he penned this. I believe Blodget isn't trying to propel ignorance, but fight it. I do not think he is anti-Semitic.
I think this was a misguided attempt to drive traffic to his site and answer a question he is genuinely interested in -- but it only exposed his own ignorance and naiveté on the subject.
Here are a few things I hope Blodget realized he did wrong after this whole ordeal:
Blodget obviously didn't bother to read up on anything about anti-Semitism before posting this article. When Blodget first published the article, this is what it looked like:
Blodget quickly learned his lesson: The original photo in the post was of a couple of jovial Orthodox Jews, one of whom was wearing a traditional hat. Some readers found that needlessly provocative. One suggested I replace it with a picture of Natalie Portman, who, I guess, is Jewish (I don't know). So I have.
And it became this:
I'll ignore Blodget's laziness in posting a picture of Portman without double-checking that she was actually Jewish. (She is both Jewish and Israeli, and with a risk of making generalizations, I will say most of us are proud she's a member of the tribe.) I'm glad Blodget realized that Haredi Judaism is an ultra-Orthodox form of a diverse religion, and members of that sect may be the most visually recognizable Jews as a result of their traditional attire, their black cloaks and round hats are not symbolic of an entire religion (like, say, the Star of David is), as his choice of photo implies. Even Haredi is an umbrella term for many ultra-Orthodox sects. They also, unfortunately and often inaccurately, carry a stigma of backwardness (which is challenged in this piece in XO Jane that I highly recommend) both within and outside the Jewish community (Israeli politics are a whole other story). That's why the picture was needlessly provocative.
All of this could have been avoided if Blodget had spent literally 30 seconds reading a Wikipedia article, which he clearly didn't do before posting this click-bait. You cannot just make a post about any religion, ethnicity or culture without some research -- otherwise you will come across as completely ignorant, as Blodget did.
The question led the discussion in the wrong direction. The article's original headline was Why do People Hate Jews? Realizing that it was wrong to imply that people in general have a dislike for Judaism, Blodget then changed the headline to this: Why Do Some People Hate Jews?
I'm certainly not trying to give it legitimacy. I'm looking for serious answers, he tweeted in response to some of the comments he received in response to the article. But media entrepreneur Rachel Sklar put it best when she responded, THERE ARE NONE THAT IS THE POINT. There is no legitimate answer as to why someone has such an inexplicable hatred for an entire people. The question, in the way it's worded, invites people to attack or justify anti-Semitic beliefs. Maybe people think Jews are so loathsome because they're so greedy, or because those violent Zionists want to kill all the Arabs, right? But there is a historical answer to how anti-Semitism has been used to justify the hatred or persecution of Jews for whatever purpose, which is what I think Blodget -- and the question on that British exam -- was looking for.
About an hour later, Blodget seemed to finally get it right: What Are the Sources of Anti-Semitism? In an update, he wrote:
The original title of this post was 'Why Do Some People Hate Jews?' That made a lot of people angry. Folks seem more comfortable with the current title, which, admittedly, is less direct. So I changed it.
Yes, one reason why the question is better is because it's less direct. It's also guiding the discussion in the right direction. I just hope Blodget realized why the question was inappropriate, rather than changing it because folks seem more comfortable with it.
The comments section of an online site is not the appropriate place to have this discussion. Blodget, fully aware of the trolling hordes that a question like that would attract, wrote the following:
I'm asking this question seriously, and I'm going to Bleacher any comments that don't answer it seriously. As usual, I'm also going to ban any anti-Semitic commenters. And I'm only going to keep the comments open for 24 hours, because I know what will happen once I stop checking back and reading them.
Business Insider is known for its quick, click-bait headlines that invite commentators' input. There are a lot of reasonable times to do that. This is not one of them. As the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of an online business and news site, Blodget understands the massive cyber-clan of commentators that troll comment boards to anonymously lash out their inner hatred, whatever it may be directed against.
Along with many other sites, this site is occasionally visited by people whose mission in life appears to be to express hatred of Jews. We delete these comments as quickly as we can, but they're always startling in their venom, meanness, and stupidity.
What Blodget seemed to miss here is that the majority of comments, even if he deletes the most profane ones, are still going to be anti-Semitic. There is little difference between the statement, I think Jews are greedy and selfish and some people think Jews are greedy and selfish. Take this comment, for example: Henry, I think it's a Western culture thing boiling down to two things, religion and money. It's subtle, but it's just as bad and unproductive to the dialogue as some of the harsher rants -- a point that was also brought up in the comments section.
An issue as complex as anti-Semitism is best discussed by experts who have thoroughly studied the topic, and it is best explained in long-form, not in a quick blog post. Which is why a bunch of people recommended that Blodget educate himself on the topic with books, including several written by professor Robert Wistrich. It's available here he writes in an update.
After a couple of hours, Blodget also agreed to donate the revenues made by the article's ad traffic to a good cause.
@hblodget I have no issue with you using BI to ask that question BUT do the right thing - donate resulting ad revenue earned to a good cause
— Brian Hirsch(@hirschb) May 29, 2012
Mazel tov. We're all glad you learned something. But please, leave the click-bait to Kim Kardashian and iPhone release dates.