MIKEY’s OP-ED – NYT Story on Orthodox Jewish Girl at West Point is Inaccurate and Insulting

The New York Times recently ran a story that may have been published with the most sterling intent. However, as folk wisdom and common sense universally informs us, “good intentions” can easily land us in some less-than-comfortable positions. Indeed, we all know too well what paves the road to hell. The Times story sympathetically and deservedly profiles a 17-year-old yeshiva student who has accepted her well-earned offer of admission to the acclaimed and prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Throughout the article, the good intentions come through loud and clear; however, so too do numerous biases, disgusting insinuations, and implicitly discriminatory assumptions that play to age-old, terribly hurtful stereotypes about the Jewish people; my people.

In fact, even the title of the article – “17-Year-Old Makes the First-Ever Charge From an Orthodox Yeshiva to West Point” – is wholly inaccurate. Ms. Rachelle David (the subject of the article) most certainly is not the first Orthodox Yeshiva graduate to enter the celebrated West Point military institution. (The New York Times has since corrected this inaccuracy from their April 28th article.)

It didn’t have to be this way – but alas, the article’s author made some seriously unfortunate choices.

“I hate to say it, but it’s not a Jewish activity,” said Daniel J. Vitow, headmaster of the … yeshiva, and the man who interviewed Ms. David for admission. “The military is not what Jewish mothers want for their children. The stereotypical Jewish mother wants a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, not an army general.”

Talk about cringe-inducing, nauseating and obnoxious bias! One can almost imagine Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter paternalistically asking a service member, “What’s a nice, studious, little Jew like you doing here in our lionhearted U.S. Military?” Of course, we’re confident that our newly arrived Defense Secretary would at least have an iota of anti-prejudicial prudence, a quality regrettably lacking in the Times article.

Indeed, the indiscretion and, well, stupidity on display in the article is just simply repulsive, and this is why, not long after it was published, I was swiftly contacted by a number of Jewish cadets, graduates, faculty, and staff at West Point who expressed their disdain, dissatisfaction, and disgust for what they had read in that reprehensible article. Not only can the absurdly and blatantly bigoted suggestion of Jewish anti-military aversion be interpreted as an ignominious insult to the 80 Jewish cadets presently training their hearts out at West Point, but it’s also a contemptible slap in the face of the 630 Jewish-Americans who have graduated from the academy. It’s an awful and unbridled disparagement to the universal sacrifices made by Jewish-American veterans – particularly the approximately 27 Medal of Honor recipients of the Jewish faith – and it’s an unforgivable affront to the families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the United States of America.

The pervasive stereotype of “the wimpy Jew,” effeminate and bookish, has a false and incredibly sordid history almost as long as the Jewish people itself – from the epoch of King David to Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame. While some might brush these clichéd tropes aside as harmless, in truth they reflect a form of genuinely brutal anti-Semitism that’s deceptively subtle yet painfully pernicious in its persistence, and has proven itself disastrously erosive to the morale and esteem of our thousands of Jewish-American compatriots in uniform.  It’s a totally fraudulent, overgeneralization, similar to claims that white folks have an inordinate fondness for cheese, African Americans make excellent athletes, or that Asian Americans are (similar to the Jews) wealthy, geeky, and for the most part, docile and supine. On the one hand, yes, given the immense spectrum of humanity and human characteristics, of course you’ll find some archetypes that fit the bill. On the other hand, these stereotypes also serve as self-fulfilling prophecies, shaping our impressions and creating expectations based not on the merits or actions of an otherwise innocent individual, but on our most profound prejudices. In the minds of too many who live and breathe lives of base, vile and evil bigotry, these “overgeneralizations” maliciously morph into the essential and immutable cultural attributes of a given ethnicity or people.  From there, you’re only a few small steps from the malevolent, cartoonish realm of the bomb-throwing Muslim fanatic, Little Black Sambo, Charlie Chan, Frito Bandito, and other disgracefully hateful caricatures of ignominy.

For those of us who are subjected to the sneering arrogance of the entitled and privileged, subtle stereotypes are no less harmful than open jeers and cutting epithets. I, for one, have dealt with this throughout my entire career in the predominantly Christian supremacist U.S. Military, as have my children. In fact, one of the formative events that led to the creation of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) was the confirmation that the foul winds of anti-Semitism, borne of deeply-ingrained, institutional, fundamentalist Christian supremacy exceptionalism, still blow unfettered through the hallowed halls of military academia.

In short, the Times article serves as a clear reminder (as if any was needed) that multicultural, millennial America still has a lot of work ahead to drain the fecund swamps of prejudice and clear the fetid stench of injustice facing ethnic, gender, and religious minorities.

While the article’s author may have meant well in his feature story on the impressive Ms. Rachelle David’s admission to West Point, a backhandedly “complimentary” article remains a backhanded slap, still.

Click to read on Daily Kos

Click to read on Alternet

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