Responding to Eli Valley's Comic

Eli Valley’s satirical drawings often elicit critical comments, but they usually come from the political right, his frequent target of ridicule. His latest comic , published on this blog the past Thursday, has drawn the ire of the political left. A basic journalistic calculation would say that Eli is just doing his job, with no fear or favor to any ideological or political cause, and I agree.

I also feel that basic journalistic fairness requires us to air those criticisms, and respond to them.

Some of the critics strongly objected to Eli’s characterization of the rabbis of B’nai Jeshurun, who stirred up controversy with a letter to the congregants of their progressive Upper West Side synagogue supportive of the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. After the New York Times ran a story about the controversy on Page One (which I, for one, thought was over-hyped and overblown), and an outcry from some of their members, the rabbis issued a partial retraction .

This is what caught Eli’s scathing eye.

And drew some virulent response from BJ members and supporters.

“You slandered rabbis who love and support the essence of Judaism and the future of Israel, ” wrote Connie Gruber.

The comic “shocked me because of its mindless ridicule of a serious issue, with no content except caricature and done in a style that, in another context, some might have derided as anti-semitic [sic],” wrote Paul Scham.

There will be more letters at the bottom of this blog post. But let me briefly respond:

To those who ask for an apology, I respectfully decline. As the ultimate arbiter of what is published in the Forward in print and online, I see no reason to apologize for Eli’s comic. It was fair comment, published on an opinion blog (and not in the paper) where standards are looser than in the print edition and vigorous debate encouraged. A comic — or to use an older phrase, an editorial cartoon — is by its nature sharp and exaggerated; the artist has a moment to make his or her point, with no time for nuance or mitigation. The Yiddish press is filled with historic examples of cartoons that employed stereotype and exaggeration to ridicule the powers-that-be, including our legendary founding editor, Ab Cahan. Eli’s work carries on that tradition.

Now for more of the letters to the editor:

I’ve also heard from members of BJ who agreed with the comic’s point and presentation.

As an editor, I always welcome this kind of debate, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem, because it shows that readers are attentive and that they care. And I invite others to continue the conversation by posting (civil) comments below. But I hope that this doesn’t obscure the larger point raised by this story: How should rabbis express partisan/prophetic views without turning away congregants who don’t agree? Look to our oped page later this week for more on that.

Written by

Jane Eisner

Jane Eisner

Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, became editor-in-chief of the Forward in 2008, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward readership has grown significantly and it has won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.

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Responding to Eli Valley's Comic

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