The Jewish Press’ advertisement for JONAH International, an organization dedicated to gay “conversion” therapy, sparked outrage on social media today.
The ad, featured on the site’s homepage, prominently displays the organization’s navy and white logo in the foreground, with their tagline mission statement — “Institute for Gender Affirmation: Overcoming Homosexuality” — and organizational website just below it.
Tovah Silbermann, a New York City resident who identifies herself as “a loyal reader,” was outraged by the ad. “This organization has caused so much pain and suffering,” she tweeted.
@Sfgross@JewishPress Seriously disgusting. This organization has caused so much pain and suffering. You just lost a loyal reader. — Tovah Silbermann (@Milbermann) September 9, 2014
Sarah Gross, a young Jewish professional, took the campaign to Facebook. Using strong language, she shared a CNN article from 2012 that outlined the lawsuit in which gay men sued JONAH counselors who promised to make them straight. “It’s offensive,” she writes of the organization, and “I will officially not be reading articles on TheJewishPress.com after seeing an ad for JONAH [on their site].”
Both medical professionals and rabbinic personalities across the spectrum have denounced JONAH’s work.
In 2012, in response to the lawsuit filed against JONAH, the Rabbinical Council of America, an influential body of Orthodox and Modern Orthodox rabbis, issued a statement affirming that they could not endorse JONAH’s approach. Why?
“Based on consultation with a wide range of mental health experts and therapists who informed us of the lack of scientifically rigorous studies that support the effectiveness of therapies to change sexual orientation, a review of literature written by experts and major medical and mental health organizations, and based upon reports of the negative and, at times, deleterious consequences to clients of some of the interventions endorsed by JONAH.”
In a comment on Facebook, Jina Davidovich, a UJA employee and previous JOFA fellow, wrote, “After the allegations brought against them, and all the damage they have caused, I think the community should force them to close their doors.”
But the ad placement is not new: It’s “been up for years,” according to JONAH International co-director Arthur Goldberg. It’s unclear why this issue hasn’t caught fire on social media until today.
Who paid for the ad? A donor who allocates his donations to run this specific ad in The Jewish Press, Goldberg explained. The ad will continue to be published until the donor terminates his allocated donations or until The Jewish Press decides to pull it.
The Jewish Press has a strict policy not to comment on ads, and was thus unable to provide a perspective on this issue. The publication’s editor, Jason Maoz, was also unavailable for comment.
From a Jewish media standpoint, The Jewish Press is obviously in a tricky situation. On the one hand, advertisements pay for publications. A traditional news organization can’t sustain itself without ads. On the other hand, every ad a news site runs passes some sort of editorial test.
In secular media, that decision is difficult. Editors must consider their audience demographics’ age, gender, politics and general social views. In Jewish media, the decision is that much more difficult because certain elements of religion are often taken into account as well.
That’s why everything posted on a website must be approved by an editor — even ads, which, though they’re not necessarily endorsed by the paper, can provide a window into what an organization stands for. If a publication runs an ad, it means that, to a certain extent, they agree with it. You would never see a Jewish media outlet run an ad for conversion to Catholicism — they would, in theory, draw a line there.
So why not here?