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by Moshe Phillips


In 1990 when the English language edition of the Forward newspaper was created in New York by Seth Lipsky it heralded a new era for Jewish media in America. With the hiring of ex-Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and editor Jane Eisner, the Forward took a huge step backward this last June. Eisner is the editor who drew the ire of Philadelphia's Jewish community when she made the unintelligent move of replacing Pulitzer Prize winning columnist George F. Will with notorious anti-Semite and Holocaust denier apologist Joseph Sobran in 1995.

The acute disappointment in The Forward's hiring of Eisner was reignited by the news that The New York Sun, the daily newspaper also created by Seth Lipsky, published its last issue on September 30, the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

With the establishment of the Forward in English Lipsky had introduced American Jews to a national newspaper staffed by professional journalists. Many were veterans of general circulation dailies. They were dedicated to offering a fresh new perspective that was not tied to the Federation/UJA system of often tightly controlled Jewish establishment manipulated press. The Forward was independent; Lipsky had arrived from The Wall Street Journal and he created something in his own image.

In an age when newspapers were downsizing their staffs and publishing companies were selling off properties, Lipsky departed the Forward in 2000 and The New York Sun debuted on April 16, 2002.

To be sure, the Forward under Lipsky was no one's mouthpiece. Lipsky was an unabashed admirer of the 20th century Zionist hero and thinker Zev Jabotinsky and wasn't shy about letting folks know it. But in news coverage and on the op-ed page this did not mean a tilt to Israel's right. More often than not this simply meant something that had surely been lacking in American Jewish journalism — a level playing field.

Lipsky's Forward did not depend on the JTA wire service for its news coverage. He hired journalists who worked beats and developed news sources, allowing the reemergence of authentic reporting in the midst of "Jewish journalism."

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Eisner found herself without a post at the Inquirer in 2005 and turned up at the National Constitution Center in 2006 as their "vice president for national programs and initiatives."

While Eisner was at the Inquirer some of the most biased news and unabashedly anti-Semitic editorial cartoons by Tony Auth appeared in its pages under the guise of being critical of Israel and Zionism. CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) exposed Auth with a report showing how closely his cartoons were to Nazi era propaganda cartoons. Eisner was unmoved. She failed to rein Auth in. He is still at the Inquirer today.

Eisner's removal of George Will and the introduction of Joe Sobran to the Inquirer's op-ed page must be seen as a partisan attack on the pro-Israel camp and political conservatism in the U.S. or as her most notable professional error.

Eisner's decision to bring Sobran on board the Inquirer clearly demonstrates just why she is unfit for any position at the Forward. Sobran's ties to Holocaust deniers and his penchant for criticism of Israel, Zionism, the America-Israel alliance and American Jewish community's commitment to Israel were well known when Eisner hired him in 1995. Eisner was the Inquirer's editorial page editor at the time she hired Sobran.

An examination of Sobran's anti-Semitism is beyond the scope of this essay. It should suffice to remind readers that Sobran and his colleague Pat Buchanan were the main subjects of the late William F. Buckley's 1993 book In Search of Anti-Semitism and the December 1991 National Review cover story and essay that the book was based on. The cover story caused a national media sensation when it was published.

Eisner wrote in the Inquirer on September 10, 1995 that Sobran represented "a philosophy that espouses minimalist government, excoriates liberalism and eschews political compromise." She indicated that she wanted to satisfy critics who wanted "unvarnished conservatism" stating "Sobran's work should fill that gap."

It is worth noting that Buckley wrote the following in National Review in 1986: Complaints have reached us concerning a series of columns written by my colleague Joseph Sobran under the aegis of his newspaper syndicate. It is charged that these columns constitute anti-Semitism. In the columns, Mr. Sobran, among other things, has declared that Israel is not an ally to be trusted; surmised that the New York Times endorsed the military strike against Libya only because it served its Zionist editorial line; and ruminated that the visit of the Pope to a synagogue had the effect of muting historical persecutions of Christians by Jews.

Eisner must have known that Sobran was an extremist. She wrote in the Inquirer when she hired him that "some readers wish to open these pages and find a set of opinions that conform pleasantly to their own views. I am afraid I cannot accommodate them."

Sobran did not represent "unvarnished conservatism" -- he represented unvarnished anti-Semitism. The same year Eisner hired Sobran, articles by him appeared in three different issues of the most prominent Holocaust denial publication, the Journal of Historical Review (JHR) The JHR is the main publication of the California based Institute of Historical Review (IHR). Later Sobran spoke at an IHR conference.

Eisner must not have cared about Sobran's embrace of Holocaust deniers or she failed to uncover it before she hired him. Either way, she failed as a journalist and as a newspaper manager.

Also, it should be clear that George Will, a Pulitzer Prize winner, best selling book author and weekly ABC Sunday morning TV pundit was better suited to represent the conservative viewpoint at the Inquirer than Sobran. Either Eisner saw no significant difference between the conservative and mainstream George Will and extremist and marginal Sobran or she deliberately wanted the columnists who were used to represent conservatism to the Inquirer's readers to be fanatical extremists. Again, either way, she failed as a journalist and as a newspaper manager. Of course Sobran is no conservative. His views have always been a mix of populism, conspiracy theories and isolationism. At times Sobran's approach reminds one of Hutton Gibson, Mel Gibson's father. We are left to wonder if Eisner would have published Hutton Gibson if he fit her purposes.

George Will was Israel's most potent and most committed defender of Israel to appear in the Inquirer's pages during those years. Either Eisner saw no significant difference between the pro-Israel Will and the anti-Israel Sobran or she deliberately wanted the pro-Israel viewpoint at the Inquirer to be muzzled. Again, either way, she failed as a journalist and as a newspaper manager.

And make no mistake -- Eisner is still making the wrong moves. After Eisner got to the Forward she named Daniel Treiman as the opinion editor. Eisner may have rewarded Treiman for his February 1, 2008 blog entry Time for an Arabic 'Hatikva'? in which he wrote the following nonsense: "I am not Israeli, nor am I a Zionist. (As an American Jew, I identify as a pro-Zionist non-Zionist..." after explaining that Arab citizens of Israel should have their own flag and national anthem: "If Israel has a flag, seal and anthem that speak to Jewish history, why not allow Israel's Arab minority to have its own symbols and standards that speak to Arab identity?"

The New York Sun has had its sunset. The Forward is moving backward. There is not a lot of good news for friends of Israel who want quality news and analysis. With the departure of editor Jonathan Tobin from the Jewish Philadelphia of Greater Philadelphia owned Jewish Exponent for Commentary magazine perhaps there is still a chance for some good news. Lipsky would make an excellent addition to Philadelphia's professional media. The Exponent should start pursuing him now. The Forward should begin a search for a new editor too. There are plenty of talented former New York Sun editors looking for work. Perhaps Michael Lerner over at Tikkun can make some room for Eisner.

Moshe Phillips is a member of the Executive Committee of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans for a Safe Israel — AFSI. The chapter's website is at: and Moshe's blog can be found at


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