A Roslyn Heights synagogue has pulled advertising from all Blank Slate Media publications, protesting the publisher’s decision to run a letter many viewed as anti-Semitic.
Temple Sinai of Roslyn announced the move in an emailed letter to members last Tuesday, saying its Board of Trustees “cannot turn over temple funds to a newspaper that knowingly has insulted the Jewish people and might do so again.”
The temple will also stop publishing event listings in the newspapers, the letter says.
“Every publisher exercises journalistic discretion, and even in opinion pieces, we believe that publishers should abstain from publishing outright anti-Semitic lies,” Rabbi Michael White and Jonathan A. Cheris, Temple Sinai’s president, wrote.
Blank Slate Media’s six North Shore newspapers and its website, The Island Now, published a Dec. 16 letter to the editor from John O’Kelly, a former East Williston school board trustee, that celebrated Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s election victory despite the efforts of “anti-Christian, anti-U.S. globalists, led by George Soros,” a Jewish investment banker and prominent Democratic donor.
O’Kelly called Soros a “Rothschild banker,” referring to the European Jewish banking family.
Many readers viewed the letter as a thinly veiled anti-Semitic screed propagating false conspiracy theories that Jews control news media and governments across the world.
The letter has since prompted 14 responses, most of them condemning O’Kelly, and an editorial by Steven Blank, Blank Slate Media’s editor and publisher.
In a Dec. 23 letter to the editor, White condemned the decision to publish O’Kelly’s letter, threatened to boycott Blank Slate Media’s publications and said he would encourage others to do the same.
The temple would consider advertising again if Blank “were to change his policy and commit to denying bigots and anti-Semites a platform in his papers,” White and Cheris’ Jan. 10 letter says.
White did not respond to an email and two phone calls seeking further comment.
Blank, an East Hills resident who founded Blank Slate Media in 2010, declined to say how much Temple Sinai spent on advertising, but said it was a significant client that advertised regularly.
A second client has also refused to continue advertising because of the decision to publish O’Kelly’s letter, according to an email sent to Blank Slate Media.
Blank maintains his newspapers’ opinion pages as a “marketplace of ideas” and will publish any letter from local readers unless it contains potentially libelous material, personal attacks or explicit hate speech, he said.
While he agreed that O’Kelly’s letter contained thinly veiled anti-Semitism, it did not cross that line because readers may have disagreed or not understood the context of O’Kelly’s references, Blank said.
At a Jan. 5 meeting, Blank said, White would not shift from his “extreme” position that the newspapers should not publish any letters offensive to Jews or other minority groups, including those agreeing with Trump’s statements denigrating Mexicans and Muslims.
White and the temple are entitled to pull their advertising, but their demands amount to “an attack on free speech,” Blank said. He does not plan to change his policy on which letters to publish.
“In effect, it’s ‘might makes right’ in this argument, and I would think that — I would hope that the arguments are made on the merits rather than trying to enforce his point of view with financial penalties,” he said.
The dispute comes amid recent national debates about free speech and the censorship of bigoted views, and follows a spate of anti-Semitic graffiti and other hate crimes on the North Shore and elsewhere.
In his editorial published Dec. 30, Blank said O’Kelly’s letter reflected discourse Trump brought into the mainstream during his presidential campaign.
Trump’s final campaign advertisement cast Soros, Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein and Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen — all of whom are Jewish — as “global special interests” who “control the levers of power in Washington.”
In the editorial, Blank said he found O’Kelly’s letter “objectionable and extreme,” adding, “But we also believe we are better served by confronting ignorant or hateful ideas than pretending they don’t exist.”
Rabbi Michael Klayman of the Lake Success Jewish Center praised Blank’s decision to publish O’Kelly’s letter, saying it allowed the community to openly discuss and condemn hateful language.
“We know that these kinds of views are being expressed,” Klayman said. “I would rather see them be expressed in a forum that enables the public to respond rather than in some … secretive way.”
In a second letter published Dec. 30, O’Kelly rejected the accusations of anti-Semitism, saying he originally decried a globalist agenda that favors war and debt over the United States’ best interests.
He wrote that Soros represents the “powers-that-be” who have “used their domination of the media” to attack Trump and his populist campaign.