Orthodox Jewish group urges Pulitzer board not to reward New York Times

The NYT is engaging in “a relentless campaign of overwhelmingly negative depictions of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, their educational institutions, and their lives,” says Agudath Israel.

By Andrew Bernard, The Algemeiner

Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella organization representing Orthodox Jews, on Monday sent an open letter to the Pulitzer Prize board urging them not to reward the New York Times with a Pulitzer Prize for their series of articles on New York City Hasidic schools.

Sent via Agudath’s KnowUs project, the letter accuses the Times of engaging in “a relentless campaign of overwhelmingly negative depictions of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, their educational institutions, and their lives.”

“It is not the habit of Agudath Israel of America to interlope or intervene in the deliberations of the Pulitzer Prize Board; we believe this is the first occasion Agudath Israel has done so in its 100-year history,” the letter says. “However, in light of the palpable pain in the community, present danger on the streets, and unbalanced and inaccurate reporting, we felt compelled to pen this letter.”

Avrohom Weinstock, Chief of Staff at Agudath Israel of America, told The Algemeiner that the depiction of Orthodox communities in the articles was “beyond recognition” and that Pulitzer Prize should be “off the table.”

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“In this moment, one of the most influential newspapers in the world decided to paint a target on our backs, 17 times in 6 months, with lengthy, one-sided articles eviscerating numerous facets of Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish life,” Weinstock said in an interview with The Algemeiner.

“The letter mentions this backdrop but focuses, in a rigorously sourced way, on how the Times stories were not only hurtful to many, but were disingenuously sourced, employed misleading data, intentionally suppressed contrary information, and really kind of took the unsuspecting reader who may have little real-world interaction with Orthodox Jews, for a lurid ride.”

In September, the Times released the first in a series of articles on Hasidic education after a three-year investigation. Titled “In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush With Public Money,” the signature article in the series detailed the failings of Hasidic schools, particularly Hasidic boys’ schools, in standardized testing in Math and English and accusing the schools of trapping their students in a resulting cycle of poverty.

The series has also explored the alleged misuse of public funding for the schools and associated services like government-funded childcare and special education. Since publication, the Central United Talmudical Academy, the largest boys’ yeshiva in the state, has paid millions of dollars in fines, and there is an ongoing federal trial against daycare operators accused of multi-million dollar fraud.

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But critics of the Times’ coverage allege that the pieces exhibit bias towards against the Orthodox community and perpetuate antisemitic tropes.

“It’s really unfortunate that the New York Times took an issue which merits investigation and exploration and framed it in such a way that I think was very unhelpful and could actually encourage some of the bad stuff,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in September during a White House summit on hate crimes. “I hope that others can do it…differently than the Times did, in a way that’s actually unbiased and decreases antisemitism rather than potentially contributing to it.”

While the Times has not had to issue any factual corrections to the centerpiece articles of the series on yeshiva education, Monday’s letter from KnowUs includes a 16-page appendix detailing alleged inaccuracies, missing context, and other omissions in the Times’ reporting that they say warrant its exclusion from Pulitzer contention.

The elements the letter claims as misleading range from statistical information about how the poverty line is calculated to the Times’ failure to disclose the associations of quoted sources with activist groups assisting people in leaving Orthodox communities.

The Pulitzer Prizes do not announce their finalist nominations in advance. The prizes are expected to be awarded in May.

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The Pulitzer Prizes and the New York Times did not respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.