Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Tammuz 25, 5774

Way Beyond the Pale

January 26, 2012
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It would be easy to dismiss him as a crackpot -- the owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times who suggested that one Israeli response to the threat from Iran would be to assassinate President Barack Obama.

But to do so would be to ignore an opportunity to reap some important lessons from the furor he created in the Jewish world and beyond.

If you missed the brouhaha it caused -- reportedly even catching the attention of the FBI and the Secret Service -- it's because it lasted less than a week. It began with a Jan. 13 column, in which Andrew Adler outlined what he said were three possible Israeli responses to Iran's move to acquire nuclear weapons: a preemptive strike against Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorist groups that he said would be emboldened by a nuclear Iran; a direct strike on Iran; and third: "give the go-ahead for U.S.-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies." He continued, "Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel's existence. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don't you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel's most inner circles?"

Although the Atlanta Jewish Times has a tiny circulation, reportedly between 3,000 to 4,000, the piece gained traction when it got picked up a week later by gawker.com and began making its way through the blogosphere. Then Jewish organizations roundly condemned the column, with some even suggesting that it had done irreparable harm to Israel and the Jewish people. By Monday, the uproar had already begun to subside when Adler, apparently stunned by the adverse reaction, resigned his position and said he was seeking a buyer for the publication.

How could someone in a position of such apparent responsibility be so irresponsible? Wanting to be thought-provoking, as Adler claimed, is one thing. Having no internal filter as to what is beyond the pale is another. Those familiar with Atlanta's Jewish community say that Adler in fact has little prestige. He is regarded as beyond the fringe, someone who, since his purchase of the paper a few years ago, has driven away most of Atlanta's Jews.

So lesson No. 1: Just because someone has a platform doesn't mean he's worth listening to. As we sort through our countless emails and Twitter feeds each day, that is worth remembering.

We also have to ask whether devoting so much attention to this idiotic suggestion -- in the Jewish and non-Jewish media -- gave it undeserved prominence that helped exacerbate the situation.

Lesson No. 2: Sometimes the best way to respond to ignorance is to ignore it. If no one's listening, chances are it will recede into obscurity, which is exactly where Andrew Adler should be headed.

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