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New York Times faces billboard campaign from Orthodox Jewish group over ‘crusade’ against religious schools

The umbrella Orthodox Jewish group, Agudath Israel, responded to the New York Times' investigation with a billboard placed outside the publication's headquarters.

Following several months of coverage by The New York Times, an Orthodox Jewish umbrella group fired back with a public campaign to counter what it deemed a demonizing "crusade" against Orthodox Jews. 

"We resent that the Times are engaged in what appears to be a crusade," said Rabbi David Zwiebel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel — an organization founded in 1922 that represents various Orthodox Jewish communities. "A crusade to get people to consider Hasidic Jews in a negative light."

Beginning in September, the Times started to publish a series of investigative stories about Orthodox boys schools, also known as yeshivas, particularly singling out the Hasidic community — a smaller group that falls under the Orthodox Jewish umbrella. The articles reported, among other findings, that some yeshivas faced dismal scores on standardized tests and provided minimal secular education while receiving significant public funding.


"There does appear to be a concerted effort that is currently taking place and has been taking place over the last number of months to find various aspects of Orthodox Jewish communal life — education, social activities and others — to portray it in a way that is very negative," Zwiebel told Fox News. "We are concerned that it is not only troubling, but even dangerous to a certain extent."

Agudath Israel leaders said the Times' coverage didn't give the Orthodox community a sufficient chance to showcase the benefits of a yeshiva education and instead included one quote from the organization about graduates' successful career paths. The leaders also said the coverage generalized overall yeshiva education by sharing experiences from individual schools while avoiding mentioning positive attributes of the community.

They said the Times negatively portrayed the community at a time when antisemitism is on the rise — the number of antisemitic hate crimes doubled from 2020 to 2022 and are more frequent than hate crimes on all other minority groups in the city according to the New York Police Department.


"The atmosphere today is extremely polluted with the toxin of antisemitism," Zwiebel said. "When The New York Times spends several months publishing article after article relentlessly portraying Hasidic Jews in a negative light, it just adds more poison to the atmosphere."

"When there is more poison in the atmosphere, it's dangerous," he continued.

The Times did not respond to Fox News' request for comment.

Zwiebel said that after the Times published several articles, various Jewish groups met with the paper's editorial leadership to discuss concerns about the "lack of balance" in the coverage.

"The Times would probably say that meeting was helpful and maybe led to a little bit more balance in subsequent articles but I haven’t seen it," said Zwiebel, who was present at the meeting.

Agudath Israel in January launched its campaign, which includes billboards posted around Manhattan and a website with information disputing the Times' reporting about various Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish schools.

Moshe Krakowski, a Yeshiva University professor who studies American Orthodox education and culture, told Fox News the community felt it needed to speak out.

"They feel demonized, justifiably, and would like people to get another side of the story since nobody else is actually articulating the other side of the story," Karkowski said.

Zwiebel, Krakowski and several Orthodox Jews told Fox News it's unusual for a group like Agudath Israel to launch a public relations campaign.

"We are an insular community," Zwiebel said. "We have no reason to draw attention to ourselves as a general principle."

"And then these articles start to appear and then the person out there on the street who is wondering what Orthodox Jews are like — 'why do they dress so funny and they speak funny and have all these strange weird habits, what's with them?' — and then these articles appear that distort the reality of who we are," Zwiebel continued.


The Times' investigation noted that its journalists interviewed hundreds of people and analyzed millions of rows of data over the course of a year. Among other details, the articles reported that yeshiva students overwhelmingly fail standardized tests; that graduates "are unprepared to navigate the outside world; and that some "end up addicted to drugs and alcohol" as a consequence of the education provided.

Both Krakowski and Zwiebel told Fox News that much of the Times' reporting relied on anecdotal evidence and interviews with disgruntled former members of the community. Krakowski also criticized the Times for not reaching out to him in their research since, according to him, he's the leading academic in the country specializing in Hasidic Jewish school systems.

"They visited a school where I know the kids in that school can read or write. And if they visited that school, they would’ve seen that the kids can read and write, but they felt like that would not match what they were trying to present," Krakowski said. "So instead they gave the school’s test scores and said ‘look these kids are illiterate.’"

One of Agudath Israel's billboards was intentionally placed next to the Times' headquarters on Eighth Avenue.

"One of the sites that was intriguing to us was a site very, very close to The New York Times building," Zwiebel said. "We didn’t just want commuters stuck in traffic to know that we were concerned about the negative image that was being portrayed in the Times, but we wanted the Times to know that we were concerned."

Other billboards were located outside the Lincoln Tunnel and near Times Square.

"Attacks on Orthodox Jews have more than doubled recently," the bright blue billboards read. "Dear New York Times, words do break bones. Please stop attacking our community."


Chaskel Bennett, an activist on Agudath Israel's board, told Fox News that has had its white paper downloaded tens of thousands of times and that the campaign has received a positive response from Jews and non-Jews alike.

"The campaign, we hope, will give people a different perspective, one that The New York Times continues to refuse to provide," Bennett told Fox News.

Zwiebel said he doesn’t believe the campaign will cause the Times to issue an apology, but he hopes it will educate people who read the Gray Lady. 

"This is our answer," he said. "You want to know a little bit about Orthodox Jews? You can get whatever information you want from the Times, but get to really know us."

Agudath Israel believes their campaign has been successful and plans to continue using it to respond to future stories by the Times.

To see more about the Orthodox community's response to the New York Times' investigation, click here.

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