Newspaper forced to apologize over anti-Semitic clue in crossword puzzle

Laurie Kamens — Daily Mail July 4, 2013

Head of the Anti Defamation League Abe Fox. Click to enlarge

A Chicago-based newspaper syndicate issued an apology to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) after being accused of publishing an anti-Semitic crossword clue.

Tribune Media Services printed a clue asking for a three-letter word meaning Shakespeare’s ‘Shylock’ from Merchant of Venice. The answer, ‘Jew.’

In response the ADL quickly issued a statement urging the paper to print an apology and refrain from writing future puzzle clues the perpetuate negative cultural stereotypes.

In a press statement issued shortly after the puzzle’s publication, the ADL reprimanded the syndicate for ‘perpetuat[ing] classic anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as evil and money-hungry,’ and asked they print an apology.

In his letter Abraham H. Foxman, the National Director of the ADL wrote, ‘Perhaps the puzzle authors were unaware of the use of Shakespeare’s Shylock character throughout the years as a vehicle for antisemitism.’

He continued, ‘Selecting Shylock to elicit the answer ‘Jew’ demonstrates cultural ignorance and an extreme lack of sensitivity. Even if done inadvertently, such a linkage perpetuates classic antisemitic stereotypes of Jews as evil and money-hungry.’

In Shakespeare’s play Shylock is a money lender, who when the character of Antonio defaults on his loan, demands a pound of flesh from him.

The newspaper printed an apology for the clue, according to a report from The Jewish Press.

The public apology, which was printed in the Sunday papers, came from managing editor Mary Elson.

Elson wrote, ‘The puzzle should not have been distributed with that clue, and we apologize for the offense it caused. The issue has been discussed with the creators and editors involved, and the clue will not be used again in a Tribune Media Services crossword,’ according to a report by Arutz Sheva.

The Tribune added that it, ‘is very sensitive to racial or cultural references in the content we distribute and regret that this slipped through,’ The Jewish Press reported.

Foxman responded in kind, commending the Tribune for their ‘swift action in response.’

‘They have made clear to us that they understood this was an offensive stereotype, and that the Shylock clue should never have made it into the puzzle,’ Foxman said in a statement.

The ADL also received an apology from the crossword editor of the Los Angeles Times, another national outlet that printed the crossword, the statement attests.

However, in an interview with Tablet Magazine, Barry Edelstein, Shakespearean expert and Artistic Director of the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, argued against the merits of the ADL’s complaint on theatrical grounds.

Edelstein, who is currently directing his third production of Merchant of Venice this summer, told Tablet, ‘As a Jew and not any kind of an expert [on anti-Semitism], I think this is a case of the ADL and Foxman defining anti-Antisemitism down.’

‘I just don’t agree that this crossword puzzle clue rises to the level of noxious anti-Antisemitism.’

Edelstein cited moments from the play supporting the veracity of the crossword clue, including that at one point Shylock takes to center stage and speaks the line ‘I am a Jew.’

‘I just don’t find it offensive,’ Edelstein said to the online magazine, ‘in fact, I find it kind of innocuous. If the answer had been ‘bloodsucker’ then that’s a different case. But this seems to me, if you’ll pardon the Shakespeare line, ‘a tempest in a teapot.’

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