The New York Sun’s Ethnic Paranoia

Following up on the talk of Rudy Giuliani as “the New York Sun candidate,” the Sun editorial board complained this morning about “[a] new epithet … in use on the left in respect of Mayor Giuliani—namely that he has been ‘fostering a climate of ethnic paranoia.'” The “left” here is Talking Points Memo‘s Josh Marshall, who first used the offending phrase, and the Atlantic‘s Matthew Yglesias, who repeated it. Both references to “ethnic paranoia” occurred in discussions of Rudy’s group of radical foreign policy advisers, several of whom harbor Islamophobic, Israel-centric world views. The Sun notes:

Yglesias quotes Joshua Marshall as saying of Mr. Giuliani that “the guy has no real sense that posturing and pandering to ethnic paranoia in New York City simply isn’t the same as running a national foreign policy.”

And then wonders, coyly:

What are New Yorkers to make of this idea of “ethnic paranoia”? To what — or to whom — are Messrs. Marshall and Yglesias referring? Ethnic New Yorkers? Ethnic Americans? Well, go figure…

Of course, the ethnic group Yglesias and Marshall are referring to is the American-Jewish community, specifically in New York City. And the Sun‘s charge, as Marshall noted today, is that he and Yglesias, “two Jews, are peddling some sort of subtle anti-semitism.” Coming from the Sun (once described as “a journalistic SWAT team against [those] seen as hostile to Israel and Jews”), this is no surprise. But what I find interesting about this episode is the Sun‘s inability to accept the neutral descriptor “ethnic” for American Jews. As it turns out, this principle is codified in the Sun‘s in-house style guide, which, as reported by the Observer, contains this notable entry: “Ethnic. Means not Jewish or Christian.” Interesting. But click over to the American Heritage dictionary and you’ll find the first, or preferred, entry on “ethnic” accommodates Jews quite nicely: “Of, relating to, or characteristic of a sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or cultural heritage.” The Sun‘s definition is from the second entry, reading in full: “Relating to a people not Christian or Jewish; heathen.” Talk about ethnic paranoia.

—Justin Elliott