In the Nov. 17, 2022 issue, we ran a cartoon depicting Shlomo Rechnitz with a laundry list of his specific offenses as owner of Brius Healthcare, the skilled nursing corporation through which he has funneled tens of millions of dollars to other companies he owns, while providing patients with substandard care.
Specifically, the cartoon points out that, amid a time period when Rechnitz was redirecting $31 million from his four Humboldt County facilities to his other companies ("Profit and Pain," Nov. 17), state inspectors found his local facilities were grossly understaffed, resulting in everything from residents going weeks without a bath to developing pressure sores because staff couldn't keep up with their care regimen. The cartoon was aimed at pointing out the man responsible for their suffering.
But readers have reached out to tell us the image reminded them of anti-Semitic propaganda from Nazi Germany and elsewhere, in which artists caricatured the physical features and dress of Jewish men to spread hateful tropes. These tropes were part of a propaganda effort to scapegoat and dehumanize Jewish people, justifying their mistreatment. Readers shared their concern that the Journal — at a time when anti-Semitism is surging according to a number of organizations that track it — was promoting similarly awful ideas.
We apologize to all those who felt that shock of recognition looking at the cartoon, particularly in a climate where anti-Semitism has once again been on parade. But rather than shy away from the conversation, we'd like to talk about why we ran the cartoon and feel it is not anti-Semitic. Unlike those anti-Jewish cartoons, Terry Torgeson's drawing of Rechnitz is not a grotesque caricature, but a fairly realistic cartoon rendering of his profile without exaggerating his features. He is, as the name written on his coat indicates, only himself, an individual and not a stand-in for a group, not a symbol. He wears his customary attire, the black suit and hat in which he makes public appearances. Beside him are the particular offenses of which Rechnitz and his facilities have been accused, not racist tropes about Jewish people or their perceived character. If we'd believed the cartoon to be anything but a comment on the actions of one man, we would not have hesitated to discard it.
That we formed our decision based on a set of editorial standards we believe in does not mean we are without regret. In hindsight, we recognize that while there was no anti-Semitic intent behind the illustration or our printing it, its publication has caused harm. The truth is that the traditional Jewish hat and suit in the image have been used to malign those who wear them so many times, they may not read as neutral, no matter what the artist or their editors think. Our national climate, particularly the recent resurgence of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, Holocaust-denying lies, harassment, vandalism and violence, asks more of us in the fight against anti-Semitism than to simply watch our intentions. The long, ugly history of Jews being targeted with hateful propaganda demands hyper vigilance and sensitivity, and we'll endeavor to be more attuned to what this moment demands of us moving forward.
We absolutely believe Rechnitz needs to be held accountable by the law and by our government, and we will continue to push our leaders to address the harm he has done. But we don't want those who would falsely and opportunistically draw a line connecting his Orthodox Jewish identity to his misdeeds to imagine any agreement or encouragement from us.
After all, Judaism teaches that we are all created to do what's just and merciful, each deserving to be treated with dignity and respect. That's a message that should be embraced everywhere, from inside our newsroom to Rechnitz's facilities, and everywhere between.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the Journal's arts and features editor. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 320, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at (707) 442-1400, extension 321, or email@example.com.
Kimberly Wear (she/her) is the Journal's digital editor. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 323, or firstname.lastname@example.org.