The New York Times dove right back into a controversy it instigated last month on public pools segregated by sex for religious reasons, in which the paper showed himself to be a very selective supporter of public religious accommodations.
For decades the Metropolitan Recreation Center in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg has offered gender-separated swimming hours to accommodate the Hasidic Jewish community. Last month the Times attacked the idea vigorously, as my colleague Tim Graham noted, in an edgily worded, overheated editorial, calling it "a capitulation to a theocratic view of government services." Yet earlier this year the Times lauded a pool in Toronto offering the same accomodiations to Muslims. The malicious tone and some word choices gave plenty of ammunition to critics who say the paper is hostile to Jews:
The city’s human rights law is quite clear that public accommodations like a swimming pool cannot exclude people based on sex. It allows for exemptions “based on bona fide considerations of public policy,” but this case -- with its strong odor of religious intrusion into a secular space -- does not seem bona fide at all.
Times critic Ira Stoll, remembering anti-Semitic tropes, took strong offense at the peculiar “odor” given off by the oddly hostile editorial: “...The classically nasty antisemitic trope of accusing Jews of emitting a distinctive odor has been in the news recently as the result of a Harvard law student asking a visiting Israeli lawmaker why she was so ‘smelly,’ drawing a condemnation from the dean of the law school.”
And Jonathan Tobin at Commentary documented the paper’s stark double standard on religious accommodation in pools, noting a February Times article on a Toronto pool segregated for the benefit of Muslim migrants and Islam’s segregation of the sexes and strict ideas of female modesty: “Among the most memorable images from the piece was its paean to a decision by the municipal pool in the Regent Park neighborhood to set up hours where it would be open only to women, which gave Muslims a chance to enjoy the facility without violating their concerns about modesty.”
The nasty double standard resurfaced on Thursday, with Sarah Maslin Nir’s Metro story on the Brooklyn pool controversy, “A Battle Over Gender and Religion, at the Pool.” The online headline was more colorful: “Pool Rules: No Running, No Eating and, Three Times a Week, No Men.”
Nir felt free to mock the “prudish” Hasidic outfits in a way the Times would never do with Muslim women clad head-to-toe in burkas.
Under slate-colored light slanting from the skylights, the women entered the city pool on Wednesday morning, its oxidized copper ceiling lending a mint-green cast to the water’s surface. Their swimming outfits would have been considered prudish even by the standards of 1922, when the pool was built. They swam in dresses, some with long sleeves. One paddled in thick black tights. Inside the locker room, wigs sat upside down on window ledges and benches while their owners swam with heads under ruffled swimming caps or knotted silk scarves.
Nir made passing mention of the Toronto pool, with a link to the laudatory Times story, without acknowledging or even seeming to grasp the double standard applied by her newspaper:
Other cities have accommodated religious preferences for single-sex swimming. In Toronto, a similar program at a public pool that catered to Muslim women drew praise for offering that population a rare chance to learn to swim. There are similar programs elsewhere in the United States.
Friday’s front page featured yet another celebration (complete with prominent fawning family photos) of compassionate Canadians taking in Syrian refugees rejected by the rest of the cruel world, while soft-pedaling traditional discrimination against women in Islamic societies: “Refugees Hear a Foreign Word: Welcome -- How Canadians Adopt Syrian Families With Nowhere Else to Go.” This was about as pointed as such criticism got: “And volunteers cannot fully anticipate what they may confront -- clashing expectations of whether Syrian women should work, tensions over how money is spent, families that are still dependent when the year is up, disagreements within sponsor groups.”
The story by Jodi Kantor and Catrin Einhorn even included an anecdote about a swimming pool, but the reporters missed the opportunity to bring up awkward questions of religious-based sex segregation or modesty, a subject it is quite concerned with regarding the Orthodox Jewish community: “When Abdullah Mohammad took the children to a community pool, he encountered a woman in a string bikini. ‘I ran away,’ he said later. ‘I’ve never seen that before in my life.’” No word on his feelings about women swimming in the same pool as men.