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Public editor: Is it fair to say “Jewish community”? No group is monolithic

Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves during his visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on January 21, 2014.

AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

I received a note from a reader concerned about the overall coverage of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to Israel. This reader felt there was too much said about the federal government's message and not enough counter-balance. He also objected to what he called the insistent use of the phrase "the Jewish community."

"This is like saying, the 'black community.' I don't know what the phrase means, and the singularity of the construction obliterates the reality that there is a broad spectrum of views, religious observance, backgrounds, etc. I have no doubt that many/some Jews and Jewish organizations are very enthusiastic about Harper. But it's not uniform. The Canadian Jewish Congress doesn't speak for everyone," the reader said.

His first point is a matter of opinion, but the second point raises an interesting journalistic issue. How do you describe a group of people in short hand when no group is monolithic?

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It is a fair point and care should be taken with any generalities.

In this case, I looked at eight articles over the past month that used the term "Jewish community" and "Harper." I found one letter to the editor and seven articles. In almost every case the only reference was to representatives of "the Jewish community" who accompanied Mr. Harper on the trip. There were two quotations referring to the community.

And there was this one line in an article: "There's little doubt too, that Mr. Harper's visit is a political bonanza for his Conservatives within the Jewish community at home."

In my view, that is a fair comment and in no way suggests everyone within the Jewish community at home would support Mr. Harper. It rightly points out the political benefit to the visit and includes this key word: within.

You can contact me at publiceditor@globeandmail.com or on Twitter @SylviaStead

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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