Update: 12/23/16, 8:38 a.m. PST: The Anti-Defamation League released a statement saying that reports of the family leaving town as a result of the Fox News and Breitbart articles are untrue. According to the ADL, the family left town on a previously planned vacation.
“News reports alleging that a Jewish family has ‘fled’ Lancaster County are untrue and damaging,” Nancy Baron-Baer, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said in the statement. “We spoke with the family, who explained that they went on a previously-planned vacation for the holidays. Stories like this can sow fear in the Jewish community and beyond, and it is important to stop the spread of misinformation.”
This Thursday, Lancaster Online had published a story quoting an unidentified family as saying they were being blamed for the cancelation of the annual fifth-grade production of “A Christmas Carol” at Centerville Elementary in the Hempfield School District, and had left the area out of fear of retribution.
But on Friday morning, Lancaster Online posted the following update:
This story has been amended to reflect further comments from the parents of a Centerville Elementary School student who removed their child from class over concerns for their and their child’s safety. The parents told the Anti-Defamation League Thursday they were traveling on a previously planned vacation. The family told [Lancaster Newspapers] and LancasterOnline their child was being harassed and blamed for the cancellation of “A Christmas Carol,” and that they were concerned for their and their child’s safety. LNP and LancasterOnline stand by the original reporting on this story.
Speaking to Slate, Baer said she “did not contest ‘the actual story content,’ including the fact that the family was disturbed by reactions to false media reports blaming the parents for the cancellation of the play. Rather, the ADL objected to the word ‘fled,’ which ‘conjures up a very scary scenario,’ such as ‘Syrian refugees fleeing the country with the shirt on their back.'”
Original Story: According to a report from Lancaster Online, a Jewish family whose child attends elementary school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania has fled the county after Fox News and Breitbart ran false reports that suggested they were responsible for the cancellation of a school Christmas play.
A Christmas Carol has been recurring production at Centerville Elementary School for years, but prepping for the play has been time consuming and school officials also wanted “to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students,” since the Charles Dickens tale is culturally Christian.
In September, a Jewish family asked that their child be excused from performing in the play. The family and the school both confirmed that the request had nothing to do with the content of the play and at no time did they request that the play be cancelled, but that didn’t stop Fox and Breitbart from running a story suggesting the family complained about the line “God bless us, every one,” resulting in the play’s cancellation.
The stories, unsurprisingly, sparked anger from a certain segment of readers.
“It would be nice if we had the addresses of those concerned citizens and, I bet, this info is known to people living in the area,” one commenter wrote in response to the Breitbart story. Several commenters posted the address of the school, and a self-professed white nationalist called on people to “take action.”
The reaction from commenters scared the family so much that they reportedly fled the county out of fear for their safety.
“There’s no way we’re going to take a chance after the pizza incident,” the unidentified parents told Lancaster Online, referring to the man who fired his assault rifle in a D.C. pizzeria after reading fake news stories claiming the restaurant was a front for a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton.
A wave of hate crimes and harassment, some of it anti-Semitic, followed Donald Trump’s electoral victory in November. The FBI recently reported that anti-Semitic hate crimes are the most common religion-focused hate crimes and that bias-motivated violence against Jews is on the rise following an extensive period of decline. Last Friday, a neo-Nazi website issued a call to “take action”against Jews living in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer. The site posted names, pictures, contact information, and addresses of purportedly Jewish Whitefish residents. Several have received death threats.
Although the family has left town, they hope to come back to after waiting things out for a little while.
“We’ve seen some really beautiful things from the people in this community,” the mother told Lancaster Online.
Featured image via screen grab