Tablet Magazine is one of New York’s leading Jewish publications. I’ve profiled it here before and some of its writers as well. It’s well-funded by far-right pro-Israel foundations. It’s slick, it’s glossy. It prides itself on being trendy, while retaining a strong Jewish cultural identity. New York Magazine called “a must-read for young politically and culturally engaged Jews.” The neocon New York Observer called it “hip and hawkish.” Its writers think of themselves as suave, elegant stylists, in the old tradition of New York intellectuals who wrote once upon a time for Commentary, the New Republic, or the New Yorker. In reality, they are ideological hacks whose prose betrays a brutish, go-for-the-jugular style against their Jewish enemies. But above all, what Tablet is is a slicker version of what Commentary has become: a rigid, ideologically extreme scandal sheet attempting to be an arbiter of Jewish religious, political and cultural trends. It offers extreme right-wing bromides about Jewish identity, but in a hip, trendy package. Its managing editor, Alana Newhouse, once referred to herself as a “well-honed JAP.”
Sometimes it goes very far off the deep-end in its attempt to be edgy. Like this piece which argued that Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation had a Jewish component; or here, where a contributor wrote about her distaste for Holocaust survivors. Though it’s hard to say this: these articles were anti-Semitic and many critics said so explicitly. And yes, Jews can be anti-Semitic when they pass on egregious damaging stereotypes about Jews as if they were real or valid.
But until now, few have known a secret the magazine harbors: its publisher, Morton Landowne, once admitted to videotaping one of his female subordinates undressing in the employee locker room and settled a lawsuit with his victim. Landowne is a bastion of the New York Orthodox community. He was president of Lincoln Square Synagogue for three years. The institution was founded by modern Orthodox rabbinic powerhouse, Shlomo Riskin. Riskin also founded of the West Bank colony of Efrat.
Landowne is president of the non-profit Edah, which offers a modern Orthodox commitment to what this particular community would consider liberal values: celebrating the achievements of women (ironic, considering what you’ll read below) and integrating Orthodox observance with important social and political issues. He’s taken the initiative in founding several worthy charity projects serving the Orthodox community. He also writes periodically for Tablet about his love for travel, culture, food, and the arts.
Until 2008, Landowne was a senior vice-president of Plaza Packaging Corporation, where he’d worked for twenty-five years. He was one of its most successful sales representatives. But one day, by his own admission, he hid a video camera in a towel in the employee locker room on a bench near his secretary’s locker. His goal appears to have been to videotape her while she changed and showered there. His secretary discovered the video camera. Landowne was confronted and admitted that he’d done it.
But he claimed that he’d tried to videotape her because she owed him money and he needed an insurance policy in case she refused to repay the loan. In 1997, his secretary eventually sued both the company and him under provisions of the worker’s compensation law. A lower court dismissed the charges against the company, finding it did nothing “intentional” that would have permitted or approved of Landowne’s behavior. It also, strangely found Landowne not liable because his actions were “accidental.”
His secretary, Denise Hanford, appealed the ruling and in 2003, the NY State Court of Appeals threw out the earlier ruling and reinstated the case against Landowne. As we don’t find any public record of the outcome of the case, lawyers I’ve consulted assure me it was settled out of court with a financial payment to the victim.
I have unsuccessfully approached Ms. Hanford. She did not respond to the message I sent to her via her Facebook account. The same lawyers I consulted added that there is likely a non-disclosure agreement (of the type Harvey Weinstein so infamously forced his victims to sign) which prevents both the victim and perpetrator from speaking publicly about the incident.
I also reached out to Alana Newhouse, the managing editor of Tablet, asking her a series of questions about Landowne, including whether she knew of the sexual harassment charge before she hired him; whether Tablet has a sexual harassment policy in place; whether there are any restrictions on Landowne regarding interaction with female employees. Neither she nor Landowne answered me. I had hoped to include their response in this blog post.
What first alerted me to Landowne was an interview he did for Israel HaYom, Israel’s far-right daily paper owned by Sheldon Adelson. The article profiled both Landowne’s role with Tablet in the context of an international conference of pro-Israel journalists and bloggers hosted by the Israeli government press office. The article explicitly lays out the goal of the event as part of the hasbara battle in the media and social media platforms on Israel’s behalf. It sees the participants as “hasbara ambassadors” for Israel.
This of course begs the question: what are journalists doing posing as agents for Israel? How can they be both reporters and propagandists? Landowne doesn’t disappoint his hosts when he says that his role in the media is to “stand by Israel’s side always.” In fact, he proudly states that two of his children made aliyah and his grandsons serve in the IDF. He adds that many of the writers for the magazine have similar life stories. Yet, Landowne delusionally claims that Tablet has no particular editorial slant and that it is “politically diverse.” While he describes the Forward as “rigidly leftist.” No political judgments in those statements at all…
The hiring of Landowne raises questions about Tablet’s commitment to values like feminism. Can a publication priding itself on being the center of New York Jewish cultural and literary style be stuck in the dark ages when it comes to the #MeToo movement? How is it possible that a female managing editor could have hired such an man with such a past?
Landowne fancies himself a refined and cultured individual. He enjoys being photographed inside museums besides artistic masterpieces. He even penned a short meditation on Vermeer that was picked up by the NY Times’ Metropolitan Diary. In the piece, he notes that he visited a show at the Frick Museum of paintings by Johannes Vermeer, whose most famous portraits are of beautiful young Dutch working girls. After leaving the museum, he describes a vision of loveliness walking down the street toward him:
So, while walking east on 70th Street, I noticed a woman approaching, out of the evening’s darkness into the dim glow of a street lamp. She had an angelic face and blond locks, loosely framed by the hood of her jacket, and was glancing down at a cellphone, parallel to her chest.
The illumination from the phone evenly lit her face, and only her face, as if by candlelight, and as we passed, I felt certain I was seeing an image, contemporary yet timeless, worthy of being immortalized by Vermeer.
Of course, if one didn’t know any of Landowne’s history, this would appear to be little more than a rather charming male urban reverie. But considering that Landowne is old enough to be this woman’s grandfather and considering his own history, the piece takes on an entirely different, altogether creepy aspect.
Landowne did not respond to my request for comment.