Letters to the Editor – 02.17.04

By Letters from Readers

Maroon panal coverage

I am writing in response to the article “Panel, Demonstrations Strike Nerve” in last Friday’s edition of the Maroon (2/13/04). By presenting the article almost exclusively on the basis of the controversy fomented by a small group of zealots, the Maroon ignores the issues under discussion at the event. Simultaneously, the extremists are permitted to frame the story in a way both favorable and beneficial to them.

The author obviously attended the event, yet there is nothing save a few perfunctory paragraphs and a two-word quote from one of the four panelists to prove this. There is also no substantive description of the theater performance. The reader is left wondering what could evoke the accusations that there was “an incitement to violence” and that the opinions expressed constituted “hate speech.”

This article is part of an ongoing pattern whereby the Maroon permits a handful of zealots to present their baseless slander in any coverage of an event concerning Israel. Past articles on a conference presented by The Center for Comparative Constitutionalism (January 23 and 27) as well as the previous article on the panel are evidence of this. Readers find little information with which to shape their opinions before the blather of the fanatic is given its undue space.

Even when the zealots have their day, as with the “Why I am a Zionist” panel in November, the Maroon (November 18, 2003) neglects discussion of the event itself. Instead, it allows the extremists to cry “racism” and “anti-Semitism,” based exclusively on a satirical flyer and the removal of some of their own flyers. Remarkably, these hapless victims of bigotry and oppression seem consistently able to get their malicious accusations on the front page.

It is worth mentioning that a member of the Maroon’s editorial staff serves as vice president of the “pro-Israel” group on campus. It is also noteworthy that this group serves as a conduit through which national “pro-Israel” organizations can achieve their goals on campuses. According to their web site, the group has board positions devoted exclusively to serving as liaison to the Israeli lobby and the largest pro-Israel charity.

This confluence of the local and the national is evidenced in by the inclusion of the Maroon article on Campuswatch.org the day it was published. Campus Watch, known to many readers, began as a blacklist of academics who allegedly spoke ill of Israel. It is widely cited as a resource by the organizations mentioned above. Local “activists” can expect trips to conferences, internships, and other benefits by providing examples of their “vigilance” through articles such as those published in the Maroon. By allowing them undue influence, the Maroon is thus complicit in assisting the fanatical supporters of a foreign government in accomplishing their goals.

The Maroon is doing a grave disservice to the University community by allowing the needs of a few extremists to taint their coverage of conferences, panels, and lectures. The University community, and especially those who work to continue to enrich the discussion of international events on campus, deserve better.

Irving Birkner

A.M., 2001

Tim Michaels’s nicely detailed article on the Middle East Studies Student Association and Israel’s fence/wall (“Panel, Demonstrations Strike Nerve,” 2/23/04) did not begin to describe the wall-like and fence-like structure of the biased and slanted program itself.

In a perverse way, the program was clever. Norman Finkelstein opened by promulgating “un-debatable truths”: that Israel has no right to build the wall; that “the media” must be pro-Israel because Alan Dershowitz’s book, The Case for Israel was published and is doing better than Finkelstein’s books; and that the only “new” anti-Semitism is manufactured by Jewish organizations and is but a small reaction to Israel’s policies by Muslim immigrants in Europe. So European anti-Semitism is due to the Muslims alone?

Ali Abunimah proposed a “one-state solution,” a democracy housing all warring factions. He said that if there could be reconciliation in South Africa, then the dismantling of Israel is the surest way to one big, happy Middle Eastern family. The burden of argument was on Abunimah to show what the unique national situation in South Africa can contribute to a multinational morasse in the Middle East. Also, why dismantle Israel and not all its neighbors? The best opportunity for greater Middle Eastern unity would have been the Palestinians’ acceptance of Barak’s 2000 offer, their building of a creditable state, and their lead in efforts for greater regional cooperation.

Derek Jinks praised the United Nations for petitioning the International Court of Justice to condemn Israel’s wall. He then dismissed Israel’s arguments to the court. I had hoped that he might have responded to the “one-state” proposal from the perspective of his reported experiences in Yugoslavia.

Roxanne Assaf came across as a statistician. Her concern was with how many times the word “wall” was used in newscasts as opposed to “fence,” and how many times and where Israeli, as opposed to Palestinian, suffering is depicted. Her presentation epitomized the organizers’ utter lack of interest in exchange of ideas.

The program was a rally with academic trappings. As a result, the question-and-answer session was a farce. Well meaning supporters of Israel asked about other walls—between the U.S. and Mexico, Yemen and its neighbors—but Finkelstein could invalidate any question by virtue of his dogma (a debatable one in a true exchange of ideas) that Israel’s wall is illegal.

I was startled and pleasantly surprised when a mystery questioner asked a two-parter that did not seem ideological or pre-packaged: 1) Why were the disputed territories in Sinai and the Golan (the former having been diplomatically resolved) never brought before the International Court; and 2) whether all the panelists, especially Finkelstein, came to advocate the one-state solution.

The mystery questioner did much to reveal the biases of the panelists, as well as to move the discussion out of the box created by them. Too bad that his turn came at the end. If someone who knows him is reading this, please have him contact me. I’d like to meet him and to shake his hand.

Rabbi Elliot B. Gertel

Congregation Rodfei Zedek,

Hyde Park

Police brutality

I hastily picked up the Maroon today to learn how the “Alleged Brutality Victim Recounts Violent Night,”(2/13/04) as the headline implied. Instead, the article began with a portrait of the victim’s academic standing and history in prison. His account of how he was harassed by the police while walking on campus did not even begin until I flipped the page to finish the article inside, an act you should know most readers do not do.

The Maroon’s decision to give a portrait of the victim’s academic and police history is irresponsible, biased, and un-journalistic. It is analogous to beginning an article about an accused rape with a briefing on the accuser’s sexual history. The issue at hand, and what the Maroon should report on, is whether or not the U of C police harassed a student and how the affected community is reacting to that accusation. Whether or not that student was in good academic standing, had anger-management problems, or possessed a police record is not a part of the story and should be the last thing to lead an article that, described by the two headlines, is about his account of the incident.

If the Maroon wants to maintain its journalistic integrity, its editorial staff should seriously reconsider its argument (“Both Sides Must Tell Their Stories,” 2/13/04) that “if the UCPD must be viewed under a microscope, so should Carthans.” This is how sleazy and exploitative tabloids justify their practices. It is the UCPD’s job to “serve and protect” and treat all citizens equally. It is the newspaper’s job to report on possible breaches in that system. Carthans, however, is a citizen and a U of C student who, after experiencing such a violation, besides having to maintain his story, should have nothing else to prove.

Madeleine Bair

Fourth-year in the College