How an opinion piece in the student newspaper at the University
of Connecticut exposes what is wrong in the debate about Israel.
When Elmer Davis, director of FDR’s Office of War Information, observed that “ … you cannot do much with people who are convinced that they are the sole authorized custodians of Truth and that whoever differs from them is ipso facto wrong,” he may well have been speaking about those well-meaning but misguided college students who rail against a world in which their dreams of social justice for the oppressed and weak are not being realized, despite their best efforts.
That same tendentious behavior now seems to be exploited by editors of college newspapers who have purposely violated the central purpose of journalism and have allowed one ideology—not facts and alternate opinions—to hijack the editorial composition of their publications and purge their respective newspapers of any content, news or opinion, that contradicts a pro-Palestinian narrative and would provide a defense of Israel.
The latest example of this social-justice advocacy parading as journalism was in full display in a Nov. 9 editorial, “In support of Students for Justice in Palestine,” written by the editorial board of The Daily Campus, the University of Connecticut’s student newspaper.
“The UConn Students for Justice in Palestine held a rally last week to bring attention to injustices in Palestine,” read the editorial, where “[s]peakers discussed the oppression and violence experienced by the Palestinian people, the connection of our university to such injustices and the role of community members in supporting Palestine’s fight for freedom.”
Troubling to the editors, apparently, was the fact that UConn Hillel “also held a demonstration nearby in direct opposition to the ideas behind UConn SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine]”; in other words, Hillel attempted to provide a balance to debate by presenting its own views and facts relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Most shocking is the editorial’s one-sided, biased viewpoint in presenting its argument in support of the virulent pro-Palestinian student group SJP, while simultaneously denouncing the efforts of Hillel to defend Israel and Jewish self-determination by revealing the genocidal tactics of the terrorist group Hamas, the Palestine leadership in Gaza.
During and after Israel’s 11-day conflict with Hamas and other terror factions in Gaza in May that resulted in nearly 4,400 lethal rockets launched toward Israeli population centers and some 261 deaths in all, hundreds of statements of solidarity were issued by students, faculty, academic departments, academic associations and other indignant scolds. Unsurprisingly, though still saddening, was the fact that these statements—using almost identical language and expressing similar sentiments—announced only support for Hamas and the Palestinians.
Not only was Israel’s self-defense denounced as disproportionate, illegal, overly aggressive and tantamount to war crimes, but the broader question about Israel’s legal right to even exist was raised, along with the tired, loaded language of the woke left, language that includes such terms, when describing Israel, as “colonial,” “occupation,” “siege,” “ethnic cleansing,” “settlements,” “state violence” and “racism.” Also, of course, came the favorite slur leveled against the Jewish state that it is enforcing a new form of “apartheid,” and that a country called “Palestine” will be “liberated” as a result of global advocacy for the Palestinian cause.
In fact, The Daily Campus editorial is replete with this identical vocabulary of falsehoods, contortions, historical inaccuracies as well as a breathtaking dearth of facts, logic, context and balance. If a newspaper’s editorial board decides that it wishes to take a stand for a particular view, movement or individual, as newspapers often do, it is an appropriate and sometimes valuable practice. But when an editorial chooses one ideology over another—as it has done in the UConn example—then it compromises the status and reputation of the publication when its argument is based on falsehoods, inaccuracies and slanders; and indeed, in this case, a nearly complete misunderstanding of the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to the editors, SJP’s rally was for the purpose of “supporting Palestine’s fight for freedom”—the assumption, a false one, obviously, being that there was, and is, a country called Palestine lived in by a people called Palestinians. The creation and existence of Israel, the editorial asserts, has meant that “Palestine is being subject to an ethnic cleansing carried out by the Israeli state,” and that “to this day, colonization, land-grabbing and expulsion are the norm for Palestinians.”
The editorial also alluded to another controversy mentioned in many of the academic statements that decried Israel’s behavior and policies, namely, the case of evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. “On a regular basis,” the editorial read, “communities in Palestine are forcefully evicted from their homes and made refugees for the purpose of Israeli settlers, in a process of the expulsion of Palestinians from the country continuing since the early 20th century.”
If the Sheikh Jarrah evictions were happening in any other country than Israel, these would be straightforward cases of property law, and no one would know the names and ethnicities of either the property owners (in this case, Jews) or the squatters who have refused to pay rent to the lawful owners (Arabs).
But facts, apparently, do not matter when ideology and propaganda are involved, although one would expect journalists, even novice ones, to use facts and reason when making allegations about alleged wrongdoing. The editorial’s overriding purpose was to support SJP’s ongoing campaign to vilify, condemn and slander Israel in the organization’s purported role of supporting Palestinian self-determination. “We are obligated to engage with groups like Students for Justice in Palestine in a respectful, supportive way,” the editorial asserted, a particularly ironic statement given SJP’s dismal record of being respectful of any other groups on campus, especially pro-Israel ones.
SJP has a long history since its founding in 1993 of bringing vitriolic anti-Israel speakers to their respective campuses (with more than 200 chapters), sponsoring Israeli Apartheid Weeks and sending mock eviction notices to students in their dorms to help them empathize with Palestinians.
In fact, the UConn editorial played defense for SJP by attacking Hillel for distributing brochures in a counterdemonstration it sponsored during the SJP rally. The brochure had language from the Hamas Charter, including the specific articles that call for the replacement of Israel, no negotiations with Jews, that Islam must dominate, that all of Palestine should be Islamic and that it is the sacred duty of Muslims to kill Jews wherever they may be. That is the exact ideology that inspired each of the 4,300-plus rocket attacks on Israel in May, but the editorial suggested that Hillel’s distributing the brochure with these lovely quotations was not helpful for understanding the ideology of Israel’s genocidal foes but was “deeply problematic.” Why is that? Because, the editorial claimed, SJP’s event “was not demonstrating support of Hamas but in support of the liberation of Palestine.”
How, exactly, do the editors think so-called Palestine will be liberated? First, they, too, make the historically inaccurate assumption that a country, not a geographical area, called Palestine existed and still exists, but is unlawfully occupied by Zionists and needs to be liberated. Palestine in the minds of the enemies of Israel includes all of what is present-day Israel, not just Gaza and the West Bank, so how would a liberation of those lands take place? Obviously, according to the Hamas Charter and based on the terror group’s genocidal actions since Israel’s 2005 complete disengagement from Gaza, the liberation of Palestine will happen through the extirpation of the Jewish state, the destruction of Israel by any means necessary.
The creation of “two states living side by side in peace” (the two-state solution to which much lip service has been given for decades but has never been accepted by the Arabs) would clearly not be accepted by Hamas or even the more moderate Fatah as an acceptable “liberation” of Palestine. The editors should realize (and perhaps they do) that liberating Palestine means destroying Israel, an inevitability that the Jewish state would understandably resist—forcefully and with its substantial military might, if necessary.
While free speech is enshrined as one of the university’s chief principles, the example of The Daily Campus editorial shows us that it rarely occurs as free speech for everyone, only for a certain few who feel they are morally and rationally more fit to express themselves than their ideological opposites.
Biases are to be expected in the general marketplace of ideas; in pages of newspapers, however, editorial bias, coupled with the exclusion of alternate views, is an intellectually corrupt practice that violates the very spirit and purpose of journalism.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of “Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.”