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.
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 November 9th 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,” the editorial read, and “[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;” 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, highly biased viewpoint in presenting its argument in support of the virulent pro-Palestinian student group, Students for Justice in Palestine (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.
In May, after Israel launched retaliatory incursions into Gaza to suppress rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israeli neighborhoods (with more than 4340 lethal rockets launched toward Israel over 11 days) and some 261 deaths, hundreds of statements of solidarity were issued by students, faculty, academic departments, academic associations, and other indignant scolds. Unsurprisingly, though saddening, nonetheless, 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 which includes such terms, when describing Israel, as “colonial,” “occupation,” “siege,” “ethnic cleansing,” “settlements,” “state violence,” “racism,” as well as 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, and a breathtaking dearth of facts, logic, context, and balance. If a newspaper’s editorial board decides it wishes to take a stand for a particular view, or movement, or individual—as newspapers often do—that 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—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.”
Israel, of course, was never the colony of any other nation and whatever land it comprises was either always Jewish land, purchased, or acquired, in the case of Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank) legally in a defensive war. To Israel’s enemies, any and all of the land of the Jewish state is colonized land, Muslim territory illegally usurped by Zionists, an instance of “land grabbing” to create and grow a Greater Israel, but to make these false claims as the basis for an editorial argument is a defective strategy.
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 even though the deeds are held by Jewish owners and the current tenants of the properties were offered extended leases with below-market rents going forward, the occupants and their supporters refused this comprise, choosing to be evicted to prove to the world how treacherous and underhanded Jews are—exactly what Israel-haters all over the world thought themselves as they denounced the evictions even though they were lawful, supported by court decisions, and justified by clear title to the subject properties.
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 (now over 200 chapters), and for sponsoring Israeli Apartheid Weeks, and sending mock eviction notices to students in their dorms to help them empathize with Palestinians.
SJP has been largely unimpeded in spreading its calumnies against Israel, fending off any criticism of their invective as attacks on the rights of free expression and academic freedom. The problem for SJP, unfortunately, is that while they are perfectly content to propel a mendacious campaign of anti-Israel libels and base their analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on falsehoods, distortions, and a false reading of history and fact, so certain are they of their moral authority that they will never countenance any views—even facts as opposed to opinions—which contradict their hateful political agenda.
In fact, the UConn editorial played defense for SJP by attacking Hillel for distributing brochures in a counter-demonstration it sponsored during the SJP rally. The brochure had language from the Hamas Charter, including the specific charter articles which 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 4300 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 “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 it is unlawfully occupied by Zionists and needs to be liberated. But 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 creations of “two states living side by side in peace,” the two-state solution to which much lip service has been given for decades but which 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.
The Hillel students even distributed pro-peace materials at their counter-protest, “Peace and Prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians,” but these were critiqued by the editors, as well. In the same way that deranged academics accuse Israel of “pinkwashing,” that is, that Israel boasts of their strong record as an LGBT-friendly society as a way of obscuring their oppression of the Palestinians, the editorial claims that these Hillel materials also are of no value, that Israel cannot even be a peace partner because of its alleged malignant behavior as a colonial oppressor. “Such material ignores the ongoing ethnic cleansing, displacement and apartheid for the Palestinian people by the Israeli state,” the editorial suggested, “equivocating between oppressors and the oppressed. This rhetoric plays right into the strategy of maintaining the occupation and violent status quo in Palestine.”
While campus 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.