During the heyday of the cartoons featuring a terrorist prophet of Islam, with a turban in the form of a bomb, we were told free speech was necessary even if it upset the sensitivities of people; in order to live in a more perfect union it was necessary to uphold the principles on which this country were founded than it was to address people’s feelings. Yes, I know that the cartoons of the Prophet of Islam were featured in a Danish newspaper, but even they the Danish were seen as a bulwark against giving in to terrorism and they had the right as we do here in America to freedom of speech and should not be intimidated from or waive that right. Yeah…that’s what we were told when it came to dealing with Muslims’ reactions to news they might not deem pleasant.
However, such openness to free speech is not seen in much the same positive or necessary light when it comes to speech or criticism about the state of Israel, as the editors and owners of The Berkeley Daily Planet have found out. A quick look at the website for the paper, http://www.berkeleydaily.org/issue/2009-11-28, reveals a paper that seems interested in its local affairs, from the closing of a post office location to citizen displeasure at the response of the local university to the financial crisis, but some people, notably Jim Sinkinson of Infocom Group, a media relations company and John Gertz of dpwatchdog.com seem to think the paper should please the Jewish citizens of the Bay area by printing stories they consider non-offensive towards the state of Israel. Not exactly the definition of freedom of speech, nor the role of a publication. In fact almost every group in the world would make that demand, that any publication should print only those items that meet the emotional needs of that particular group and at the same time not offend group sensitivities. Usually the answer to such a request is simply “nuts”, a free press means it reports what it wants to report and it the media outlet determines what is responsible and reasonable as it pertains to its readership/viewers/listeners and their values. Fortunately, the editor of the Daily Planet, Becky O’Malley, has said essentially the same thing when defending her paper against the charges leveled by the two who want to limit her papers’ right to publish articles or columns critical of Israel. In fact, the classiest response I’ve seen to date to her critics is quintessentially free speech in nature, ‘they (her detractors) could start their own paper.’ That alone should be enough to silence her critics, for in throwing down that challenge O’Malley has defended her right to free speech and a free press and encouraged them to do the same even in opposition to her.
One thought on “Freedom of speech? When it comes to Israel, no!”
I’ve never heard of the Daily Planet, much less the relevant controversy, but the Times’ piece seemed so one-sidedly favorable to the Planet and its editor that it prompted me to look at John Gertz’s dpwatchdog.com (referenced in the article) to see what the fuss was about. The site is somewhat rambling and unprofessional, and unfortunately does not generally link to the full text of the op-eds, editorials, and letters it quotes from.
Nevertheless, if the Times is going to cover the controversy, you would think its reporter could at least be bothered to figure out what the controversy actually revolves around. Below are some of the allegations I learned from the site that I didn’t learn from the Times, allegations that show, specifically, that the controversy is not, as the Times has is, about the Planet publishing uncensored letters to the editor that “do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily Planet.”
“Becky O’Malley used to claim that, being a free speech absolutist, she publishes everything she receives. The lack of pro-Israel pieces merely reflected the fact that she received very few. This was a flatly false statement at the time she was making it, since we have seen quite a number of pro-Israel pieces, which were sent to O’Malley but which she declined to publish.
Then she changed her story. She called some pro-Israel pieces “Islamophobic,” and she refused to run them for that reason. She also claimed that pro-Israel articles would “bore” her readers…. When she does publish pro-Israel letters, she has been known to edit their most important sections out. All of this is thoroughly documented elsewhere on this website.”
“The Berkeley Daily Planet’s own employees share an obsession with Israel, starting with O’Malley herself. Contrary to O’Malley’s assertion that she does not write about Israel, to date (September 2009) the Berkeley Daily Planet has published 24 editorials written with Becky O’Malley’s own hand and which concern the topic of Israel or the Jews. She has written on virtually no other part of the world, except, very occasionally on Iraq.”
“Conn Hallinan writes a regularly appearing foreign affairs analysis column for the Berkeley Daily Planet, under the byline, “Dispatches From the Edge.” Hallinan is in fact from the very edge of the American body politic, being a lifelong Communist. He is a contributor to various anti-Israel websites, such as PalestineThinkTank.com. At least 15 of his columns to date entirely or mostly concern Israel, while many more bring Israel into articles written chiefly on other topics.”
Managing editor, Justin DeFreitas has published at least 13 cartoons concerning Israel or the Jews, but only a small handful about all the other situations in the world. Additionally, there have been numerous “news” articles concerning Israel…. By admission and implication, the Berkeley Daily Planet, while obsessed with Israel, is only interested in one side of the story.
“O’Malley placed an anti-Israel article by well-know anti-Israel activist Henry Norr in the news section instead of in the commentary section where it belonged (August 30, 2005).”
“Both Becky O’Malley and Conn Hallinan (we will consider Hallinan in depth elsewhere) equate Israel and its supporters with the Nazis. This in itself is a very strong indication of anti-Semitism, while Daily Planet cartoonist, Justin DeFreitas, has used imagery in depicting Israel that is indistinguishable from Nazi and neo-Nazi propaganda.”
Gertz also claims that despite its claimed commitment to freedom of speech, the paper has special rules that apply to Jews and Israel only, such that pro-Israel Jews (but no other ethnic groups) may be slurred on ethnic grounds in the paper. (The Times notes that Gertz was attacked in a letter to the paper for wearing the “funniest looking yarmulke,” but fails to note that Gertz points out that he doesn’t wear a yarmulke, making the remark not just a juvenile insult, but a juvenile insult of the sort someone who hates Jews would make, like saying “Obama wears the funniest looking dashiki I have ever seen”). Gertz also suggests that the paper has a special letters to the editors policy re Israel, so that anti-Israel and even blatantly anti-Semitic letters from readers outside the Bay Area (one of which is noted in the Times) are published, but pro-Israel letters from local residents are “censored.”
In short, Gertz alleges not that the Planet is too indulgent in publishing crankish letters to the editor, but that it has an official editorial policy, adhered to by its editors, columnists, and reporters, that is obsessive about and extremely hostile to Israel, to the extent that it sometimes crosses the line into overt anti-Semitism.
Again, I had never heard of the Planet, or O’Malley, or Gertz. But it does strike me that if the Times thinks that the controversy over the Planet’s coverage of Israel and Jews is worth reporting, it should report both the allegations and O’Malley’s defense, not take the line that O’Malley is under seemingly unfair attack for adhering to free speech principles.