“A stand for freedom” read the headline of a recent New Jersey Star Ledger editorial (July 20) commending New Jersey Governor McGreevey for allowing an upcoming pro-Palestinian conference at Rutgers University devoted to divestment from Israel. The event will also “celebrate Palestinian resistance.”
The fall conference will be hosted by a group called New Jersey Solidarity, a self-described pro-Palestinian organization that openly calls for the destruction of Israel. Most of the media’s initial reports on NJ Solidarity ignored the extremism and avowed goals of the organization. Only following widespread criticism of the group from the community, Rutgers’ President McCormick, and Governor McGreevey did the newspapers begin reporting the facts about NJ Solidarity. Still, much of the media continues to obscure the most contentious fact – that the group’s proclaimed “mission” is to “liberate all of historic Palestine,” that is, area comprising modern Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
First reports on the organization cast the group as mainstream and benign, even though NJ Solidarity publicly asserts on its Web site (http://www.njsolidarity.org ):
We are opposed to the existence of the apartheid colonial settler state of Israel, as it is based on the racist ideology of Zionism…we stand for the total liberation of all historic Palestine.
NJ Solidarity also “unconditionally support[s] Palestinians’ human right to resist occupation and oppression by any means necessary.”
Nor does NJ Solidarity attempt to disguise its aims. Charlotte Kates, spokesperson for the group, wrote an op-ed bluntly entitled “Israel has no ‘Right to Exist’” for the Rutgers University newspaper, the Daily Targum, but editors retitled her piece with a far less aggressive and incendiary message — “Palestine roots in land proven through history.”
Since the pro-Palestinian group doesn’t hide its agenda, it was striking how many in the media did.
The Star Ledger’s portrayal of NJ Solidarity and its interaction with Jewish students was also deceptive (“Rutgers to permit forum on Palestine,” July 8 by Kelly Heyboer). The paper reported that pro-Palestinian and Jewish groups “sparred…last year over a ‘Palestine will be Free’ sign.” The “sign” was a large banner hung in one of the student centers which read “From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free!” Heyboer radically misled readers by omitting the first phrase of the slogan. “From the River to the Sea,” or from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, is all the territory of the state of Israel. Once again, while NJ Solidarity was open about its agenda, a media outlet censored the full story.
A second article about the controversy published by the Ledger more than a week later (“Rutgers group’s unpopular voice is drawing heat,” July 17) did provide some significant information such as the group’s refusal to condemn suicide bombings, but the newspaper continued to whitewash NJ Solidarity’s expressed view that Israel is illegitimate. The paper reported President McCormick’s position that NJ Solidarity holds “abhorrent” views, but omitted precisely what McCormick found offensive. McCormick himself had specified his feeling that it is “abhorrent” that “NJ Solidarity expresses its opposition to Israel’s right to exist.”
The New York Times also published several articles relating to the controversy. The Times July 18 story selectively quoted NJ Solidarity’s Web site. It included the statement that they are “against racism and all forms of oppression,” but omitted the organization’s declaration that “we are opposed to the….state of Israel” However, the paper did run a revealing article (“Law Student With a History of Taking Left Turns,” July 18) by Chris Hedges in its tri-State area edition exposing the extremism of Charlotte Kates, one of the group’s leaders. According to Hedges, she joined the Communist party at age 13 and her favorite book is “The State and Revolution” by Lenin. To the reporter’s credit, the piece did express Kates’ animus toward Israel.
Yet, some of her most disturbing assertions have not been covered. An article for CounterPunch (December 4, 2002) entitled “Tension on campus” should particularly concern university officials. Kates wrote that the phrase “tension on campus” is used by some on campus to describe Jewish students’ unease and their attempts to silence pro-Palestinian activists whose “words are too political, their demands too principled, their activism too committed.” She asserts:
We have no desire to create an environment where racists may feel comfortable and secure in their racism; we very much want…. to create an environment where it is, indeed, uncomfortable to declare oneself an unequivocal supporter of an oppressive, racist state. It should be uncomfortable…There is nothing making Jewish students afraid to be Jewish on campus; nothing that is, except for those whose Jewish identity leads them to condemn the racist practices of the state of Israel…May the tension continue to escalate [emphasis added].
That is in Kates’ view, supporters of Israel are racists who deserve to be harassed in the name of what she sees as “justice.”
Members of the media have also ignored the group’s uncompromising support of “the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and their homeland.” Endorsing the so called “right of return” is tantamount to calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. Such information is clearly important to convey why some oppose the Rutgers’ event. In fact, the Star Ledger, the New York Times and the Associated Press all omitted this relevant fact in their articles.
The AP was particularly guilty of obfuscating the group’s offensive beliefs in its articles relating to the controversy. According to the AP, NJ Solidarity members are merely seeking an “independent Palestine.” AP’s July 18 piece entitled “Mosque council warns against censorship of Palestine conference” interviewed a Muslim association admonishing critics of NJ Solidarity for trying to stifle free speech.
The Star Ledger touted the decision to permit the conference as “a stand for freedom” by recognizing “that unpopular ideas will be voiced.” However, members of the media are taking a stand against freedom when they censor or whitewash those same “unpopular ideas.”