The University of Illinois newspaper, the Daily Illini, is making a dubious name for itself as one of America’s more recklessly anti-Israel student publications. Flouting journalistic norms that mandate accuracy, ethics and responsible sourcing it has repeatedly run false, anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic commentaries.
“Stop turning a blind eye” (Dec 11, 2003) is on this unfortunate list. Written by Mariam Sobh, a journalism student and regular Illini columnist, the op-ed contained a grotesque, invented quote attributed to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as well as a spurious reference to another non-existent quote, by another Israeli official, supposedly from the New York Times. This is a pattern with the Illini columnist. In her zeal to vilify Israel, Sobh consistently turns to unreliable sources to prove her point. Both the extreme invective against Israel and the permissive editorial policy allowing student and community writers to use the pages of the newspaper for propaganda are apparently habitual. A year ago, on Jan 22, 2003, for example, the paper ran a virulent letter to the editor entitled “Jews manipulate America” offering crude anti-Semitic allegations authored by one Ariel Sinovsky from Seattle, Wash. Although an editor claimed to have confirmation of the writer’s identity, university alumnus Jeff Kamen told CAMERA that students and community members searched all available databases and directories, but did not find an Ariel Sinovsky in Seattle or anywhere.
While a new editorial staff took over in early 2004, little has changed.
Mariam Sobh introduced her Dec 11 piece with the following statement, purportedly uttered by Ariel Sharon, in order “to show a clearer picture of the Israeli leadership:”
“I don’t know something called International Principles. I vow that I’ll burn every Palestinian child (that) will be born in this area. The Palestinian woman and child is more dangerous than the man, because the Palestinian child’s existence infers that generations will go on, but the man causes limited danger. I vow that if I was just an Israeli civilian and I met a Palestinian I would burn him and I would make him suffer before killing him. With one hit I’ve killed 750 Palestinians (in Rafah in1956). I wanted to encourage my soldiers by raping Arabic girls as the Palestinian woman is a slave for Jews, and we do whatever we want to her and nobody tells us what we shall do but we tell others what they shall do,” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview with General Ouze Merham in 1956.
This shocking quote, a staple on Arab propaganda Web sites, is an internet hoax for which the journalism student, not surprisingly, provided no source. There is no record of any “General Ouze Merham” or any truth to the claim that Sharon made the quoted comments. The paper’s decision to run such an inflammatory statement with no attribution is indefensible.
The Sharon quote was not the only fabrication. Sobh alleged that former Israeli Chief of Staff, Raphael Eytan was quoted in the April 14, 1983 New York Times as saying: “We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel … Force is all they do or ever will understand. We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours.” However, a Nexis search of all Times coverage reveals that no one, not Eytan or anyone else, was ever quoted by the paper making the purported statement.
As it did last year in the Sinovsky case, the paper once again shirked its own direct responsibility. The Daily Illini has not formally repudiated the fabrications even though it seen fit recently to correct several far less egregious errors. Instead, the DI ran a letter to the editor by University alumnus, Adam H. Fleischer (Jan 20,2004) saying that the Sharon quote is a hoax. But, it is not a reader’s opinion that the information was phony; it is a fact which requires public acknowledgement by the editors.
The day after the Fleischer letter, the DI compounded its failure to exercise editorial quality control by publishing one from a local resident who claimed he “did some research to validate the author’s quotes. They all checked out.” Of course, the writer offered no details on how he verified bogus information.
Sobh’s first column to appear after her Sharon fabrications, airily alluded to the controversy, but the aspiring journalist accepted no responsibility for her falsehoods (“Drama, drama everywhere,” Jan 22). She briefly referred to the issue saying:
My column even brings drama to the paper. I’m sure it’s because my picture shows that I’m obviously Muslim. Some people are not yet beyond the judgmental stage. They can only make up assumptions about a person they don’t even know. “Let’s alert all our lists and postings, Mariam Sobh is a terrorist and she writes for The Daily Illini.” I can’t believe how people have built me up into someone I’m not. It’s great, though, because now I’m famous.
Perhaps experiencing increased pressure, Sobh finally acknowledged some dereliction in her next DI contribution (“And the controversy continues,” Jan 29, 2004). She wrote that she knew the supposed Sharon statement was “too good to be true.” She explained that her source was an email from a “friend.” Sobh assumed the quote was legitimate, because she looked it up “online” and “found hundreds of Web sites that had this statement.” It seems, the Illini columnist’s idea of fact-checking is consulting a “friend” and a Google search.
Sobh’s recklessness in misusing sources is longstanding. In one of her first columns for the DI, Sobh wrote that the security barrier Israel is building will separate Palestinians from the water supply and that “they [Palestinians] will eventually be driven to starvation if this wall is completed” (“Modern wall of apartheid” Aug. 28, 2003) . She added “I think that it is sad that we can pay for genocide and act like it’s no big deal.” Her source for the “genocide” charge was an article from the site Antiwar.com. The Web site, which devotes an entire section to Israel’s alleged role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, can hardly be considered credible.
In another column, the journalism student charged that Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty ship in 1967 “was one of the most horrific and deliberate attacks against the United States” (emphasis added). Her claim is primarily based on a conversation she had with Jim Ennes, a leading conspiracy proponent who has called Israel’s leaders “amoralistic murderers” who are “worse” than the Nazis. She portrayed Ennes as reliable while Sobh did not even mention the more than six government inquiries into the event. Each and every one of the probes concluded the attack was accidental and not, as she claims, “deliberate.”
Illini regular Mariam Sobh has had a free hand to regurgitate baseless propaganda with little or no supervision by the DI editors, faculty or board members of the Illini Media, the entity that owns the newspaper. No doubt the lax attitude toward Sobh’s screeds encouraged other DI staff to vilify Israel and Jews.
Middle East expert Daniel Pipes, who recently lectured at the University of Illinois, criticized the Daily Illini for, among other things, adding an incendiary graphic to an article about him. He notes on his Web site that an “editorial on Dec. 1 about me titled ‘Promoting Hate,’…included a graphic that is a true disgrace to this school. The drawing shows a match lighting a of Star of David – a clear antisemitic provocation. Who, exactly, is promoting hate?” (Below is the graphic which appeared in the Dec. 1 Daily Illini .)
Indeed, isn’t a university paper that indulges the recklessness of a Mariam Sobh–a journalism student no less–literally “educating” students in hatred?