At University of Illinois, A Tale of Two Controversies

The University of Illinois newspaper, the Daily Illini, appears to have a problem distinguishing truth from slander—and responding accordingly. In November 2002 the paper published a series of pro-Israel ads that were provocative—but accurate and factual. Then in January 2003, it printed a virulently anti-Semitic letter filled with incendiary falsehoods. The university’s handling of the two items is an object lesson in moral confusion and weakness.

While the Daily Illini—and the university administration as well— went to extreme lengths in apologizing for and distancing themselves from pro-Israel ads by the One Truth Foundation, the response to the anti-Semitic piece was muted and perfunctory criticism.

One Truth Advertisements

The One Truth Foundation describes itself as a “disinformation campaign” meant to counter “false accusations and untruths told by many in the Arab world.” One Truth manages an informational Web site ( and the organization places ads in college newspapers around the country such as the three that ran in the Daily Illini.

The most controversial ad that ran in the DI contrasted Israeli and Palestinian “hero[es]” by juxtaposing pictures of an Israeli athlete and a Palestinian suicide bomber. Another ad compared the Israeli casualties of a suicide attack and rewards the bomber’s family received, including $25,000. The third ad contrasted Israel’s mournful response to the Sept. 11 attacks and the Palestinians’ celebratory reaction. All the ads included the caption “there are two sides to every story, but only one truth.”

One Truth Foundation paid for the three separate ads which ran daily for 10 days in DI. According to Marcella Rosen, who heads One Truth, about half the newspapers the organization approached at various universities turned down the ads, usually because the paper was concerned about offending students.

Anticipating a negative reaction from some on campus, the Daily Illini qualified publication of the ads with an explicit disclaimer, a lengthy article, and an editorial explaining the ads. The editorial staff denounced the advertisements’ content even though the DI‘s editor established the content was factual (“Protesters rally to denounce ad” Dec. 4).

The Nov. 21 editorial, which was published the day before the ads appeared, informed readers that “throughout the next few weeks, you will see some disturbing images in our paper.” The One Truth Foundation ads, it was said, “contain inflammatory headlines, photos and statistics that persuade the reader to believe Palestinian people support violence.” The editorial warned that “the advertisement attempts to smear an ethnicity,” a “message” the staff “wholeheartedly reject[s].”

In the news article devoted to the issue (“Campus responds to controversial ads,” Nov. 22), editor-in-chief Angie Leventis described her decision to run the ads as a “painful process.” After consulting the staff, advertising manager, and professors, she decided that the advertisements would appear in the paper for 10 days. Leventis, according to the DI, was reluctant to publish them because she was afraid “to smear a people, of hurting readers, of sending a message the staff ultimately rejects, and inciting violence.” She told the paper that she ran the spots because the One Truth Foundation “has a right to a voice, and I can’t take that away just because I think it’s wrong.”

The ads generated a torrent of reader response, prompting the Daily Illini to allot extra space for letters. Many wrote criticizing the DI for printing the ads. Some claimed the ads constitute hate speech. Most who disagreed with the paper’s decision viewed the advertisements as “racist.”

Sophomore Chris Fletcher wrote a letter wondering “how the DI can run an ad that brings out words like ‘racism’ and ‘hatred’?”

Jason Eisenhauer, a freshman, also disagreed with the DI‘s decision to print the ads. He wrote, “the constitution says that a person has the freedom of speech as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others . . . but you [DI] have deeply offended a lot of people.”

Others defended the ads on the grounds they were truthful. Mathematics professor Paul Weichsel stated in a published letter, “the bottom line therefore is that the point of the ads is true and sometimes the truth hurts.”

A couple of students CAMERA contacted felt the ads, while factual, were counterproductive. One student complained that One Truth placed the ads, but the Jewish students were the ones forced to defend themselves against allegations of racism. Another student was annoyed that an outsider placed ads seemingly speaking for the community.

Economics professor Fred Gottheil agreed that the advertisements were counterproductive, but blamed the newspaper’s editorializing. Gottheil believes the DI disclaimer and the editorial shaped readers’ negative interpretation of the ads.

Marcella Rosen of One Truth defended the ads in a letter saying “our opponents have chosen not to debate the facts presented,” but to respond with “intellectual intimidation and obfuscation and equating any pro-Israel fact with ‘racism.'”She cited a study conducted by the Palestinian Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre that “68 percent [of Palestinians] approve of suicide bombings” to support one ad’s claim that Palestinian children approve of suicide attacks. Rosen also named several news sources, including the New York Times, which noted suicide bombings are culturally sanctioned.

In fact, the content of the ads has been confirmed by many media sources. For example, NBC’s Martin Fletcher reported on a commercial that ran on official Palestinian Authority television encouraging children to become martyrs. The segment urged children to, “Drop your toys. Pick up rocks” and to follow slain 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura “to paradise.”

The One Truth spots generated so much controversy that the chancellor of the university, Nancy Cantor, was compelled to release a statement. She said she was “appalled at the hateful and polarizing views put forward in the series of ads . . . designed to drive a wedge between people.” The ads “prey upon prejudices, demonizing millions of individuals.” CAMERA contacted the Chancellor’s office for clarification, asking if she was “appalled” by the ads because she doubted their accuracy. CAMERA also asked whether she found a particular ad or all the ads offensive. According to Bill Murphy of the Chancellor’s office:

She said that she found all the One Truth ads polarizing. They all attempted to assign single positions to entire groups of people and to do it in a way that grossly disadvantaged one of them. The results were simplistic and derogatory. She did not see them as pro-Israel but as anti-Palestinian. She does not believe that one has to be anti-Palestinian in order to support Israel.

‘Jews Manipulate America’ Letter

On Jan. 22, The Daily Illini ran an anti-Semitic letter allegedly written by Seattle, Wash. , resident Ariel Sinovsky. Entitled “Jews manipulate America,” it read:

If living today, President Lincoln would say: “You can fool some of the people, some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.Unfortunately, Jews will fool Americans forever.”

During 40 years, there have been warnings that Jewish oppression of Palestinians, with American help, is unacceptable. Each warning has been bloodier than the others. The Jews, master salesmen that they are, have been able to persuade Americans that it is in American interests to support Israeli oppression of Palestinians. As a result, the clueless Americans, with no end in sight, are now paying a billion dollars daily for protection from Israeli-provoked terrorism and suffer demeaning inconveniences.

To stop anti-American terrorism, give the Gaza Strip, together with the West Bank, to Israel and buy the fake Kingdom of Jordan for a Palestinian state. Then in a couple of years the Israel-provoked terrorism will be a thing of the past.

Will it stop all terrorism? Probably not. Americans have successfully spread the Gospel of Democracy and Human Rights, while at the same time engendering much bitterness by supporting bloody despots. Too often defective foreign policy has been promoted as something in the interest of American people while in reality it was done to satisfy desires of Jewish oligarchs.

Current news from England tells us about discovery of a home stile lab producing potent ricine poison. Since this poison can be manufactured in every home, it constitutes the most serious threat ever. The President should act immediately to deal with this threat. First, separate Jews from government advisory positions and give them one year fully paid sabbatical. No matter what sort of allegiance they have sworn to the United States, their true Jewish hearts are with Israeli, not American, interests. Secondly, the President should create a Palestinian state within 60 days. Only a free sovereign Palestine will stop poison cooking “homemakers.”

Jewish ability to promote their desires, disguised, as being in the interest of the American people, one day will evaporate. Then the Jews might face another Holocaust. The Jews must be mad. The United States has given them a foundation for unprecedented world-wide influence and power but they are prepared to squander it all, for no apparent reason, oppressing Palestinians. Currently Jews have persuaded Americans to lure Iraqi scientists for interviews outside Iraq. Israeli security is prepared to assassinate these scientists.

The letter, like the One Truth advertisements, drew criticism from many on and off campus. But, in this case, the staff did not preface the letter with a disclaimer about “inflammatory headlines” nor did they “wholeheartedly reject” the letter’s “message” which “attempts to smear an ethnicity.” The Daily Illini did not feel obligated to run an editorial and a news article distancing itself from the content of the hate-filled letter. In fact, the paper actually amplified the writer’s message by attaching the incendiary headline, “Jews manipulate America.”

Furthermore, while the editor based her decision to run the One Truth advertisements in part on whether the material was factual, she made no such consideration about the letter. Apparently she was comfortable, for example, with the claim that “Jews have persuaded Americans to lure Iraqi scientists for interviews outside Iraq. Israeli security is prepared to assassinate these scientists.” Yet, there is no evidence supporting his outlandish claim.

The Sinovsky screed prompted CAMERA to review the DI‘s stated letter policy. It specifies that the paper “reserves the right to edit any contributions and or reject them without notification.” The paper will also not “publish anonymous letters, letters without contact information, or letters that slander private figures.” CAMERA contacted the editor about the policy regarding articles that libel an entire group as well as the paper’s policy regarding hate speech, but she declined the interview.

Once again, the Daily Illini allotted extra space for community responses. Nearly every writer was indignant that the newspaper had published the letter, which was described as hate speech.

One student commented that, “if this isn’t blatant hate speech I don’t know what is.”

Others were confused by the decision to print a letter from a Seattle resident with seemingly no affiliation to the university. Aaron Huber, a junior, wrote that he was “dumbfounded as to why the DI chose to publish this letter…. it was not even written by a student or faculty member” and “this person has no connection to the university.” (Indeed, a number of individuals contacted by CAMERA questioned whether “Ariel Sinovsky” actually existed since there appeared to be no one listed in the phone books or databases under that name. In addition, the DI refused to give CAMERA contact information for Sinovsky when asked.)

Alumnus Ira Pilchen, a former editor of the DI, wrote to the paper expressing his dismay. “Throughout my career, I have received correspondence from crackpots and cranks,” he said, adding “none I ever even considered publishing. Some claim America is controlled by a communist, papal or Jewish conspiracy . . . others sign their name as J. Christ.” He reminds the paper that the First Amendment does not obligate an editor to publish everything and that “there is a difference between reasoned discourse . . . and stream-of-consciousness rambling from a troubled mind.”

Some students told CAMERA that the DI has a history of anti-Israel bias and they were not surprised by the paper’s willingness to publish the anti-Semitic letter. Several students have been documenting the coverage of the paper.

For example, letters and opinion pieces that include inflammatory language often appear in the DI. A letter on Dec. 9, 2002 carried the title “Israel guilty of brutalizing Palestinians, ethnic cleansing.” On Jan. 24, 2003, a response to Sinovsky’s piece stated that what needs to be “promoted is the dismantling of the Zionist Apartheid state.” A letter that appeared on Oct. 23, 2001 charged that “Israel has been complicit in genocide.” Another letter on Nov. 22, 2002 observed “Jewish racism justifies itself by invoking the Holocaust, but at the same time adopts Nazi propaganda.”

Student Jeff Kamen complained that the DI last year included two regular opinion writers who frequently discussed the Arab-Israeli conflict and were very critical of Israel. Kamen criticized the DI for not balancing the opinions page with at least one strong pro-Israel voice.

Like many others, Chancellor Cantor criticized the Sinovsky letter. Yet, her response was nearly identical to the one she released for the One Truth advertisements, suggesting she viewed the content as similarly offensive. CAMERA asked the Chancellor whether she felt the two were equally problematic, but she did not address the question.

CAMERA also asked whether she believes the regular use of incendiary language to describe Israel on the opinion pages is “hateful and polarizing . . . designed to drive a wedge between people”— words she attributed to the One Truth ads. She also ignored this question.

Comparing the controversies

To sum up, the ads’ contents were factually true, while the letter, on the other hand, contained slanderous lies. The ads never recommended specific actions directed against a particular group. The letter explicitly advocated “separat[ing] Jews from all government advisory positions . . . no matter what sort of allegiance they have sworn to the United States.”Sinovsky also warned that Jews’ misuse of “their unprecedented worldwide influence” may lead to “another Holocaust.”

While the newspaper staff expressed concern about “inciting violence” or “smearing an ethnicity” by publishing the One Truth advertisements, they expressed no such sentiment about the Sinovsky letter.

The chancellor’s responses were also striking. She morally equated factual content with bigoted lies, failing to differentiate between ads that reflect the well-known fact that families of suicide bombers receive money from Arab governments and a defamatory letter. She was critical of the One Truth ads because of their “hateful” views, but ignored the regularity with which Israel or Israelis are characterized as “Nazis” and “racists” in the DI.

Moreover, she never specifically addressed the undeniable anti-Semitism of the letter, neglecting the administration’s foremost responsibility to set clear guidelines for campus discourse. She simply repeated the generic parts of her denunciation of the One Truth ads, sending a generalized message that minimizes the anti-Semitism of the letter.

In contrast, when Harvard President Lawrence Summers sensed growing anti-Semitic sentiment on campus as well as the insidious nature of the anti-Israel divestment campaigns which he deemed “anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent,”he forcefully condemned the campaigns.

Students are entitled to expect that administrative leaders will vocally and unequivocally deplore anti-Semitism.

These incidents also highlight important lessons about college newspapers. First, student newspapers like any other have an obligation to report the truth. A paper should not knowingly publish lies, such as those found in the Sinovsky letter.

Also, newspapers should respond equitably to all groups. The DI staff loudly denounced the message unfavorable to one group, but felt it was unnecessary to “wholeheartedly” reject the hateful words directed at another.

Notably, the Daily Illini published a photo this past October which black students considered demeaning. The editor promptly printed a letter of apology to the community for its “poor choice.” Yet, again, the newspaper staff offered no apology for publishing an anti-Semitic letter.

These incidents demonstrate a dangerous double standard which some university newspapers and administrations apply to hate directed at Jews versus other minorities. Students and administration must be clear that free speech is not a loophole for spreading anti-Semitism.

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