LA Times Defends Publishing Boycott Call But Publishes Critique

On August 21, CAMERA criticized the Los Angeles Times for providing radical anti-Israel professor Neve Gordon with a platform on its Op-Ed page to call for a boycott of Israel.On September 1, the LA Times published an Op-Ed by Ben Gurion University Professor Rivka Carmi, who as president of Gordon’s university, criticized his boycott call as “overstep[ping] the boundaries of academic freedom.” Carmi noted that:

Gordon has forfeited his ability to work effectively within the academic setting, with his colleagues in Israel and around the world. After his very public, personal soul-searching in his Op-Ed article, leading to his extreme description of Israel as an “apartheid” state, how can he, in good faith, create the collaborative atmosphere necessary for true academic research and teaching?

She concluded:

There are many more hopeful and pragmatic voices to be heard at our institution than Gordon’s, and they are the ones who will ultimately guide us, and Israel, to a brighter future.

(Read the Op-Ed here.)

On the other hand, the paper’s editorial-page editor, Jim Newton, has defended his decision to print the call to boycott Israel by the radical anti-Israel professor. In response to one critic of the LAT for publishing the column, Newton even asserted that “had Hitler submitted an excerpt from Mein Kampf in the late 1930’s,” he would have published it “because the world would have benefitted from exposure to evil ideas.” Newton invoked former Senator Alan Cranston’s attempt to publish Hitler’s work for that very purpose.

This editorial mindset betrays a startling and even dangerous obtuseness. While Newton portrays his willingness to publish a submission from Hitler as a heroic deed like Cranston’s exposing evil to the world, his reasoning is flawed. Cranston, a journalist and former U.S. senator sought to publish an unexpurgated and annotated version of Mein Kampf in contrast to the abridged and sanitized translation that was then on the market. By placing it in context and publishing the full version – not just the selections approved by the Nazi propaganda machine – Cranston hoped to reveal the Nazi agenda.

There is a clear difference between Cranston’s clear exposure of evil, and the act of lending propagandists the prestigious platform of a newspaper’s Op-Ed page where they are able to promote their views without any outside comment and in any way they see fit– even through lies and distortions. The editor naively assumes that had the newspaper granted Hitler the opportunity to promote his Nazi ideology, readers — without the benefit of hindsight — would have automatically drawn the appropriate conclusions. In fact, it is far more likely that publishing a submission from Hitler would have served the dictator’s goal of legitimizing the Nazi agenda.

The LA Times editor thus revealed the troubling beliefs that influenced his decision to publish Neve Gordon’s radical call to boycott Israel. Obviously, the newspaper did not present Gordon’s screed in the form of an annotated exposé of the errors underlying an extremist, anti-Israel academic’s call for boycott, or as a news story about the Israeli political arena whose fringes include such destructive figures. Rather, the newspaper lent its prestige to a call to boycott Israel.

Moreover, the Times subsequently (on August 25) published eight letters — four supportive of Gordon (although one disagreed with the idea of boycott); two clearly critical of him, and two which did not criticize Gordon personally but opposed the boycott — all under the headline “Boycott: Good or Bad?”

Even here, in its headline over the dueling letters, the paper cast the issue of boycotting Israel as a legitimate question, the result of which was a toss-up. Thus, the newspaper was essentially defending its decision to feature the agitator’s inflammatory boycott call.

Far from revealing the dangers and distortions underlying boycott-Israel propaganda, the newspaper is legitimizing and thus promoting it.

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