The New York Times today takes a look at the controversy surrounding The Berkeley Daily Planet and its attitude toward Jews and Israel.
In a lengthy article that ran in the national section, San Francisco bureau chief Jesse McKinley discusses the controversy and points out the irony that free speech is in the center of this debate – in a city long known for its devotion to free speech.
In the last few years, the Daily Planet has been criticized for printing letters from contributors who have attacked some of Israel’s positions. Critics point out that these letters seem anti-Semitic. One 2006 letter from an Iranian student living in India particularly angered the Jewish community. In it, the student suggested that Jews had brought Nazi persecution on themselves.
Becky O’Malley, the editor of the Planet, defends her paper’s right to post submissions from readers. It promotes a free exchange of ideas, which is important in a town like Berkeley, she said. O’Malley points out that the letters are thoughts of readers, not editorials endorsed by the newspaper.
Her critics disagree and point out what they consider a disturbing tendency to criticize Israel in both letters to the paper and articles. John Gertz, who created the website, dpwatchdog.com, to examine the Planet’s positions, says that no other ethnic group or issue has been as vilified in the paper’s pages as Israel. He even suggests on the site that O’Malley might be anti-Semitic.
Jim Sinkinson, another critic of the paper, has been encouraging advertisers to boycott the Planet. Ad revenue has declined 60% in the past year and the Planet has sharply reduced staff, but whether that has to do with the boycott or the economy is difficult to determine.
Their critics call them “militant Zionists.”
In a town like Berkeley, this is an argument that may never end.