[Marxism] Zionist pressure on Berkeley paper

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 28 07:53:32 MST 2009

NY Times, November 28, 2009
In a Home to Free Speech, a Paper Is Accused of Anti-Semitism

BERKELEY, Calif. — For the last six years, The Berkeley Daily Planet has 
published a freewheeling assortment of submissions from readers, who 
offer sharp-elbowed views on everything from raucous college parties 
(generally bad) to the war in Iraq (ditto).

But since March, that running commentary has been under attack by a 
small but vociferous group of critics who accuse the paper’s editor, 
Becky O’Malley, of publishing too many letters and other commentary 
pieces critical of Israel. Those accusations are the basis of a campaign 
to drive away the paper’s advertisers and a Web site that strongly 
suggests The Planet and its editor are anti-Semitic.

“We think that Ms. O’Malley is addicted to anti-Israel expression just 
as an alcoholic is to drinking,” Jim Sinkinson, who has led the campaign 
to discourage advertisers, wrote in an e-mail message. He is the 
publisher of Infocom Group, a media relations company. “If she wants to 
serve and please the East Bay Jewish community, she would be safer 
avoiding the subject entirely.”

Ms. O’Malley denies any personal or editorial bias, and bristles at the 
suggestion that she should not publish letters about Israel in a city 
like Berkeley, which has a sizable Jewish community and a populace — and 
City Council — that often weigh in on Middle East and international affairs.

“Frankly, the term that crossed my mind was ‘protection racket,’ ” Ms. 
O’Malley said. “I think that is unusual to say the least that anybody 
would think that they could dictate a whole area of the world that is 
simply off limits for discussion.”

Whether right or wrong, Mr. Sinkinson’s campaign has left The Planet — a 
weekly already hammered by the recession — gasping for breath. 
Advertising sales revenue is down some 60 percent from last year, Ms. 
O’Malley says. In October, the paper trimmed its skeleton crew of 
full-time reporters to one from three, and has begun a fund-raising 
drive to keep publishing.

Still, she says she has no intention of stopping the publication of 
submitted letters, citing a commitment to free speech that is a legacy 
of the city where the Free Speech Movement was born in the 1960s.

“I have the old-fashioned basic liberal thing of believing that the 
remedy for speech you don’t like is more speech,” said Ms. O’Malley, 69, 
a veteran local journalist who bought the paper in 2002 as a retirement 
project with her husband, Michael, now 72. “If somebody says something 
you don’t like, say what you think. And I felt it a privilege here in my 
middle age to be in a position to make that happen.”

The paper has published unpopular opinions on other subjects, including 
a commentary from a local activist arguing that the murder of four 
Oakland police officers — none of whom were black — by an 
African-American parolee in March was “karmic justice” for past police 
killings of civilians. But such pieces are in a section of the paper 
that clearly states they “do not necessarily reflect the views of the 
Daily Planet.”

Mr. O’Malley, the paper’s publisher, said he thought The Planet’s 
critics were confusing letters from unaffiliated writers — the paper 
says it prints anything that is not libelous or obscene, with a 
preference for local writers — with official editorial positions.

“We publish things from people that we can barely stand to be in the 
same room with,” he said.

In addition to the letter-writing campaign, the paper has faced online 
criticism from dpwatchdog.com, a site that contains pages of what it 
calls anti-Semitic writings published in The Planet. The site’s editor, 
John Gertz, says his goal is not to close the paper, but “reform” it.

“The object is not to attack the press,” said Mr. Gertz, the president 
and chief executive of Zorro Productions, which owns the trademark and 
copyrights on the Zorro franchise. “The object is to turn the press into 
something responsible.”

Mr. Gertz complains that The Planet does not fact-check reader 
submissions, something Ms. O’Malley says is well beyond its resources.

“We make a serious effort to get most words spelled right in the 
headlines, which we don’t always achieve,” Ms. O’Malley said. “And we of 
course never knowingly print something that we know to be untrue. But, 
frankly, there are things we don’t know.”

Mr. Sinkinson, whose company publishes The Bulldog Reporter, a media 
guide, first took aim at The Planet in March, in a letter to advertisers 
likening the paper to a “publication that praises the Nazis or the Ku 
Klux Klan.”

“In these tough economic times, is it really a good investment to 
continue advertising in a paper, one of whose main purposes seems to be 
the defamation of Jews and the state of Israel,” stated the letter, 
which included a cancellation notice advertisers could send to the paper 
as well as reader submissions published in The Planet that Mr. Sinkinson 
described as “hate-speech.” Among those was a letter printed in 2006 
from an Iranian student then living in India, Kurosh Arianpour, who 
suggested that the Jews had brought historical persecution — including 
that by the Nazis — on themselves.

Mr. Arianpour’s letter brought a sharp rebuke from local civic and 
Jewish leaders, and two weeks later, a published explanation from Ms. 
O’Malley, who wrote that the letter’s content was “very nasty” and 
amounted “to untrue racist generalizations of the worst sort.”

But, she wrote, “I still don’t think that keeping sentiments like this 
out of The Daily Planet will make him or people like him go away.”

The fight has gotten personal on occasion, with one of Mr. Gertz’s 
earliest complaints centering on a 2005 letter responding to a letter he 
had written to The Planet. In that response, a Planet reader said Mr. 
Gertz wore the “funniest-looking” yarmulke.

On his Web site and in a written report he has assembled, Mr. Gertz has 
called Ms. O’Malley “brutish,” “a second-rate intellect” and “ungifted” 
and suggested she may have learned what he calls anti-Semitic views 
while growing up in a largely non-Jewish community in Pasadena, Calif.

“It never occurred to me, frankly, till somebody submitted the research 
to us about her background, to begin to ask the question of, well, 
‘Maybe she learned this stuff on her daddy’s knee,’ ” Mr. Gertz said. He 
also attacked a regular Planet contributor as a Stalinist and called The 
Planet’s readership “aging radicals” who would be “of only marginal 
interest to most would-be advertisers.”

Wars of words are not uncommon in Berkeley, particularly regarding the 
Middle East, a contentious topic that the City Council occasionally 
addresses though it has no sway over foreign policy.

Councilman Kriss Worthington, who condemned the Arianpour letter but was 
still singled out by Mr. Gertz as a “gullible politician,” said he tried 
about a decade ago to devise a moderate council policy toward Israel. He 

“It was the only council item I ever wrote that got no support from 
either side,” Mr. Worthington said.

Local Jewish leaders, meanwhile, seem wary of getting involved in the 
campaign against The Planet. The Anti-Defamation League’s regional 
director in San Francisco, Jonathan Bernstein, said that while the paper 
had published some “divisive and hateful” material, Mr. Sinkinson’s and 
Mr. Gertz’s efforts were their own.

“I don’t think anyone in the organized Jewish community is involved in 
this in any way,” Mr. Bernstein said.

Both sides met recently to discuss possible resolutions to their 
dispute, but it was unclear if progress had been made.

Ms. O’Malley said the paper would abide by its mission to publish 
diverse opinions, trusting what she called “the self-correcting process” 
of open debate.

She also offered a possible two-entity solution to the conflict, saying 
of her critics, “They could start their own paper.”

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