This past week, Penn students held a three day conference on the BDS movement. The conference had been preceded by coverage from the local Jewish community pro-Israel newspaper and the Penn student newspaper which was not only antagonistic and unbalanced, but specifically, a professor penned an op Ed accusing BDS supporters of being “kapos.”
Not surprisingly, the BDS event organizers were a tad sensitive about who would be reporting from these media outlets. They ultimately decided to refuse access to the event for the Exponent’s reporter and a far-right pro-Israel filmmaker. Personally, I think they made a mistake. I would’ve negotiated with the Exponent for an op ed by a Penn faculty member who supported BDS in return for allowing a hostile reporter to have access. If the newspaper refused, then let them slam BDS while you point out how unfair they were in refusing to allow you to present your point of view in the newspaper.
It should e noted that The Exponent’s former editor, Jonathan Tobin, now graces the editorial masthead at Commentary. So the Exponent is certainly no exemplar of diversity on the question of coverage related to Israel or BDS.
Jane Eisner, the Forward’s managing editor decided to pile on, writing an editorial criticizing the decision to bar the reporter, as an infringement on free speech. This is wrong for all sorts of reasons. One, because the pro-Israel media has a monopoly on access to the mainstream community through it’s media outlets. That means that they present their slanted version of BDS to their readers without allowing the BDS movement to portray itself in their pages. If anyone is repressing free speech and the diversity of debate it is the Exponent and Forward.
But even more important is the fact that the Israel Lobby routinely restricts media access to reporters it doesn’t like at events they host. Aipac provided press credentials to The Guardian’s Chris McGreal to cover it’s 2007 national conference. When McGreal arrived to pick up his credentials and registration packet, he was not only denied access, but Josh Block, Aipac’s then PR capo di tutti, had the reporter frog-marched out of the hall escorted by security guards. I reported this story in my blog at the time and in the Guardian’s Comment is Free. But The Forward never took up the matter. Somehow, when the BDS movement stifles the press it’s newsworthy, but when Josh Block and Aipac do it they get a pass.
Further, if Jane Eisner wants to talk about freedom of speech in the media, she should look in the mirror. I, for example am blackballed from appearing there. How do I know? Let’s just say a little birdie told me. My crime? Criticizing The Forward’s decision to take Republican Jewish Coalition ads in 2008 which accused Barack Obama of being racist. You see some journalists can be very thin skinned about criticism. Which is ironic because those same editors refuse to allow activists to be equally thin-skinned about critical coverage.
Mao, who himself didn’t brook much dissent, said “let a thousand flowers bloom.”. Why can’t we in the Jewish community do at least as well?