New York Times ‘Really Misses the Mark’ With Piece on Zionist-Free Zones at Berkeley Law School
A front-page New York Times news article frames an outbreak of antisemitism at the University of California, Berkeley, as a free speech issue — for the students engaging in the antisemitism.
The article reports that Berkeley Law School student groups are adopting bylaws banning speakers who are Zionists. Yet the free speech the Times seems mostly concerned about protecting is that of the anti-Zionist student groups. “A broad swath of speech experts say that student groups are allowed to ban speakers whose views they disagree with,” the Times reports, focusing on that as the key issue in the situation. The print headline, “Speaker Ban at Berkeley Law School Incites Free Speech Fight,” reinforces the framing as a “free speech fight” rather than an outbreak of antisemitism.
“The bylaw was adopted as antisemitism is rising across the country,” the Times reports, as if that were a mere strange coincidence rather than a prime example of the trend.
The Times makes readers sympathize with the poor Berkeley dean grappling with the supposedly knotty free speech issue.
“The last semester has been a challenge. Many students have been doxxed and harassed for their connection to the bylaw, [Berkeley Law Dean Erwin] Mr. Chemerinsky said,” the Times reports. “In the weeks after [Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law founder Kenneth] Marcus’s article,” he added, “a right-wing group that describes itself as a media watchdog drove trucks near campus comparing the students who adopted the bylaw to Hitler, and included the names of the students who were in the organizations that adopted the bylaw, even if they voted against it.”
The assumption by the Times seems to be that students who belong to a group with an antisemitic bylaw are entitled to anonymity and a free pass rather than accountability.
One Times reader in the comments section aptly calls the newspaper out for missing the point. “This article really misses the mark on what people are upset about. I would be surprised if even the most ardent Zionists were upset that the Berkeley chapter of Law Students for Justice in Palestine does not allow pro-Zionist speakers,” the Times reader comment says. “What upsets people are the other eight groups that adopted the same bylaw the article fails to name: The Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association, Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association, Womxn of Color Collective, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Queer Caucus, Community Defense Project, Women of Berkeley Law, and Law Students of African Descent.”
The reader comment goes on, “Why does being a Zionist disqualify you from speaking at the Queer Caucus? It’s ironic for such a group to target supporters of a country with vast protections for the LGBTQ community. Should someone who happens to support Israel not be allowed to express their views on criminal justice reform to members of the Community Defense Project?”
Good questions, unfortunately left entirely unasked, unexplored, and unanswered by the Times article.
In the Times, the groups and individuals defending the Jewish interests get slapped with labels—“conservative” “right-wing”—while those siding against the Jews — Palestine Legal, Law Students for Justice in Palestine — get no such labels. The Times also shows no reportorial curiosity whatsoever about the funding of or possible foreign influence on the anti-Jewish groups.
The whole Times article is an example of the paper attempting to appear thoughtful and evenhanded and careful while actually being lame. There’s an outrageous outburst of campus antisemitism, and rather than covering it with the toughness that is warranted, the Times does a chin-stroking think piece about the supposed complexities of free speech on campus. It’s not actually that complex.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.