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Student newspaper refuses to publish pro-Israel letter to editor: It would ‘dehumanize a group of people’

Backed off after defunding threat

The editorial board at McGill University’s student newspaper retains the prerogative to express its own opinion on the Israel-Palestine dispute.

It refuses to accept the opposing opinion – at least without the threat of defunding by the administration at the Canadian university.

The McGill Daily told readers last week that it had initially rejected a pro-Israel letter to the editor from two law students that expressed “their dissatisfaction” with the newspaper’s definition of Zionism.

The Daily published the first in a promised series of “glossary” entries on “anti-oppressive activism” in its Sept. 1 issue, one of which was for Zionism.

It defined the movement as a “colonial” project that “has come to represent a racist attitude and violent practice towards Palestinians that recognizes only Israeli/Jewish hegemony and legitimacy to self-determination in Palestine.” The article recommends “the website of the BDS movement” – an anti-Israel organization – for more information.

The editorial board said the letter submitted by the law students violated the newspaper’s Statement of Principles – an extraordinarily ideological document for a government-funded media source – but does not explain how. The letter also violated the Letters Policy because its “content displays racial, ethnic, sexual, and socioeconomic prejudice.”

The law students went to Fabrice Labeau, deputy provost of student life and learning, when the Daily did not respond to its submission, claiming it was out of compliance with its own policy. Labeau overruled the editorial board’s rejection of the letter, citing the memorandum agreement between the university and the newspaper’s publisher.

It obliges the Daily to “provide all students a forum to engage with issues in the form of a letters
to the editor section, in both electronic and print form, whether or not those opinions
conform with the editorial position of the DPS.”

The Daily disagreed that rejecting a pro-Israel letter to the editor violated the agreement, but it does not have “time and money” to go into arbitration over the decision, as Labeau sought. “If the Daily were to lose in arbitration, it would mean our funding would be withheld, as would funding for [its French-language newspaper] Le Délit Français, thereby jeopardizing the existence of both papers,” said the Nov. 4 editorial.

MORE: Student government denies anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism

“Any dialogue that gives a platform to ideas which dehumanize a group of people only serves to amplify those views,” the editorial board wrote:

It is deeply disappointing that Labeau did not recognize the inherent anti-Arab racism and dehumanization of Palestinian people present in this letter …

The content of the letter is unconscionable in its dehumanization of the Palestinian people. We therefore want to apologize to our readers for its presence in our paper …

The editorial does not link to the law students’ letter to the editor, but Jewish News Syndicate linked to a PDF of it. Written by Michael Aarenau and Josh Shapiro, it calls the newspaper’s definition of Zionism “not only factually inaccurate, but malicious as well,” and goes on to lay out the authors’ own definition based on Jewish history.

The letter mocks the editorial board’s recommendation of the BDS movement for more information about Zionism:

This is akin to defining religion and inviting readers to learn more about it by visiting [atheism proponent] Richard Dawkins’ website! …

We can’t imagine the Daily ever allowing a mens’ rights organization define feminism, so we can’t help but ask why they believe that those who are inherently opposed to Jewish self-determination get to define it.

While the editorial board also complained that the law students’ letter exceeded the 500-word limit in its Letters Policy, its Nov. 4 response is nearly twice as long and includes a full rebuttal to the letter’s rebuttal. It specifically identifies the letter’s recommendation of Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat as “a large part of why the Daily was unwilling to publish this letter.”

Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told Jewish News Syndicate that the newspaper has previously “targeted the Jewish community with fabricated theories and by fomenting anti-Semitism.” JNS did not list any examples.

Read the editorial, the law students’ letter, and the JNS report.

MORE: California halts ethnic studies curriculum – no mention of anti-Semitism

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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