Retraction and Apology from PSU Vanguard

Portland State University's student newspaper, the Vanguard, has withdrawn a virulently anti-Semitic article that appeared in its Opinion section a few days ago. The editors are to be commended for doing the right thing in response to public outcry.

The editorial staff write: "Column 'A City Divided' Should Not Have Been Published":
On Oct. 18 the Vanguard published an opinion column by Caelan MacTavish, titled “A city divided,” about conflict over the city of Jerusalem.

The column was riddled with factual inaccuracies and overbroad generalizations of the Jewish faith, people and history.

The column was met with an outpouring of response from members of the student body, academia and the Jewish community, expressing outrage and disappointment at the column’s publication.

Our goal in publishing opinion columns is to advance educated debate about issues that impact or are of importance to our readers. To fulfill that goal our mission is to publish thoughtful, well-researched commentary that provides a unique or interesting analysis of complex situations.

In the case of “A city divided,” we find that the column failed gravely to meet that goal or to meet the editorial standards that we at the Vanguard aim to uphold. ...

The Vanguard deeply regrets that the column was not given as much editorial attention as it deserved, and realizes in retrospect that the column simply should not have been published. ...

Giliad Ini of CAMERA writes, Provocative Ideas Require Civil Discourse:
It is probably clear that the false and contemptible statements ideas in Caelan MacTavish’s Oct. 18 column, and the Daily Vanguard’s decision to publish his piece, are protected by the first amendment [“A city divided,” Oct. 18.]. Because the Bill of Rights established that “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech,” MacTavish’s offensive words are legal — and, most agree, they should be.

What might be less clear is whether the legal right to “free speech” requires a newspaper to publish every idea. ...

PSU's Jewish Student Union see a city divided, a campus united:
The writer’s justifications for the Holocaust are appalling, as well as the reference to it as “The Great Burning.” He was factually wrong on numerous accounts, including statements such as “Nobody can really convert to Judaism—you are born Jewish, or you are not.” There are in fact several converts to Judaism within our student group alone. There are too many false statements to address here. ...

As students we have a responsibility and a right to attend classes in a safe and hate-free environment. The Code of Conduct states that, “the University recognizes the intrinsic value of individual differences and diversity. The University supports the right of all people to live and learn in a safe and respectful environment that promotes the free and vigorous expression of ideas. Policies and procedures are designed to protect these freedoms and the fundamental rights of others. Students are expected to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with these principles.”

Freedom of opinion is allowed, as long as it does not impinge upon another’s right to that “safe and respectful environment.”

In that spirit, the Jewish Student Union would like to encourage more constructive dialogue about religious and cultural difference, especially among student groups, with the support of our professors and the administration. We are proud of our beliefs and our way of life. We also respect the beliefs and rights of others. But the presence of multiple beliefs and cultures is worthless unless it is partnered with an ongoing dialogue that acknowledges the differences, and then celebrates them. ...

And finally, there's this response from PSU faculty:
In the course of his essay, Mr. MacTavish tells us that: "Nobody can really convert to Judaism — you are born Jewish, or you are not." This is simply untrue, as anyone with a passing familiarity with the Jewish religion knows. This sentence is found in a paragraph beginning, “Currently, Jerusalem is deep inside the West Bank…” In fact, Jerusalem is not “deep inside” the West Bank as commonly understood, but on its perimeter. (And since there are no plans we are aware of to move the city to another location, we expect it will be there not only “currently” but for a long time to come.)

In between these two sentences of demonstrable falsity, Mr. MacTavish offers a summary of Jewish history that makes one cringe in embarrassment for its historical and moral distortion. Ignoring or unaware of a rich, millennia-long history of cultural exchange with other groups, Mr. MacTavish leaves out 2000 years of Jewish history since the first-century Diaspora, with the single exception of the Holocaust, which he perversely suggests the Jews brought upon themselves because of their “exclusive religion.”

Later in his essay, he refers to Jews as a “race,” a falsely biologistic notion discredited since the Nazis gave such thinking a bad name.

A few comments:
It's good that the editors of the Vanguard have done the right thing here. What remains, of course, is a frank and open discussion of anti-Semitism in today's world. I hope that the repercussions from this incident will wake up some of the students and faculty - not only at PSU, but throughout the academic world.

It has become very easy in recent years to become complacent about anti-Semitism. I know I have been guilty of this myself. Even 9/11 did not, I think, immediately bring the message home; certainly there was vile Jew-hatred at work among the terrorists, but it was harder for some of us to think of judaeophobia as a home-grown phenomenon.

A second perception that may need to be re-considered is the idea that anti-Semitism is the exclusive province of the uneducated (or of "rednecks", "hillbillies", insert your favorite stereotype here). I've read enough and learned enough that I now no longer believe this. There are some highly educated people who are profoundly anti-Semitic. Beyond this, many Jews with connections to the academic world are becoming concerned that anti-Semitism has acquired an aura of "respectability" on the campus.

The author of our Vanguard piece is certainly no scholar; but we need to ask: How did this screed get approved for publication? In other words, how was the message sent that it was "OK" to publish this kind of stuff in a university newspaper? What kind of climate exists that fosters the notion that this drivel constitutes a contribution to intelligent discourse?

My first experience with overt anti-Semitism at PSU did not come from other students. It came, instead, from a rap artist who'd been invited as a guest speaker in a Women's Studies class. The gentleman delivered himself of a "performance piece" that consisted of a lengthy rant against the Government in general and, wait for it, "Zionists" in particular. The guest waxed eloquent about the suffering of Palestinians (one of only two nations mentioned by name - guess what the other one was) but could find no time to mention the African victims of Arab genocide in Sudan. Violence, it would seem, is only a crime when it is committed by Jews.

Finally - and without getting too political - I would submit that anti-Semitism is not confined to a particular area of the political spectrum. It's amazing how right-wing skinheads and left-wing anarchists sometimes sound a lot alike. Whether your politics are liberal, progressive, conservative, libertarian, or none-of-the-above, remember that no ideology is exempt from crackpots and crypto-fascists.

UPDATE: Please read Caelan MacTavish's response at the link. I will post comments on this shortly.