Over the weekend we received the e-mail reprinted [below]. Evidently the signers of the letter have been misinformed by someone for some reason. They say that “we recently requested a meeting with the Daily Planet Executive Editor Becky O’Malley. Ms. O’Malley refused to meet, stating ‘you won’t convince me of your position.’”
That’s just not true. I don’t know who the “we” in this letter refers to. I have never met or spoken to a single one of the signers regarding the paper’s publishing of the letter in question. As far as I know, I have seen only one of them, Rabbi Raj, years ago when he appeared before city boards and commissions regarding his congregation’s building project. I might have met some of the other clergy at weddings or bat mitzvahs I’ve attended for members of their congregations, but if so I don’t remember it.
About a year ago I exchanged e-mail with Rabbi Litman when John Gertz and other individuals were attempting to force the paper to apologize for printing a cartoon they didn’t like. She and others asked me to meet at that time with some people described as leaders of the Jewish community, and I readily agreed to meet with them, with the proviso that it be a public meeting—I don’t like to be bullied, which is less likely in public. I did meet with Gertz over lunch, but for some reason they were never able to get a larger public meeting together on their end.
Perhaps the source of the signers’ confusion is that I did take a phone call about the Arianpour letter from one person not a signer, a woman who identified herself as “Tami from ADL.” I described the conversation at length in my editorial of Aug. 11. I didn’t refuse to meet her in person once my deadline was over, I just thought she might be wasting her time and mine, and I told her so. I offered her the alternate opportunity to make her point in print—she took me up on it, and I assumed that was the end of it. She never said she represented 23 “leaders of the Jewish community.” But maybe I should have realized I was being set up.
My offer is still open. I will meet anywhere at any time with any of the signers of this letter, all 23 of them at once if they wish, as long as it’s an open public meeting. They can bring any other leaders of the Jewish community that they want to bring. Perhaps in return they might consider apologizing to me for circulating a letter saying that I refused to meet with them, which is not true. While they’re at it, they might also apologize for saying that “you have attempted to disrupt the harmony we all enjoy here in Berkeley,” a viciously unkind accusation.
Friends have suggested that when the paper publishes letters from writers with whom the editors disagree, they should add a comment indicating their disagreement. The former editor of the Anderson Valley Advertiser used to do this in a very caustic vein, and it made for an entertaining paper. The problem is that on any given day I’m likely to disagree with about half of the letters and commentary we publish, which would make for a very lengthy paper.
In this case, however, let me stipulate for the record that in my personal opinion the letter from the Iranian fellow was indeed very nasty, and I think that his comments about the history and motivations of the Jewish people amounted to untrue racist generalizations of the worst sort. But 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 Middle East is full of anger, more now than a month ago.
We do get and print nasty letters on other topics from outside the Berkeley Bubble. For example, in this issue there’s a letter that came in this week from a guy named Norm Grudman in New York about a Latina woman in Chicago who’s trying to escape deportation by seeking shelter in a Catholic church. (Just for the record, let me stipulate that I think that assuming all priests are pederasts is also bigotry.)
We have printed several letters contradicting the Iranian correspondent’s point of view, and will undoubtedly print more. We still believe, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, that the best remedy for speech you don’t like is more speech.
I understand that it’s painful for signers of the open letter to hear that people like Kurosh Arianpour have transferred their disagreement with Israel’s foreign policy to animosity toward all things Jewish. I’m sympathetic to their desire to share their feelings at a meeting. But I don’t think that denying Arianpour and people like him a forum will make anyone safer. After all, the Seattle incident was a week before his letter and half a world away from him.
As I’m finishing this comment, I’ve just learned that Rabbi Raj has seen fit to corral a number of political allies to support his point of view, on the basis of the untrue statement that I refused to meet with “leaders.” Their letter is also in this issue. I’m sorry they neglected to check their facts before sending it.
So now’s the time for all the signatories to all the letters in today’s paper, politicos included, to put up or shut up. Where and when would they like to have this meeting? Perhaps Mayor Bates would like to offer the Berkeley Community Theater, because I’m sure a lot of Berkeleyans would like to attend.
Dear Sir or Madam,
Following please find the text for a letter to the editor of your paper. Please note that the letter is signed by several leaders of Berkeley’s Jewish community. If you have any questions or if I can be of assitance, please don’t hesistate to contact me. Every good wish,
Rabbi James Brandt
On behalf of the Berkeley Jewish community, we are writing to express our pain and disappointment at your use of your newspaper as a forum for promoting hatred against Jews. A commentary by Kurosh Arianpour, which you printed on August 8, was intended to antagonize and intimidate Jewish readers and to stir up animosity toward them. Our only solace is that we have heard from many Berkeley citizens who were as offended as we were by your decision to provide a platform for this bigotry.
In his commentary, Arianpour claims that Jews were enslaved by the Egyptians and Babylonians (sic) and persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because “they do wrong to other people to the point that others turn against them...” A week before this letter appeared, a gunman broke into a Jewish institution in Seattle, killing one person and severely injuring several others. The next day, the white supremacist organization Stormfront posted on its website: “Jews deserve everything they get...we should support all of our friends who shoot/kill Jews!”
Arianpour’s message is not only hurtful and hateful, but dangerous. Throughout our history we have seen how similarly despicable words can create a climate that leads to hateful and violent actions. It is bad enough to read such a message on the website of an extremist group; it is a serious breach of public trust to read it in a paper that professes to support the community. In order to share our feelings, we recently requested a meeting with the Daily Planet Executive Editor Becky O’Malley. Ms. O’Malley refused to meet, stating “you won’t convince me of your position.” Our “position” is that a Berkeley newspaper is no place for hate commentaries and that it should be a place for respectful dialogue.
Our city has always prided itself on its commitment to promoting an open, accepting environment where people from all backgrounds feel welcome and included. We believe you have attempted to disrupt the harmony we all enjoy here in Berkeley. You owe us and the rest of the community an apology.
Loren Basch, CEO, Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay
Rabbi Andrea Berlin, President, East Bay Council of Rabbis
Jonathan Bernstein, Executive Director, Anti-Defamation League,
Central Pacific Region
Rabbi James Brandt, Executive Director, Center for Jewish Living and Learning, East Bay
Donald Brody, President, Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay
Rabbi Yonatan Cohen, incoming rabbi, Congregation Beth Israel, Berkeley
Rabbi David J. Cooper, Kehilla Community Synagogue
Carol Cunradi, President, Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley
Sandra Curtis, Regional Board Member, New Israel Fund
Myrna David, East Bay Regional Director, Jewish Community Relations Council
Sanne DeWitt, Chair, Israel Action Committee of the East Bay
Rabbi Stuart Kelman, Congregation Netivot Shalom, Berkeley
Julie Kennedy, President, Congregation Beth El, Berkeley
Hilda and Seymour Kessler, Founders, Bridges to Israel-Berkeley
Rabbi Jane Litman, Rabbi-Educator, Congregation Beth El, Berkeley
Rabbi Harry A. Manhoff, PhD , President, Board of Rabbis of Northern California
Rabbi Ferenc Raj, Congregation Beth El, Berkeley
Avi Rose, Executive Director, Jewish Family & Children’s Services of
the East Bay
Rabbi Yair Silverman, Congregation Beth Israel, Berkeley
Beth Sirull, President, Jewish Community Center of the East Bay
Leslie Valas, President, Congregation Beth Israel, Berkeley
Ernest H. Weiner, Executive Director, American Jewish Committee, Bay Area Chapter
Adam Weisberg, Executive Director, Berkeley Hillel