The Council of East Bay Rabbis has condemned a publicity campaign by Jim Sinkinson to intimidate Daily Planet advertisers.
Sinkinson sent a letter to Daily Planet advertisers that selectively quotes from a letter sent to the paper by the East Bay Council of Rabbis. This week, the council’s vice president, Rabbi Deborah Kohn, denounced Sinkinson’s misuse of the letter.
“The way the letter was used by Sinkinson is deeply disturbing,” Rabbi Kohn said, “because the intent of our letter was to endorse free dialgoue.”
Sinkinson, under the guise of “East Bay Citizens for Journalistic Responsibility”—an organization with no paper trail or apparently any members other than Sinkinson himself—is running a sophisticated publicity campaign to shut down the Daily Planet.
In letters sent to the paper’s advertisers, he claims the Daily Planet runs anti-Semitic “editorials.” Sinkinson’s misuse of journalism terminology is deliberate; what he is really attempting to shut down is the paper’s opinion section, a community forum that prints the views of readers as expressed in op-eds and letters to the editor. Some of these letters are critical of Israel, a position that Sinkinson and a few other of the paper’s critics—most notably, John Gertz and Dan Spitzer—brand as anti-Semitic.
In his latest letter to advertisers, Sinkinson told local small-business owners that unless they returned his self-addressed postcard by Aug. 1, promising to cancel their advertising contracts with the Planet, he would begin an “educational campaign” to draw attention to the alleged anti-Semitism of the paper, and that his materials would print the names of the businesses that he claims, through their advertising dollars, implicitly support and endorse anti-Semitism.
Sinkinson’s letter is titled “East Bay Jewish Community Mobilizes Against the Daily Planet,” and in that letter he reprints most of a letter by the East Bay Council of Rabbis that was published in its entirety in the Daily Planet’s June 25 edition. However, an ellipsis marks the point where Sinkinson has neatly excised three critical sentences that undermine his cause, an omission designed to give advertisers the impression that he is acting with the blessing and support of the greater Jewish community.
The sentences Sinkinson didn’t want his targets to read are these: “Many in the Jewish community have been vocal opponents of some Israeli government policies and are part of the community’s dialogue. The Jewish community does not censor criticism of Israel and neither its leadership nor its designated representatives are engaged in a campaign against the Daily Planet. We decry any efforts by anyone who would stifle the flow of information.”
Sinkinson “picks and chooses” what he wants from the rabbis’ letter, said Rabbi Kohn. “The council supports an open discussion. People may not agree—they probably won’t agree—but these issues should be discussed openly.”
“Someone using our name this way is inappropriate and departs from the original intention of our letter,” said Rabbi Andrea Berlin, who wrote the original letter on behalf of the council.
Sinkinson’s own rabbi, SaraLeya Schley of Chochmat HaLev, a member of the East Bay Council of Rabbis, did not return calls for comment.
Sinkinson declined requests for an interview for the Daily Planet’s June 4 story about his campaign, saying “I don’t trust your newspaper. I think from a journalism standpoint, I can’t trust you. Becky lies. Becky changed a letter I wrote and then lied about it.”
When confronted with evidence that his letter had been printed with just one minor change (“E.U.” was instead spelled out as “European Union”), Sinkinson changed the subject and ultimately concluded the correspondence with, “I don’t really feel that submitting to an interview would accomplish my objectives. I don’t feel it would contribute to an understanding.”
Bruce Joffe, a member of Chochmat HaLev (CHL), sent a letter to the group’s leadership, including Rabbi Schley, on July 6, informing them that he would suspend his support and membership until Sinkinson was removed or termed out from his position as CHL treasurer and boardmember.
“Mr. Sinkinson and his associates, John Gertz and Dan Spitzer, are deluded in thinking that the Berkeley Daily Planet’s editor and publisher [Becky and Mike O’Malley] are anti-Semitic,” Joffe wrote. “While hurtful letters critical of Israel’s policy and actions toward Palestinians often appear on the BDP’s pages, letters supporting such policies are also given adequate exposure. The BDP serves as a robust forum for public discussion of controversial ideas.
“Mr. Sinkinson and his friends don’t agree. While their letters and opinions have been given plenty of space in BDP pages, they have not prevailed in the marketplace of ideas among other BDP readers. Their response, regrettable and objectionable to me, has been to try to destroy the forum itself. Their campaign to dissuade advertisers from supporting the BDP, as well as more recent tactics of stealing newspapers from their distribution boxes so others can’t read the paper, cross the line of decency and morality, two qualities a Board member of CHL ought to represent. ...
“A spiritual community offers guidance on how its adherents ought to conduct their lives beyond the walls of their spiritual institution. The actions of a pillar of CHL, in working to destroy the public forum itself, violates our community’s core teachings. It is my conclusion that Jim Sinkinson’s actions outside CHL taint our CHL community. Withholding my support of CHL while Jim Sinkinson is part of its leadershlip is the strongest way I can communicate my objection to his activities.”
Bruce Joffe told the Daily Planet, “My objection to Sinkinson’s campaign against the BDP was responded to by the Chochmat Board with their belief that they ought not counsel or censure Sinkinson for his non-Chochmat actions. Some Board members, acting as private citizens, support Sinkinson’s campaign. My personal opinion is that Chochmat Board members ought to represent what Chochmat stands for 24x7.
“I wrote a letter in March to the Board and to [Sinkinson] in particular, and received an answer from both him and Board member Hal Feiger justifying their actions with no regret.” [Hal Feiger made an effort to persuade Daily Planet advertisers to cancel a few years ago.]
“Personally, I am saddened by some of Israel’s actions toward Palestinians, and I am even more troubled by the actions of the Palestinians toward Israel. Perhaps that puts me right in the middle. I appreciate the public forum that the Berkeley Daily Planet provides for expression on this complicated and emotion-provoking issue.”
Many Jews have written to the paper condemning the campaign to close it. More than 100 contributed money and signed their names to a full-page ad in support of the paper.
Several advertisers have contacted the paper after receiving Sinkinson’s most recent letter, a few with the impression that they were indeed being targeted by the greater Jewish community. They reported feeling threatened, intimidated, even blackmailed.
Sinkinson is director of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME). (See the Planet’s June 4 story, “The Campaign Against the Daily Planet.”) FLAME’s founder, Gerardo Joffe, used virtually identical tactics to persuade advertisers to withdraw from the Coastal Post, a newspaper based in Bolinas in west Marin County.
Gerardo Joffe told the Point Reyes Light in a July 30 story that his campaign against the Coastal Post had no ties to Sinkinson’s efforts to shut down the Daily Planet, but they clearly drew from the same playbook, supplying advertisers with forms to fill out in order to declare their intent to cancel their contracts with the papers.
John Gertz, a Berkeley businessman who owns the rights to the Zorro brand, runs a website, www.dpwatchdog, which he launched, as he stated in an e-mail to Executive Editor Becky O’Malley, with the goal of forcing the paper to “reform, or close, or bleed money until you are forced out of business or die broke.”
Shortly after launching the site, Gertz said, in another e-mail to O’Malley, that in March he would set in motion “a PR and marketing campaign, which we believe will largely increase our readership.”
Sinkinson, a PR professional who runs an annual conference (complete with high-profile journalist speakers such as Dan Rather and New York Times writers) that coaches other PR professionals on how to influence the media, sent his first letter to Daily Planet advertisers March 7. Gertz maintains that the two men’s actions are not related.
Gertz did not answer a request for comment about Sinkinson’s latest letter by press time.
The Daily Planet’s opinion pages have been open to these men since the O’Malleys launched the paper in 2003. Gertz and Spitzer each had many letters and op-eds appear in these pages and were only excluded from the paper once they began threatening lawsuits and attempting to shut the paper down.
Sinkinson never contacted the paper at all until he had already launched his campaign to close it.