Public Comment

How the Daily Planet Won a Battle It Didn’t Choose

By Joanna Graham
Thursday February 25, 2010 - 09:05:00 AM

Thank you to Becky and Mike O’Malley for publishing the quirky, personal, engaged, and engaging Berkeley Daily Planet, bringing us for the last seven years news and views about the East Bay (but mostly about Berkeley). Without the Planet as it has been, with its full staff of reporters and columnists, I fear it may prove difficult for all of us to stay informed about what our city and other local institutions are up to. A large hole is about to appear in our collective knowledge—a dark hole in which much skullduggery can flourish. 

  Editor O’Malley has suggested several reasons for the paper’s demise—and I can think of others as well. As Dorothy Bryant remarked last week, it’s rather more surprising that a small, local paper lasted this long than that it closed up shop at last. 

  I would like to address myself, however, to the one reason in which I, as an occasional commentator on the local operations of the Zionist lobby, am personally involved: the campaign directed at the Planet’s advertisers by Gertz and Sinkinson et al. I’m guessing there are a lot of high fives going on in that quarter, so I’d like to point out that these gentlemen’s victory is Pyrrhic since by securing it, they’ve done vast harm to their own cause. 

  In the first op-ed I published in the Planet (Aug. 2, 2005), I described the two-step process by which all alternatives to the official Zionist narrative have traditionally been suppressed. Step one, censorship by intimidation. Step two, censorship of the act of censorship. Think of it like this: the Mafia goon who has just stopped by your grocery store to let you know his boss expects weekly payments remarks on his way out, “By the way, don’t even think to call the police. In fact, don’t tell nobody about our little conversation.” Eventually an entire neighborhood, an entire city, not only pays up but keeps mum. Such has been the effect of the Israel lobby, not only on American policy but also on American discourse. A nation of politicians, educators, artists, activists, and media makers—all keeping mum. 

  When the O’Malleys stumbled into this situation, though (inevitable for anyone publishing a newspaper), they refused to comply. They did not shut up as directed. Instead, they published the words of the censors and the words of those who opposed them; they published information about what the censors were doing and statements from people they’d been doing it to. They devoted an entire issue to revealing the connections of their local censors to a far larger network of censorship. You might say that—unintimidated—they ran out on the street and yelled at the top of their lungs, “Hey! Hey! We just got hit up by the protection racket! We just got leaned on!” They yelled so loud that thousands of people who previously had had no idea that this is the way Israel’s narrative remains unchallenged got to see how it’s done. Even the New York Times picked up the O’Malleys’ yell, making the story a national one. 

  It’s almost inconceivable to me, as a person involved in this issue, how precipitously Israel’s international standing has declined in the time the Planet has been publishing. Jimmy Carter introduced the idea of “apartheid,” which will not go away. Mearsheimer and Walt published their influential book on the Israel lobby. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement took off with astounding rapidity and has already had notable successes in Europe. Israelis, to their surprise, found themselves unaccustomedly blamed after the Gaza massacre—and then, there was the Goldstone report. And finally, over and over again, people subjected to pressure have been standing up and saying, “The reason my newspaper ran into difficulty, my art was not displayed, my play was not produced, my film was not shown was that I was subjected to pressure.” Yes, at least for now, the censorship is still mostly effective, but that the mechanism of it is at last being exposed in an extraordinarily significant shift. The wizard still intimidates but Toto keeps pulling back the curtain—and every time still more people catch a glimpse of what’s behind. 

  For nearly sixty years, Israel got away with claiming victimhood, all the while attacking its neighbors and strong-arming its critics. It’s still attacking and still strong-arming, but the victimhood/self-defense rationale has collapsed. To use Israel’s own word, the Zionist project is at last being delegitimized—as it must be if there is ever to be a just peace in Israel/Palestine. I’m guessing that when the O’Malleys bought the Planet, their intention was to focus on local issues, especially the nefarious deeds of developers and their henchpersons in city hall! Helping to resolve a long-running, festering problem in the Middle East was probably not what they had in mind to do. Nevertheless, by standing up to the bullies and exposing their methods, that’s one of the many fine things which they did do—and I hope they take pride in their achievement. 


Joanna Graham is a Berkeley resident.