Public Comment

New: Censorship in Berkeley: the Daily Cal and the Peace and Justice Commission

By Joanna Graham
Monday July 09, 2012 - 04:23:00 PM

This past spring, an energetic sales rep from the Daily Cal cold-called Rod Driver, a Rhode Island resident who had purchased ad space in the paper once or maybe twice before, during the divestment controversy of 2010. Driver, who runs (the small) Justice First Foundation, duly submitted an ad featuring material taken directly from the website of If Americans Knew, a nonprofit foundation run by journalist Alison Weir which is dedicated to media watchdogging and the dissemination of information about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Unfortunately the Daily Cal ran the ad incorrectly three times. On May 21 they finally ran a free, make-up corrected version

By that time, however, the spring semester staff, which had made the decision to run the ad, had been replaced by the summer staff. The incoming editorial page editor Jonathan Kuperberg and editor-in-chief Stephanie Baer apparently did not like the contents of the ad which they were contractually compelled to run. They dealt with the issue by also publishing two letters attacking the ad, one from Vladimir Kaplan of San Mateo headed “Ad illustrates essence of anti-Semitism, lies” and one from Thyme Siegal, a Berkeley Peace and Justice Commissioner (identified in her Daily Cal letter as such) headed “Anti-Israel ad breaks trust, propagates lies.” Both of these letters contain major misstatements of verifiable facts and both, as even the headings indicate, are defamatory, since in fact the ad is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel (whatever that means), nor does it propagate lies, since, although the ad contains some non-neutral language, every assertion in it is verifiably true. 

Alison Weir learned of the situation almost immediately and submitted a rebuttal to the Daily Cal which Baer and Kuperberg initially refused to publish. Finally, after a great deal of back and forth during which Weir, somewhat unwillingly, rewrote her letter to meet their stated objections, the Daily Cal did publish her second version

As the self-appointed watchdog on Zionist censorship in Berkeley, I wrote an op-ed for the Daily Planet at that time, but after Weir’s letter was published, despite the difficulties and resistance she’d encountered, the matter seemed of too little general interest to deserve comment, so I shelved my remarks. However, other developments over the past month have caused me to change my mind. 

First, Rod Driver, the man who placed the ad, has also submitted a letter to the Daily Cal which so far Baer and Kuperberg, in total disregard of journalistic ethics and with the flimsiest of explanations, are refusing to publish. Second, on June 12, Berkeley Councilmember Darryl Moore appointed John Gertz to the Peace and Justice Commission. 

In her July 6th editorial Becky O’Malley explains the history of John Gertz with both the Peace and Justice Commission, which he attempted to pack (probably successfully) after their vote to support an inquiry into the death of Rachel Corrie, and with the Daily Planet, which he dislikes because of the paper’s policy of publishing (nearly) all letters received, including those critical of Israel. Gertz, along with Jim Sinkinson and Dan Spitzer, methodically and with a high level of threat, went after the paper’s advertisers. In the middle of the Great Recession, they were successful in reducing the Planet’s revenues by a significant percentage. Although their campaign was not the only reason for the demise of the print edition, it was a major factor. 

O’Malley mentions in her editorial that within the past several years, the public space in which to discuss Israel critically has widened considerably. (The fact that she should have to say this in a country in which free speech is constitutionally protected is a testament to both the power and the inherent un-Americanism of the Zionist lobby.) Alas, though, the pall of censorship appears to lie still over Berkeley. 

Consider, one. The Daily Planet, Berkeley’s primary source of news and information on local issues, exists now online only and with far fewer resources. It was destroyed by John Gertz et alia in order to prevent discussion of Israel outside permitted Zionist parameters. 

Two. The Peace and Justice Commission, created by initiative as an interface between citizen concerns on issues of peace and justice and the city council can no longer function as intended because of meddling on behalf of Zionist interests by…John Gertz. 

And three. The Daily Californian, our other source of local news, prints defamatory lies and then refuses to allow the person defamed to respond. Who wrote one of the defamatory letters? Thyme Siegel, Peace and Justice Commissioner appointed by Gordon Wozniak, whose former appointee, Jonathan Wornick, opined he hoped Becky O’Malley would die and e-mailed an anti-Muslim rant to his fellow commissioners. In a Daily Planet commentary John Gertz once stated that his commission packing had consisted of lobbying three city councilmembers. Wozniak’s appointments since indicate that he was one of the (successfully) lobbied. Darryl Moore may be another. 

In my first op-ed on this subject, all those years ago, I compared the Zionist lobby to the all-seeing eye of Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor. What developments in Berkeley since have shown is how few people it actually takes keeping their eye on possible weak points such as newspapers and city commissions to control discourse almost completely on behalf of Israel. 

Part of the reason this works is that the public, beleaguered by many things, is not making the connections. If institutions like the Daily Planet fail or like the Peace and Justice Commission are deformed, who is to notice that the ultimate reason was protection of the perceived interests of the state of Israel? 

In one way I disagree with O’Malley’s characterization of John Gertz. Yes, he believes many crazy things. But he is not an over-the-top lone psycho. Imagine him and his gang replicated in every city, town, and village in the U.S., all believing the same things and fulfilling the same function. That’s what exists. And that’s why Benjamin Netanyahu can come to the U.S., insult the president to his face, and then get 28 standing ovations in Congress. John Gertz and his ilk are winning. They are winning right now in Berkeley. And they are winning in Washington, D.C. 

This win is not trivial. Behind the U.S. war in Iraq were not oil companies but Zionist neocons working quite openly on behalf of Israel’s interests. Now many of the same people, openly supporting war against Iran, also and even more clearly for Israel’s sake, are on Romney’s foreign policy team. The Obama administration has already been moved far further than it would apparently like in the direction of such a war. Now more than ever the American people need to have free open dialog on this as on all other issues—but John Gertz has waltzed himself onto the Peace and Justice Commission to make sure that at least here in Berkeley we don’t. 

What can we do about this? Well, for starters, please contact Stephanie Baer at the Daily Cal and demand that she publish Rod Driver’s letter. And one way or another, let Darryl Moore know that he’s just made a very bad mistake.