Chicago Maroon op-ed editors abase themselves, apologize for posting a letter criticizing anti-Semitism

April 8, 2022 • 12:00 pm

In this week’s Chicago Maroon (our student newspaper), there’s the longest op-ed I’ve ever seen there: a full-two page spread by two op-ed editors. Their goal was to apologize for having published a short op-ed letter by two students that criticized a pro-Palestinian campus group.

But let’s back up.  A while ago, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a notoriously anti-Semitic organization that calls for the elimination of Israel, demonstrated on campus against classes taught by Israeli Jews. On their Instagram page, SJP called for a boycott of classes about Israel or taught by “Israeli fellows,” as people who take those classes show “complicity in the continuation of Israel’s occupation of Palestine” (they consider Palestine to be “from the river to the sea”, i.e. all of Israel, not just the West bank). Their post is below, and of course SJP has the right to post such a thing as well as to demonstrate on campus in favor of it. Yes, they’re misguided, yes, they’re hateful, and yes, I see them as anti-Semitic.  And of course this kind of behavior divides people, but so it goes.

Here’s the SJP post with their addendum

In response, two students wrote a protest (click on screenshot below) whose contents I’ve put below the fold at the bottom of this post. The authors, Melody Dias and Benjamin ZeBrack, characterize SJP’s Instagram post as anti-Semitic, divisive, deliberately ill-timed (they argued that it overlapped with Holocaust Remembrance Day) and, by coercing students not to take classes about Israel or those taught by Israelis, a violation the University’s free speech policy. Although I would have written a different letter (the “timing” issue isn’t that relevant, and we don’t know if SJP did that deliberately), I see the Instagram post as pretty odious and anti-Semitic (or “anti-Zionist” as SJP would say).

You can also see student’s letter objecting to the call for boycott by clicking on the screensho below. It takes you to the letter on the Maroon‘s website. That’s very odd, for the pro-SJP op-ed editors who published it said that they removed the letter on the grounds of factual inaccuracy.  (See below.) They apparently didn’t! (This is why I reprint that letter below the fold.)

After this letter appeared, SJP was furious (see Cravatt’s article below) and demanded that the Maroon take down Dias’s and ZeBrack’s letter be taken down–and other things as well. This is described in Cravatt’s description of the affair from the Jewish News Syndicate (click on screenshot below)

Cravatts reports this:

SJP then demanded of the Maroon’s editors, “in response to these offenses,” the “immediate deletion of the article,” a “public apology issued by the Maroon to SJP UChicago and to Palestinian students for the dissemination of misinformation and the disregard of journalistic integrity and factual reporting,” and, most ominously, “a public recommitment to ensuring that all columns and articles abide by expected standards of accuracy and truth, particularly those written by Zionist authors or on behalf of Zionist organizations.”

Astoundingly, in response to SJP’s absurd demands, two feckless editors—Kelly Hui and Elizabeth Winkler—not only deleted the offending op-ed but published a craven, apologetic editorial of their own. In it, they dissected the op-ed for its perceived factual inaccuracies and justified their decision by claiming that it was the op-ed written by the pro-Israel supporters that could be the source of campus enmity, not the original action of SJP in calling for a boycott of courses about Israel.

Cravatts is not exaggerating here. The craven, apologetic editorial from the op-ed editors is at the screenshot below (click on it). The two editors say they actually removed the letter by Dias and ZeBrack, but it’s still online, so I’m puzzled. But they did cave to all of SJP’s demands:

Let me give a few quotes from this ridiculous “apology”, a disgusting piece of self-abasement (and denigration of Israel) fully worthy of China’s Cultural Revolution:

As Viewpoints editors and members of the UChicago community, we stand against hate and strive to create a productive platform for opinions. On February 17, 2022, we failed in this mission. We made the choice to publish an op-ed that contained factual inaccuracies. These factual inaccuracies, contrary to Viewpoints’s goals, flattened dialogue and perpetuated hate toward UChicago’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP UChicago), Palestinian students, and those on campus who support the Palestinian liberation struggle. We failed as Viewpoints editors and as members of the UChicago community when we published this article, which was not fact-checked as thoroughly as it should have been. We deeply regret this oversight and the harm that our decision inflicted. We apologize to every member in SJP UChicago and all others who were affected by this decision, and we vow to take concrete steps, which we enumerate in this letter, to prevent this from happening again.

After further reflection on what we believe the role of opinion journalism should be, we have taken this op-ed down. We do not take this action to hide our mistakes but rather to take responsibility for the damage the op-ed has done and to prevent further harm. Below this apology, we include corrections to the factual inaccuracies in the op-ed and the text of the op-ed itself as context for those corrections and as documentation of our errors and our commitment to redress them.

The “factual inaccuracies” are risible (including the “timing issue”, which is irrelevant), and at any rate factual inaccuracies have never before stopped the Maroon from publishing letters before. What Hui and Winkler are doing are truckling to the SJP, denigrating Israel, promoting Palestine as a victim of Israeli aggression, and getting rid of contrary opinions by (suposedly) deleting the offending letter. Of course the factual inaccuracies promulgated by the SJP (e.g., the “apartheid state” myth) are ignored.

What’s really funny is that Hui and Winkler actually say they’re supporting the U of C’s free-speech policy by taking down the letter:

Viewpoints is a space that intends to facilitate free speech on campus and in the surrounding communities, and a large part of that facilitation is diligent fact-checking. It is our editorial responsibility to ensure that our writers’ words are grounded in facts, and by choosing to publish this op-ed, we did not fulfill this responsibility. As a result of this failure, the factual inaccuracies in this op-ed were used to delegitimize and undermine SJP UChicago’s campaign and the larger movement on campus and beyond for Palestinian liberation and self-determination.

That’s about as disingenuoous as you can get.

But bit of rhetoric really baffles me as they purport to support free speech (my bolding):

As Viewpoints editors, we seek to break the pattern of anti-Palestinian rhetoric in The Maroon.  As student journalists, we are learning from our mistakes and committed to growing into more thoughtful and ethical writers and editors. In working toward this goal, we acknowledge the same damaging pattern within many journalistic institutions, particularly in mainstream news outlets, and we seek to combat this within our own newspaper. We must include conversations about power and safety in our decisions about how we should platform the voices in our community, and we must reexamine the idea of journalistic objectivity. As Viewpoints editors, we believe that our commitments to journalistic integrity and The Maroon’s mission require us to take political and cultural contexts into account in our coverage. We are committed to free speech and to considering opinions submitted from all sides of a story—free speech cannot be opposed to critical thought and nuance. We must acknowledge the potential for our coverage to perpetuate imbalances of power and to threaten the safety of members of our community. We want Viewpoints to be a space in which students and community members can express their opinions freely, without creating an environment in which other students are no longer safe to share their opinions and realities.

Yet they’ve just violated their pledge, presumably because the innocuous objections of Dias and ZeBrack, who stand AGAINST hate, are considered as promoting hate.  This next paragraph is bizarre:

In working to achieve this goal of inclusion and productive discourse in Viewpoints, we must acknowledge that our decision to remove the op-ed may affect Jewish students on campus. The factual inaccuracies in the op-ed were used to support Zionist and racist sentiments that relied on oversimplified narratives, setting Jewish people and Palestinian people at odds and presenting both communities as generalized monoliths without any acknowledgement of the multifaceted identities we know to exist in these communities. Given this narrative, we understand that removing the op-ed from the website could be seen as stifling Jewish voices, but that would go against our values of inclusion and free speech and contribute to the antisemitism that is already all too present in the lives of our Jewish peers. We want to emphasize that we are committed to providing a welcoming platform for dialogue that is founded on facts. We have removed the op-ed in accordance with the values we described above and because of the factual inaccuracies we detail below.

Short take: “we favor free speech unless we find any inaccuracies in it. And we deplore hate (see below), except when that hate is directed by SJP against Israel and classes about Israel. If there are violations, we simply censor the offending speech and grovel for harming the feelings of SJP members.”

Yes, free speech is fine so long as it doesn’t cause harm, as Hui and Winkler note below:

Additionally, we recognize that The Maroon as an institution has a history of publishing and contributing to anti-Palestinian sentiments on campus and beyond, and SJP UChicago has compiled and protested articles they see as fitting this pattern. Within this history, Viewpoints has particularly failed in seeking out and representing the voices of Palestinian students. Although we cannot undo these harms, especially the role of Viewpoints in contributing to said dangerous rhetoric, we are committed to doing better through a larger and ongoing reevaluation of our editing processes for opinion pieces.

. . . We stand against hate in all forms. We condemn the pitting of Jewish and Palestinian students against one another, and we deeply regret the extent to which the op-ed’s factual inaccuracies—which we should not have published—perpetuated such a harmful dynamic. We support both Palestinian and Jewish communities and condemn anti-Palestinian and antisemitic rhetoric on campus and beyond.

Did it even cross their minds that the SJP’s post was really the vehicle of hatred, harm, and rhetoric, implicitly anti-Semitic and explicitly divisive? Nope, they forgot about that in their desire to bend their knees to SJP. And they don’t stand against “hate in all forms”; that is an arrant lie. For they don’t say a word about the hatred and inaccuracies promulgated by Students for Justice in Palestine.

I don’t know what world Hui and Winkler live in, but it’s a world in which only beleaguered Jews can create “hate” by objecting to anti-Semitism. The hatred of pro-Palestinians for Israel is ignored, and the anti-Semitism itself, characteristic of SJP, is perfectly fine. It’s clear that these op-ed editors are deeply biased—so biased that it’s wrecked their usefulness as editors. Indeed, the main editor of the newspaper has sanctioned them, adding this to the beginning of their apology:

Note from Gage Gramlick (editor-in-chief) and Yiwen Lu (managing editor): Viewpoints maintains partial editorial independence from The Maroon. This means that the following apology does not constitute an institutional perspective and represents only the views of the current Viewpoints Head Editors. TheMaroon is committed to serving our community in its entirety: We condemn hate of all kinds, and we are committed as individuals and as an institution to engaging meaningfully and completely with the subjects of our coverage and all community voices. We hope that this apology generates further conversation, and we strongly encourage readers to respond. Additionally, as per Viewpoints policy, the writers of this apology will be barred from editing any submissions pertaining to the removal of the op-ed, the apology itself, or Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Chicago.

Of course Gramlick had to give the obligatory “we condemn hate” statement, but the operant result is that Hui and Winkler can no longer deal with articles about the SJP or with any further letters about the group’s behavior.

The upshot: everybody had a right to say what they said; it’s free speech, Jake! But Hui and Winkler behaved unprofessionally in their duties as editors, and I think their punishment was both justified and fair. There are no new letters to the editor so far, but there are eight comments after the “we were bad editors” apology, and all eight are critical.

I should add this: over the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve see anti-Semitism growing at the University of Chicago, just as it’s growing in many colleges and, indeed, widely in America. I don’t ask the University of Chicago to condemn it, for that is taking a political/ideological stand that may violate our Kalven principles. And I have to add that it may be that the anti-Semites and Israel haters have simply become more vocal. But what I do know is that I haven’t seen Jewish students attack Palestine or give demonstrations against it, while the reverse is not the case. The hatred goes largely one way, and Hui and Winkler have got the direction wrong.

Click “read more” to see Dias’s and ZeBrack’s letter:

By Melody Dias and Benjamin ZeBrack

After sunset on January 26, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) UChicago released a post on Instagram telling students to “Stop Taking Sh*tty Zionist Classes.” SJP has a continued pattern of anti-Semitism that must be condemned by students and the University alike.

The Jewish people use a lunar calendar, where each day begins on the sunset the day before, which meant that the posting of the slides overlapped with Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27. We believe that this was done to isolate and alienate the Jewish population at UChicago and to interfere with a day of mourning. The following day, SJP posted a story in response to receiving backlash about posting on Holocaust Remembrance Day, showing that they in fact posted the day before, not the day of. But posting after sunset was itself an affront—it distracted from Holocaust Remembrance Day, especially as the post circulated and was promoted on the day of mourning itself.

In the post, SJP sought to intimidate UChicago students and coerce them into dropping all classes related to Israel or taught by an Israeli professor, deeming them Zionist classes. The post states: “Support the Palestinian movement for liberation by boycotting classes on Israel or those taught by Israeli fellows. By attending these classes, you are participating in a propaganda campaign that creates complicity in the continuation of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.” The targeting of classes taught specifically by Israeli fellows is xenophobic as Israelis cannot change their nationality, and this post demonizes that nationality by declaring all courses taught by someone affiliated with the nation as propaganda. Further, all courses listed are explicitly within the University’s Jewish Studies center. This furthers the trope that Jewish courses and professors work to contribute to propaganda for Israel, which is a blatantly false narrative.

UChicago prides itself on its free speech policy, encouraging students to broaden their education and ask tough questions in classes. Instead, this SJP post actively encourages students to drop such classes, hence discouraging educational freedom. This also violates the University’s discrimination and harassment policies, as the Israeli faculty are directly discriminated against. As such, the Jewish student community is indirectly discriminated against. Further, the harassment policy states that any organization that utilizes social media and other tactics—such as handing out flyers to intimidate students—in order to interfere with the education of students is harassment.

SJP members later approached students in the quad about banning the classes in the post, reiterating the misinformation and attempting to demonize students in those classes.

After several days, SJP edited their post’s caption. In this, they defined “Jewish national identity” for the Jewish community. In their explanation of the use of Jewish national identity, they wrote, “A more unambiguous term may have been ‘Zionist National Identity’—‘[I]sraeli nationalist identity’ would have been incomplete.” This statement confirms that the post was indeed targeting Jewish students. There was no apology or any other statements regarding the comments or complaints about the post, meaning that SJP saw nothing else wrong with what they posted.

Although this incident has caught the attention of international organizations such as Jewish on Campus (JOC), neither the University nor the student government has responded.

Melody Dias is a first-year in the College and the JOC representative on campus. Benjamin ZeBrack is a first-year in the College.


8 thoughts on “Chicago Maroon op-ed editors abase themselves, apologize for posting a letter criticizing anti-Semitism

  1. Surely the reason the “offending” op-ed is still up, despite the pledge by editors Hui and Winkler to take it down, is that they are not the editor-in-chief or managing editor– Gramlick and Lu are, and they did not want it taken down. So censure for Hui and Winkler, but kudos for Gramlick and Lu and, I would have to say, the Maroon as a whole, since the top editors did the right thing.

    BTW, whenever I read or hear the “Maroon”, I can’t help but think of Bugs Bunny’s frequent exclamation, “What a maroon!”, an obvious malapropism for moron!


  2. … We deeply regret this oversight and the harm that our decision inflicted. We apologize to every member in SJP UChicago and all others who were affected by this decision, and we vow to take concrete steps, which we enumerate in this letter, to prevent this from happening again.

    Although the language of this Abject Apology reminds me of the public confessions under Mao, I can’t help but wonder if maybe I’m off by a generation or so. Was there at some point in the more recent past a popular video or book or series of lessons presented in elementary schools on how to behave if you are caught bullying other kids? Laughing at their clothes, snitching their cookie, taking their place at the swing set? Apologize; say what you did: apologize; say why it was wrong; apologize; say what you will do in the future to prevent it. And expect that from others.

    Something like this in a student newspaper which wasn’t referring to an actual crime would have been generally ridiculed when I was a college student back in the Dark Ages. But apparently there’s some common cultural template students share today which makes this kind of groveling crawl past the humor center.

  3. Given this narrative, we understand that removing the op-ed from the website could be seen as stifling Jewish voices, but that would go against our values of inclusion and free speech and contribute to the antisemitism that is already all too present in the lives of our Jewish peers.

    So where’s their apology for this? Isn’t it the exact same “offense” they’re apologizing for in the first place, just against a different group of students?

  4. > Laughing at their clothes, snitching their cookie, taking their place at the swing set? Apologize; say what you did: apologize; say why it was wrong; apologize; say what you will do in the future to prevent it. And . . . .

    I was expecting the last bit to go: “And then make sure there’s no teacher with a clear view next time.” Cos the only thing worse than bullies is snitches, see?

    But honestly, this apology for doing something that was the right thing to do in the first place is beyond disgusting.

  5. I wonder about Hui and Winkler, did they learn anything in this encounter?
    That is, they were used and left high and dry. As our host points out but in my words, they made complete dickheads of themselves by grovelling and for no reason… they could have simply defended free speech and (as they are sensitive souls) hid behind that.

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