Letter to the Editor: The problem with coverage of Israel on campus

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Views expressed in opinion columns and letters-to-the-editor are the author’s own.

The Diamondback has had some seriously problematic coverage of Israel-related affairs on campus lately and declined to print our opinion piece calling them out, saying “the argument lacks support.” One of the biggest problems was the article, ‘UMD students protest annual Israel Fest through pouring rain.’ To provide context, it mentioned the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) bill that the Student Government Association shot down on April 24, which specifically targets Israel—or “Palestine,” as the bill referred to the country, not even recognizing Israel’s existence. Not only did the story not mention why critics oppose the bill, but it also only quoted a student who supported it, giving a completely biased picture.

The article also says, “The protest took place in front of a blockade painted with the words ‘Israeli Apartheid Wall.’ It was meant to mimic the wall that separates Israel from Palestine…” but neglected to mention any facts about what the wall actually is, why it was erected or what constitutes “Palestine.”

According to the Arizona Central, “This fence was built in response to the 132 Palestinian suicide bombings between 2000 and 2004, which killed 502 Israelis and wounded thousands more.” In 2002, Palestinian terrorists murdered 452 Israelis. In 2009, after the wall was built, terrorists killed just 15.

Almost any student-run event on campus with 1000-plus people in attendance would generally warrant its own article in The Diamondback. Not Israel Fest. The final count of attendees hasn’t yet been processed, but so far, at least 1000 attendees have been confirmed and in the past, the event has seen over 3,000 attendees in a single year. The only article released this year was the one cited above that mentions Israel Fest solely to give context to the protest, to which only about 40 people showed up. It did not mention that the Jewish Student Union, who hosted the event, is mandated to be apolitical by its bylaws and is solely a cultural organization.

A reporter texted Mia to verify numbers during the process of writing.

“Is it accurate to say it was hundreds?” the reporter asked.

“Probably closer to over a thousand, maybe more!!” Mia replied.

“Gotcha, we’ll probably stick to hundreds just to be on the safe side,” the reporter replied.

No statistics on Israel Fest attendance this year were ever published, seriously downplaying its numbers, to which the 40 in attendance at the protest pales in comparison. From Naomi’s experience as a general assignment reporter, staff writer, senior staff writer and assistant news editor over more than five semesters, reporters were generally allowed to take whatever number the event coordinators estimated, unless it seemed very unreasonable. If a million people had shown up, “hundreds” technically still would have been accurate, albeit misleading. Even lowballing would have been better than completely leaving out anything to help readers get any sort of picture of attendance.

Yes, 40 students protested Israel. But just by reading Diamondback coverage, you would never know that at least a thousand more celebrated its founding that day.

Naomi Grant and Mia Kaufman

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