Jewish community decries Chronicle

Approximately 45 students attended an emergency closed-door town hall meeting Tuesday night at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life to discuss their concerns about The Chronicle.

Approximately 45 students attended an emergency closed-door town hall meeting Tuesday night at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life to discuss their concerns about The Chronicle.

Although reporters were not allowed at the meeting, senior Rachael Solomon, FCJL student president, said “The Jews,” a column by senior Philip Kurian that ran on The Chronicle’s editorial pages Monday, was a major focus of the discussion. Other topics involved The Chronicle’s news coverage of last weekend’s Palestine Solidarity Movement conference and concurrent FCJL events, The Chronicle’s depiction of Jewish people this semester and potential responses to the newspaper that the Jewish community should make.

“I think it was a mistake on the part of the editors not to shape the [Kurian column] in a way that was more sensitive to the students on campus,” Solomon said after the meeting. “We are some of the most cautious people to use the word ‘anti-Semitism,’ but when we see it, it is our duty to call it out. Philip Kurian’s words were replete with anti-Semitic rhetoric. I think the editors have to recognize that what is printed in The Chronicle after they have reviewed it reflects on them.”

Solomon has already alerted President Richard Brodhead of the community’s grievances in a private letter and plans to meet with him Wednesday to personally explain the community’s concerns. Solomon said she hopes to outline FCJL’s public response by the end of the week.

The FCJL meeting provided students a private means through which to participate in fleshing out the set of public steps the Jewish community will soon take.

“Tonight is to just have an opportunity, internally, for the Jewish students at Duke to discuss if and how they want to respond [to recent coverage by The Chronicle],” Jonathan Gerstl, executive director of Jewish life, said before the meeting. “We’re looking to listen to what members of the Jewish community have to say. There has been a lot of controversy, anger and emotional responses. At this point, it is a bit premature to discuss their thoughts with The Chronicle.”

Solomon noted that as the leading representative for Jewish students at Duke it was her responsibility to provide upset students with an environment where they could feel comfortable talking. “I really believe that the students should be able to express themselves freely tonight, and I don’t think having a reporter here is conducive to that,” she said.

Although FCJL and The Chronicle have informally discussed the column published Monday, there has been no official response from either side. Various members of the community, including Solomon, have called for the resignation of The Chronicle’s editor and senior staff.

The last-minute decision Monday afternoon to hold the town hall meeting stemmed from FCJL’s desire to provide a unified response to The Chronicle. An e-mail was sent to the FCJL listserv just before 5:30 p.m. Monday announcing the 7:30 p.m. meeting.

“The e-mail was first sent to a few people, and then we decided that it wasn’t enough,” Solomon said. “We sent [the e-mail] out very last-minute, and even then, we had a lot of students that were very clear that they were upset about [The Chronicle] and that they wanted to see something change.”

Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs and the administrator to whom FCJL directly reports, was invited to the meeting but was unable to attend due to conflicting time commitments. Moneta told The Chronicle late Tuesday that he recognized the importance of affirming the Jewish community of students at Duke.

“I fully understand the pain that the students are feeling and the basis for that pain as expressed by a number of Chronicle commentaries and editorials. I’m fully supportive for the students need for affirmation and support from the University,” Moneta said. “The students need a consistent message from the University that acknowledges that they are an important part of the community. I think The Chronicle has every right to print what it chooses and an equal responsibility to ensure that what they report is balanced.”

Karen Hauptman, editor of The Chronicle and an active member of the Jewish community who served as social vice president of the FCJL student board in 2003-04, said she believes The Chronicle has provided fair and balanced overall news coverage this year and welcomes the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with readers’ concerns.

“The Chronicle’s job is to be that forum for debate, and when opinion is expressed that others consider offensive or wrong, we encourage members of the community to tell us because we want to provide all of those points of view to the community,” Hauptman said, noting that news content is separate from editorial content and that the content of one section does not dictate decisions about the other.

In the letter Solomon drafted with other concerned students that was sent to Brodhead Monday afternoon, she voiced concern that The Chronicle was supporting an inhospitable and uncomfortable atmosphere in which the Jewish community may no longer feel welcome and safe. “I simply think that there is a slippery slope and that people will start believing the anti-Semitic rhetoric [in Kurian’s column] and create an environment that makes intimidation more likely,” Solomon said.

Hauptman said The Chronicle recognizes that Kurian’s column has contributed to an unsafe feeling and uncomfortable environment, but does not believe it has placed its readers in harm’s way.

“Do I think we created [this environment]? No. Do I think we have published a point of view that has contributed to such a feeling? Yes. Do I think we were wrong in publishing those statements? No,” Hauptman said, adding that if a columnist had hypothetically written a similar column titled “The Blacks” and if the columnist backed up his or her arguments, The Chronicle would most likely have printed it.

Solomon’s letter to the president also listed several demands, one of which asked Brodhead to publicly differentiate between free speech and speech that is unacceptable on a university campus. Solomon, however, noted that she will not follow up on this demand when she meets with Brodhead Wednesday. “When we wrote that, we were upset, and tomorrow we’re not going to ask him to do that,” she said.

Students at the meeting also said they understood that it is not a university’s place to censor a newspaper’s right to free speech.

“You can’t say, ‘President Brodhead: Make them stop,’” junior David Blumenthal said. “It’s the pitfalls of having an independent student-run newspaper: There’s no university oversight to control journalistic integrity—not that a university should.”

Brodhead wrote a letter to the editor Tuesday night, outlining his initial response to FCJL’s accusations. It appears on page 18 in today’s issue of The Chronicle.  (Click here to view)


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