Editor receives death threats after California college paper publishes anti-Israel commentary

A commentary piece that argued “Israelis the largest and most dangerous terrorist organization” polarized students,faculty and community members at Santa Rosa Junior College over the right of thestudent newspaper to publish potentially inflammatory work – and threatenedphysical harm for the student editor who OK’d its publication.

The piecetitled “Is Anti-Semitism Ever The Result Of Jewish Behavior?” was published inthe Oak Leaf on March 18, but strong reaction to it has enveloped thecampus for nearly two months, culminating in an academic senate resolution thatpassed in early May. The senate, which oversees the college’s curriculum,requested that the communication studies department review how its facultyteaches journalism ethics, said senate President Greg Granderson.

Thosewho oppose the paper’s decision, including Jewish faculty members, religiousorganizations and college President Robert Agrella, say the newspaper shouldnever have published the commentary piece because it constituted hatespeech.

President Agrella said McGuire’s commentary was terrible and thatit should never have been printed.

“Do they have a right to print it? Ofcourse,” he said. “I think you make decisions on what is going to be printedbased on how it is going to affect either individuals or groups.”

Somefaculty also requested that Oak Leaf editor Kristinae Toomians and hernewspaper adviser, adjunct professor Rich Mellott, resign from their posts andthat prior review of the newspaper’s editorial content beimplemented.

The newspaper staff and journalism faculty argue thatcollege newspapers are protected under the First Amendment to publish material,such as the commentary piece, when it is not deemed libelous or does not inciteviolence.

The opinion piece written by Santa Rosa student Kevin McGuirepartially blamed the United States for providing foreign aid to Israel, for whathe called, “the Zionist Jews’ … genocidal war against the Arab world.” McGuirequoted Osama bin Laden, provided statistics of Palestinian deaths attributed toIsraeli military operations and espoused many arguments made by whitesupremacists. He wrote that “on September 11, 2001 our nation was targeted byArab terrorists not because they ‘hate our freedoms’ but because we aresupplying the bullets that kill their children.”

Toomians, who made thedecision to run McGuire’s piece, was offered a police escort after she wasmailed four death threats in April and a poster of a swastika with the words,”Nazi supporter,” was left on her car. The death threats were only signed theHate Task Force; however, she fears someone sent them on campus. She turned downthe police escort, but student journalists remain locked out of the officefor The Oak Leaf without faculty supervision. Jewish faculty members andstudents also received anti-Semitic e-mails and letters after the Aryan Nationposted the article on its Web site.

For the time being, tensions at thecampus have subsided as death threats have stopped and strong criticism of thenewspaper has been curtailed.

But Mellott and Toomians said they wonderwhat the ultimate shakedown from the commentary will be as the communicationstudies department has until next fall to evaluate its curriculum. They worrythat Mellott, a non-tenured professor, could be let go and more pressure couldbe placed on student editors not to print articles on controversialtopics.

Toomians said she had hoped the article, which appeared in theop-ed section of the paper under the heading “opposing views,” would arousediscussion on campus but said she did not expect such a backlash.

“As avoice for students, I think it is important to cover a wide range of opinions,”she said. “The reason why I published the thing in the first place is I thoughtit would promote a serious discussion. I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody, butobviously I did.”

But she said this controversy has actually re-awakenedher love of journalism, rather than stifled it.

“I think I will be morethoughtful when putting together the newspaper,” she said. “One thing I think Ihave also learned is it is just remarkable how people try to take away yourfreedom of speech. I didn’t realize how easy it could be.”