To the editors.
I read Ms. Stoll's report on the April 21st demonstration at the University of Illinois at Chicago ["Demonstration," May 6] with a growing sense of dismay. As a person who was involved in the planning of the Israel Independence Day program that was the target of the protest, I found her presentation incomplete, inaccurate, and tendentious.
Ms. Stoll is entitled to her bias. She is quite open about it, but candor in that regard cannot legitimate the incomplete picture she then presents to the reader. Ms. Stoll is quick to surmise what people were thinking from what they said and how they appeared, but since she apparently made little or no effort to ask them, we have only her conjectures. Ms. Stoll works at UIC, so it is not as if she had no opportunity to do so.
A few items she missed: There were anti-Israel and explicit anti-Semitic slogans and materials openly displayed and distributed on campus on the day of the protest and in the days preceding it. Ms. Stoll might have seen the front page photograph of the protest printed in the Illini on the following Monday. It shows a large banner with the words "40 Years of Nazism" and if you look carefully, you can see part of a Star of David being equated to a Nazi swastika.
She might have seen or found out about the flier distributed throughout the Lecture Center (including on all the seats of the room in which the program was to take place) that morning and posted around campus beforehand. It reads in part: "A Celebration of Israel's 40th Illegitimate Anniversary . . . Featuring many baby-killers, rapists, and 'reformed' terrorists. Israeli Music (songs to kill by). . . . Tell the world that 'We learned our lesson from the Nazis well, We kill two children each day and will join the Nazis in HELL.'"
She might have seen the very inflammatory propaganda distributed by "Marxist-Leninist Workers Organization" on campus prior to our event. It reads in part: "By honoring and praising the Israeli state, Hillel is dancing on the graves of the Palestinian people and building support for fascist atrocities being carried out everyday by the Israeli army. . . . Progressive students and faculty must not let Hillel's celebration of racism and fascism go unopposed. The UIC administration is working hard to insure the success of Hillel's fascist celebration. More than 150 uniformed and undercover police will be brought onto campus to provide 'security' for Hillel and to intimidate anti-zionists protestors. . . . We say that even allowing Hillel to celebrate racism and fascism, much less providing it with police protection, is an affront to every decent human value."
I don't condone the crude and racist slogans that spontaneous counterdemonstrators yelled at the pro-Palestinian protestors. Nonetheless, it would have been more accurate for Ms. Stoll to report, as well, how inflammatory were some of the slogans and materials attacking Israel.
Why did the University have so much security around the Israel Independence Day program? Why was identification required for admission to the program? Ms. Stoll might have called the campus police chief or the Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs (or talked to them that afternoon at the demonstration). They might have provided her with a little history of the demonstrations occurring during previous Israel Independence Day programs and past incidents of disruption.
Ms. Stoll's inferences about the meaning of Eretz Yisroel are misleading. Many Jews and many Zionists--here and in Israel--reject emphatically any equating of Eretz Yisroel with the "Greater Israel." Peter Yarrow is not the only dove in the Jewish community. What he did took some courage and presence of mind; yet it is not as if members of our audience were likely to drown him out if he offered views different from theirs. I think he had a very respectful hearing and many applauded vigorously when he concluded his performance. I don't know what percentage supported his viewpoint--I didn't take a poll.
Even Ms. Stoll's parenthetical remarks about her student Eve are pejorative toward Israel. Ms. Stoll suggests that somehow, Hebrew University accepted a student concerned about justice, fairness, and human rights, "qualities that are in short supply today in Israel." Ms. Stoll might be interested to know that some of the faculty at Hebrew University have been in the forefront of efforts to achieve a peaceful solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. There are many peace activists in Israel who have been openly critical of the recent actions of the Israeli government; so have editorials in some of the Israeli newspapers (the Jerusalem Post is printed in English). Can't one support a cause without suggesting that it has a monopoly of all that is good, just, beautiful, etc.?
Ms. Stoll's cinema verite journalism has all the weaknesses of that genre. We--the audience--think we are being given an eyewitness account; yet the eyes are very selective and the knowledge that organizes the "seeing" may be quite limited. I'm not sure that Ms. Stoll's position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict would be changed by knowing more, but perhaps she would be a better reporter. If entertaining reading is all the Reader is seeking to purvey, this kind of story might be acceptable, but as the only "full" report many Chicagoans will read of the event, it is terribly lacking.
Patricia Stoll replies:
I know about the anti-Zionist flier that was distributed on campus. It was issued anonymously. The Palestinian students said they were not responsible for it, and I believe them. Their fliers are not like this one, and they are always signed. Maybe the fliers were prepared by a few renegade Arab students. Or maybe by an anti-Semitic group. Perhaps even by some Zionists trying to make the Palestinians look bad. Who knows? I did not want to dignify this hateful, anonymous broadside with publicity. Apparently you do.