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College Paper Under Fire for Commentary : Journalism: Author intended article on Israeli missiles to be anti-nuclear, but critics read it as anti-Semitic.

December 13, 1989|JAMES M. GOMEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO — An article and political cartoon attacking Israel in the Saddleback College newspaper last week has drawn harsh criticism from administrators, teachers and students, who charged that the opinion pieces were anti-Semitic.

The strongly worded article and accompanying cartoon, written and drawn by journalism student Michael S. Boren, criticized Israel for stockpiling nuclear weapons. The headline above the article states: "Israel enters nuclear arms race."

The cartoon depicts a Hanukkah menorah that is tipped by singing nuclear warheads instead of candles. On each warhead is a Star of David. The warheads are drawn with smiles, singing: "We Wish You a Happy Holocaust."

Although Boren claims the commentary, which appeared in the Dec. 7 issue of the Lariat, was meant to draw attention to the dangers of nuclear warfare, the piece was seen as hateful by Jewish students and employees and a case of extremely poor judgment by administration officials.

"Using a Hanukkah menorah as a rocket launching pad is sacrilegious," said Frieda Gelber, a Jewish student and employee at the 23,000-student two-year college. "I was very angry when I saw it."

While Gelber and other Jewish students said that they have written to Gov. George Deukmejian, local rabbis and Jewish community leaders in Los Angeles and Orange counties, top college administrators were requesting that the newspaper print a retraction and an apology.

They said that the article, although protected by the First Amendment as the opinion of the writer, overstepped the bounds of responsible journalism.

"The first time I saw that, I was shocked and appalled," Saddleback College President Constance M. Carroll said on Tuesday. "I recognize as a historian that the Holocaust is unprecedented in its tragedy. And the use of the religious symbolism was inexcusable."

Left Up to Editors

Carol Ziehm, faculty adviser to the weekly student publication, said that she met with the student staff members on Tuesday and discussed Carroll's request.

Her meeting with the students followed meetings with Carroll, who urged that the article be recanted.

But, Ziehm said, it would be up to the students to decide if they will print a retraction when the next edition is published on Thursday.

"What we are talking about here is something precious. That is freedom of speech," Ziehm said. "It is very difficult to work within that realm without some strong reaction."

Ziehm said that she read the article and saw the cartoon before it was published, but did not advise student staff members to withhold its publication.

"I was fairly certain that it was the type of strong statement that would evoke some response," Ziehm said. "But that is something we encourage in our opinion columns."

She said that although the newspaper has received only three letters to the editor about the commentary so far, she has gotten "considerably more phone calls." She said that she is encouraging callers to write rebuttals to the editor, Steve Sakach.

'We Regret the Insult'

Richard J. Sneed, chancellor of the Saddleback Community College District, said that he and other college administrators have received an onslaught of calls from people condemning the article and cartoon.

"We regret the insult to the community," Sneed said. "This was insensitive and arrogant and does not reflect good journalism."

Boren's article, which makes numerous references to the ongoing conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, begins with a statement that "the only thing holy about a holy war is that holes get shot in people."

"After years of engaging in conventional warfare with the Palestinians, Israel finally has launched itself into the nuclear age by announcing that it is now the proud owner of nuclear weapons."

Boren goes on to write that "since the occupation of Palestine . . . the Israelis have displayed . . . that they will resort to any means to protect their religious claim on the land."

The short article ends with: "The Israelis claim that they have a divine right to Palestine. If they are indeed God's chosen people, though, it would seem that God might have made a better choice."

Boren defends the article, and says that his intention to write about his anti-nuclear views was misunderstood.

"It was totally taken the wrong way," he said.

Because of that, Boren said, he does not intend to write a retraction or an apology. He said, however, that he will write a second opinion piece that outlines his anti-nuclear views more clearly.

"I was just trying to point out the dangers of nuclear weapons," Boren said. "I was more concerned about the politics. That was mainly the gist of it."

Boren said that he is not anti-Semitic. "My girlfriend is Jewish," he said. "Her grandfather was in a concentration camp."

He conceded, however that his article's final paragraph could have been omitted. "This proves to me that there are boundaries that you can't cross," he said.

But some Jewish students called for Boren to give up his position as the Lariat's art editor.

"I respect freedom of speech, but this went too far," said student Sean Cook, who said that he and his rabbi will also deliver letters to the newspaper within the week.

"You have to think about what you are doing, especially in this (college) community, where there is so much diversity.

"Not only Jews, but every race needs to be aware of what people are writing in the paper," said Cook, a 19-year-old freshman. "It's not really right for any ethnic or religious group to be abused."

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