The first national conference of the BDS movement, going on now at the University of Pennsylvania, has certainly riled up people on all sides of this controversial topic, as our Naomi Zeveloff reports here.
Let’s put aside for a moment whether this movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel is about undoing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory or eliminating Israel as a Jewish state. (I fear the latter). But one thing ought to be clear: If our adherence to the principle of free speech means that Penn was right to allow the conference to take place — and I think the university was right — then the conference organizers ought to treat all members of the media equally.
It’s not for PennBDS, or any other self-appointed arbiter, to decide who gets to cover a newsworthy event. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to the Jewish Exponent, the newspaper covering the Jewish community in the Philadelphia area.
The Exponent’s Bryan Schwartzman published a story that the BDS conference organizers evidently didn’t like, complaining of bias and inaccuracy. So even though Schwartzman was registered for the conference, he was told he couldn’t attend anything but the public events, said Lisa Hostein, the Exponent’s editor.
Hostein said that she was told she could send another reporter to the sessions on the Penn campus, but she only has two reporters on her staff, and the second one was unavailable. Besides, that’s not the point. She has to have the editorial discretion to decide how to cover an event, and by whom. Otherwise, journalistic independence is surrendered to someone else’s agenda.
Clearly, by holding this conference in such a prominent and heaviily-Jewish campus, the BDS movement is trying to take a step toward legitimacy. In that case, it ought to uphold for others the very freedom that allows it to exist.
Jane Eisner, a pioneer in journalism, is writer-at-large at the Forward and the 2019 Koeppel Fellow in Journalism at Wesleyan University. For more than a decade, she was editor-in-chief of the Forward, the first woman to hold the position at the influential Jewish national news organization. Under her leadership, the Forward’s digital readership grew significantly, and won numerous regional and national awards for its original journalism, in print and online.