On Feb. 25, the Daily Bruin published an op-ed entitled “Divestment promotes anti-Israeli movement,” written by Avinoam Baral, Tammy Rubin and Miriam Eshaghian. Although I personally do not agree with the political viewpoints endorsed by the authors, I find it more problematic that the three are participants in the Hasbara Fellowships program, and that the Daily Bruin failed to publicly disclose this information to its readership.
Co-sponsored by the state of Israel, Hasbara Fellowships are awarded biannually to students on college campuses nationwide, with the stated goal of “empower[ing] a community of pro-Israel university students to have strategic impact for Israel on their campuses.”
Since the program’s initiation in 2001, thousands of Hasbara Fellows have been flown to Israel, where they undergo “intensive Israel activism education,” and subsequently “return to their campuses as strategic thinkers, organizational leaders and innovative advocates, dedicated to the positive portrayal of Israel on campus.” Importantly, the program costs include a $250 refundable deposit, which is returned to the participant only “after two semesters of dedicated Israel activism on campus as a Hasbara Fellow.”
Perhaps the most robust section of the Hasbara website is its “Resources” tab, which includes links to talking points, posters and programming ideas, for intended use by pro-Israel college students. Educational materials include Orientalist and Islamophobic videos, such as one that asks, “What if Arab and Muslim countries became bastions for equal rights and basic liberties, instead of barriers to human development and progress?”
Clearly, the aim of these media is not to educate, but rather, to disseminate anti-Arab and anti-Muslim literature for the broader goals of whitewashing the illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Such racist and crooked propaganda has already taken root across the UCLA campus, manifesting itself in the deplorable statements that circulated at the Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting on Feb. 25, in which Arab and Muslim communities were targeted through language frighteningly similar to that deployed by the Hasbara website.
While Baral, Rubin and Eshaghian most certainly have their rights to engage with the Hasbara Fellowships program, the Daily Bruin is at fault here for failing to make visible the authors’ shared affiliation. Given that Hasbara candidly intends to make its fellows the spokespeople of Israel on U.S. college campuses, UCLA students reading this article should have been provided a caveat beforehand. The linkage between op-eds such as “Divestment promotes anti-Israeli movement” and Israeli state-sponsored propaganda vehicles such as Hasbara is certain. That Hasbara’s rhetoric of state security, “peace” negotiations and terrorism has become the proverbial smokescreen through which state-sanctioned human rights violations – and our complicity with them through UC corporate investments – are repeatedly condoned on college campuses such as UCLA’s is another story.
The production, publication and dispersal of knowledge has never been and never will be an innocent enterprise. Thus, while the three authors share the right to articulate their personal viewpoints, it is highly recommended that the Daily Bruin uphold standards of ethical journalism by specifying its authors’ off-campus appointments, especially when these play a clear role in the article at hand. This caliber of transparency is necessary if UCLA students are to exercise any level of critical inquiry as readers of this publication. Finally, it would be in the Daily Bruin’s interest to issue a public apology in the paper and to ensure that this utter lack of transparency does not repeat itself in the future.
Riazi is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and a fourth-year comparative literature and economics student.
The Daily Bruin is happy to run submissions that are critical of its coverage when those criticisms come from a place of legitimate concern, as this one does. We respect the pursuit of fair and constructive campus media that the author of this submission displays.
To that end, we sometimes feel an explanation of our editorial policy is necessary and beneficial. In this case, we received and published a submission from three active members of the pro-Israel community on campus, identifying them by their affiliations with pro-Israel and Jewish groups on campus. We were unaware that these students were members of Hasbara Fellowships – a pro-Israel advocacy program from college students – and thank Students for Justice in Palestine for keeping us informed. That identifying information was not included in the note after a submission that explains the author’s attribution and affiliation, which we refer to as a “tagline.”
But after reviewing the call for an apology from members of Students for Justice in Palestine, we have determined that were we to make the same editorial decision again with this new information, we would nonetheless have published the submission with the same format. We believe the tagline currently reflects the authors’ most relevant and local connection to the topic of the submission and therefore stand by the decision.
No editorial decision at The Bruin is made carelessly, and every newspaper makes mistakes. We are the first to admit that we do and will always work to resolve errors quickly and openly.
We once again thank our readers who read, analyze and criticize our work.