From the River. . . to the Yearbook

From the River. . . to the Yearbook May 22, 2024

More stellar reporting from the Tribune:  in a photo spread about a multicultural event, students at Bartlett High School are pictured holding a Palestinian flag as well as two signs, one reading “in our hundreds, in our millions, we are all Palestinian,” and the other, “From the River to the Sea” as well as Arabic text which, according to the students’ petition, translates to “Palestine is Arab.”  Upon discovering this, school staff paused distribution of the yearbook in order to remove the page with the photo.

Here are some snippets of how the Trib journalist reported the events:

. . . One sign reads “from the river to the sea” written across, with Arabic text underneath reiterating the latter. . . .

For Palestinians and their allies, the slogan “from the river to the sea” is a call for peace and equality after 75 years of Israeli statehood and decadeslong, open-ended Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians, according to The Associated Press. However, pro-Israeli activists often hear a clear demand for Israel’s destruction.

According to Avi Gordon, executive director of Alums for Campus Fairness, he and other pro-Israeli community members believe the term “from the river to the sea” is an anti-semitic charge.

“That chant calls for the dismantling of Israel from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the West,” Gordon said. “It not only makes Jewish and Israeli students feel unsafe but also ostracizes them.” . . .

Uday Jain, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the committee on social thought at the University of Chicago, said pro-Palestine advocates say the slogan is not antisemitic, but rather anti-Zionist. To dispel the idea that supporting Palestinians equates to anti-Jewish hate, it’s essential to differentiate Judaism from Zionist thought, he said.

Jain said students all across the country have been seeing the “vicious violence of this extremely harmful racial ideology,” hence proudly holding up signs that counter it.

“So while it might be emotionally uncomfortable and deeply challenging for some people to learn that an institution they considered sacrosanct is racist and genocidal in practice, they have no right to silence and criminalize students who are making this urgent, thoughtful, and loving critique,” Jain said.

So . . . wow.

This is meant to be straight news.

But consider the reporter’s biography:

Zareen Syed is an education reporter for the Chicago Tribune, covering issues that touch K-12 schools and colleges and universities. She also writes about campus activism and various student-led movements as well as narratives focusing on underrepresented groups. She joined the Tribune as a suburban reporter and has previously worked for NBC Sports, WGN-TV and Boston 25 News.

Her story her is far from being a straight news reporting.  She assiduously refuses to actually provide the key information on what the Arabic writing is, that is, “Palestine is Arab,” which upends the assertion that “From the river to the sea” is just about “peace and equality.”  (Actually, even the assertion that the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is accurately labelled as “Palestine” goes well beyond a call for “peace” into a denial that this area is, in fact, in part the country of Israel.)

She labels the entire period of the existence of the state of Israel as a denial of “peace and equality.” Because from 1948 to 1967, the West Bank was occupied by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip, Egypt, this makes clear that their objection is to the existence of Israel itself, not the occupation that began in 1967.  And she throws in “according to The Associated Press” to give this claim a veneer of objectivity, in contrast to the alternate statement that this refers to the “dismantling of Israel,” which she attributes to a single individual.  And the final word on this she gives to the idea that it is legitimate to oppose “Zionist thought” which is a “racial ideology” — but, again, however much Zionism might have referred, a century ago, to the desire of Jews to (re)settle in British Mandatory Palestine, those Jews do now, in fact, live in the present state of Israel.  There appears to be some claims by pro-Palestinians that “Zionists” are those who reject a two-state solution, who believe in expanding settlements in the West Bank, or who simply support the actions of the state of Israel unreservedly, e.g., in this vague wording from the New York Times:  “some critics of Israel say they equate Zionism with a continuing project of expanding the Jewish state.”  But for the most part, mainstream media discussions about the term “anti-Zionism” such as this piece from ABC in Australia, stick to the historical explanation of the term without any real willingness to discuss what people who call themselves “anti-Zionists” actually mean by that claim — maybe because it is very uncomfortable for progressives who don’t believe in the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel, to actually consider that their slogans have consequences.

So in the first place it’s sad that this passes for “news” reporting at the Tribune.  But it’s also worrying that so many people appear to be so willing to chant slogans so unthinkingly.; By Yourway-to-israel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
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