Editor’s note: The Opinion page at Cascadia Daily News has chosen to take the unusual step of publishing a second guest commentary about coverage of the Israel-Hamas war in The Bellingham Herald, a competing medium, because the issues raised are of significant public concern, and The Herald currently offers no apparent means to publish community feedback about its work in its own pages. The first commentary piece, by Yoav Litvin, was published on Oct. 16.
The author of this guest commentary, Daniel S. Chard, a Western Washington University history professor, said he submitted the following commentary first to The Herald through a letters portal, and then twice to the newspaper’s new senior editor, receiving no reply.
Note: Published mentions of the student “Hey, hey, hey” chant referenced in the commentary by the author have been removed from The Herald’s current online version of the story, without explanation.
— Ron Judd, executive editor, CDN
“Reaching out with a serious matter.” This was the start of a text message I received on Sunday, Dec. 10 from a Western student whom I know as a family friend. The student is participating in local rallies for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza and was seeking support in identifying an older white man who had attended recent rallies with a sign bearing a swastika inside a Star of David and an American flag with a skull-and-crossbones (the text included a photo).
“He was either hopelessly confused in his messaging, or an active agitator who wanted to wave a swastika around,” the student wrote, before explaining how students had nonviolently escorted the man off campus.
Since I am a history professor at Western with a specialty in social movements and political violence, and an active community member, the student asked if I knew who the man was or if the symbols on his flag were associated with violent white supremacist organizations. (My answer to both questions was no, though the swastika is clearly a symbol of racism and antisemitism.)
Given this experience, I was alarmed to read Robert Mittendorf’s highly misleading Dec. 11 Bellingham Herald article, “Bellingham approved resolution regarding a ceasefire in Gaza.” The article inaccurately casts local ceasefire rallies as “antisemitic,” and includes the line, “At a rally on Dec. 8, a protester waved an Israeli flag with a swastika drawn over the Star of David.” The reporter clearly did not bother to speak with or understand the organizers of the rally, for if he had, he would have learned that this man did not represent their views.
Moreover, The Herald’s claim in the long photo caption at the top of the article that the chant “Israel, Israel, hey, hey, hey. How many kids did you kill today?” is antisemitic because it references “blood libel” defies good faith logic given the phrase’s similarity to the Vietnam War era chant “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today,” especially given the fact that the Israeli military has literally been killing Palestinian children nearly every day for more than 11 weeks.
The Herald’s article is not only biased and inaccurate — it poses a danger to Western students and other community members. Politicization of “antisemitism” cheapens the term and inflammatory misinformation at a time of heightened Islamophobic and antisemitic violence increases risk for students wishing to discuss controversial topics on campus, especially for Arab, Muslim and Jewish students.
Notably, The Herald’s article appears as bad faith actors are exploiting real antisemitism to push other political agendas. This includes efforts to undermine American institutions of higher education. Informed observers, including fellow scholars of political violence, have pointed out that while Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (NY) recently grilled presidents of UPenn, Harvard and MIT for allegedly permitting antisemitism on their campuses, she has neither condemned antisemitic remarks by fellow supporters of former President Donald Trump nor held hearings on anti-Palestinian violence.
One of the important societal roles for American universities — especially public universities like Western — is as spaces for educated discussion of controversial issues. University squares, including Red Square, are also forums for free speech.
Western’s administration, faculty, staff and students all have responsibilities to make our university an inclusive and peaceful space for discussing difficult topics. The Herald’s sensationalism, amid U.S.-funded wars abroad and attacks on higher education at home, does not help us realize our obligations.
Daniel S. Chard is an assistant professor of history at Western Washington University and the author of “Nixon’s War at Home: The FBI, Leftist Guerrillas, and the Origins of Counterterrorism” (University of North Carolina Press, September 2021).