Anti-Israel letters to Berkeley newspaper draw ire

The Berkeley Daily Planet is a rarity among newspapers — it publishes, or attempts to publish, every signed letter from locals, regardless of topic.

Although its policy says it doesn’t publish “obscene” letters, the newspaper seems to have no problem printing letters that are “vicious and venomous diatribes,” according to Jim Sinkinson.

Earlier this month, Sinkinson distributed a letter to approximately 30 Daily Planet advertisers, citing examples of past letters to the editor that he deemed “hateful material.” He wanted to make advertisers aware of the Daily Planet’s “shocking pattern of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing,” he said, not shut down the paper.

Jim Sinkinson

His attempt to shed light on the Daily Planet’s printing of such reader submissions prompted the newspaper’s editors and publisher to take the unusual step of responding with a lengthy “open letter” that appeared as an editorial in their March 19 edition.

In addition, Sinkinson wrote a letter to the editor to the Daily Planet, which the paper also ran on March 19. It included the following statement: “If a publication prints hate speech, it’s a purveyor of hate. If a publication prints anti-Semitism, it’s anti-Semitic.”

“We just don’t think it’s good business for merchants to be advertising in that publication,” said Sinkinson, an Oakland resident and a member of Berkeley congregation Chochmat HaLev. “To be associated with hate speech is bad for business.”

In its open letter to advertisers and readers, the Daily Planet referred to Sinkinson’s actions as a “campaign of   intimidation” that included “pressuring advertisers to withdraw their support” and “accusing the paper of anti-Semitism.”

The open letter also cited the tactics of Sinkinson and his partners (the East Bay Citizens for Journalistic Responsibility) as “attempts to marginalize and demonize valid opinions — opinions that circulate freely within Israel.”

“This is an all-too-common technique by Israel’s more conservative partisans to stifle debate on the topic and to marginalize those who express even the mildest criticism of Israel,” the Daily Planet’s open letter stated.

Sinkinson denied pressuring and threatening advertisers. He said the issue for him is not just about the content of readers’ letters, but the fact that the Daily Planet continues to print submissions — sometimes pages and pages of them — he views as “hateful.” There’s a lack of journalistic responsibility, he said.

“You don’t see this in the New York Times or the San Francisco Chronicle,” said Sinkinson, the publisher of the Bulldog Reporter, a trade paper for those in the public relations industry. “But there’s a line the Daily Planet continues to cross. They seem to believe that there is no limit to the hate speech they can print, as long as a reader has submitted it.”

In its letter, the Daily Planet called Sinkinson “selective” in what he chose to highlight, noting he “pays no attention” to the articles the newspaper runs on other Jewish topics, including news stories about anti-Semitic graffiti at U.C. Berkeley and reviews of Jewish film and music festivals.

As for reader submissions, the Daily Planet wrote that it receives almost no letters that make a “positive, pro-active case for Israel.” According to the editorial, the only letters the paper receives from Israel supporters are letters “that accuse [people who wrote previously published letters] of bias and anti-Semitism.”

“I don’t think because you’re against Israel you are anti-Semitic,” Sinkinson noted.

Sinkinson said he has not called for any sort of boycott of the Daily Planet, which publishes a print edition only once a week but regularly adds to its Web site. He also doesn’t believe the independent paper, which claims to reach 22,000 people, went too far in publishing its open-letter editorial.

“The Daily Planet, for a long time, has been known for its obsession with Israel,” Sinkinson said. “It’s a publication of a preponderance of anti-Israel editorial material, which often has veered into anti-Semitism. Nothing that appeared in that editorial contradicts that.”