NY Times Attack Ad

On April 24, 2012 – a date which will live in memory – 13 academic colleagues and I were suddenly and deliberately attacked by the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

This attack took the form of a 1/4 page unlabeled advertisement on the editorial page of the New York Times (see attached).  

Under a photograph of a 1930's era Nazi Brown Shirt, my colleagues and I were identified by name and academic affiliation, inferentially connected to the tragic murder of a French rabbi and three children, and listed with others on the horowitzfreedomcenter.org website as "BDS supporters of hate and anti-Semitism".

I presume my inclusion in this list was the result of my efforts at the University of Michigan to promote the formation of a University Committee to investigate possible divestment.  Precisely, what we are requesting is:


Whereas, the undersigned believe that any University investments in entities contributing to human rights violations by either Israelis or Palestinians is inappropriate,


Resolved, the undersigned call for the formation by the University of Michigan of an advisory committee consisting of members of the University Senate, students, administration and alumni to determine if any University investments are questionable and in need of appropriate corrective actions.


Although our efforts at Michigan have been consistently mis-characterized by the local opposition as anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic, please note carefully that we are calling for divestment with regard to both Israeli and Palestinian human rights violations.  This call has been supported by a wide range of Palestinian and American Jewish groups, as well as by three Nobel Peace Laureates and numerous Nobel nominees.

It is not pleasant being characterized as anti-Semitic, even by ill-informed and misguided individuals.  However, those of us who toil in this arena for any length of time are quite familiar with the charge.  Over time I have come to associate it with an absence of reasoned argument by our adversaries.

Similarly this advertisement associates us with the initiation of a new Holocaust.  In my mind such a charge infinitely reduces the recognition and memory of the millions who suffered unimaginable pain and suffering at the hands of Adolf Hitler and his associates.  To cast such charges in such an irresponsible manner is an egregious violation of the memory of a terrible historical reality.

Nevertheless, groups and individuals will resort to unfounded character assassination and ad hominem attacks when reasoned discussion is beyond their abilities.  It comes with the territory, and I have learned to live with it.  Wounds are inevitable in the full exercise of our First Amendment freedoms.

My primary argument in this situation is with the New York Times. Why would the supposed Newspaper of Record publish such an indefensible screed, and why it would put it on its editorial page without clearly labeling it as an advertisement?


The ad lists our names and our academic affiliations.  It calls for us to be “publicly shamed and condemned for the crimes [our] hatred incites”.  It requests readers to “contact the president of your local university and ask them to publicly condemn their faculty’s participation in the Boycott of Hate”.


I am too weathered a campaigner to be much affected by these requests.  In fact, there is a part of me that recognizes that such unjustified attacks mean that we are nearing the critical mass that causes real fear in the hearts of our adversaries. 


Now being seven years post-retirement, I am thankfully beyond any conceivable retaliation.  My reputation, for better or worse, is probably fixed.  However, others on this list may not be in my position, and at the very least, such an advertisement may have a “chilling effect” on the younger, more creative, more energetic individuals on all sides of this issue, individuals that hold the keys to its resolution. 

Unfortunately, I have directly witnessed negative consequences toward vulnerable colleagues expressing views on this topic.  The concern is real.  So why is the New York Times aiding and abetting this environment of fear?


Please consider expressing any concerns you may have to the New York Times Public Editor (Ombudsperson), Art Brisbane, at [email protected], or             (212)556-7652      .


Peace, with Justice,


Bill Thomson


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