Portland State faculty members find column crude and inflammatory

As scholars and teachers dedicated to the honing of critical thought and pursuit of truth in a climate of mutual respect, we are disappointed at your columnist Caelan Mac Tavish’s recent piece, which manifests none of these aims and values [“A city divided,” Oct. 18].

Informed and thoughtful discussion of the issues Mr. MacTavish purports to take up – the status of the city of Jerusalem and the question of how to achieve peace in the Middle East – is certainly vital and welcome. Unfortunately, Mr. MacTavish offered no such discussion. His essay is instead a mix of crude and inflammatory caricatures, distortions and outright falsehoods concerning Jews, Judaism, Middle East politics and world history.

In the course of his essay, Mr. MacTavish tells us that: "Nobody can really convert to Judaism – you are born Jewish, or you are not." This is simply untrue, as anyone with a passing familiarity with the Jewish religion knows. This sentence is found in a paragraph beginning, “Currently, Jerusalem is deep inside the West Bank-” In fact, Jerusalem is not “deep inside” the West Bank as commonly understood, but on its perimeter. (And since there are no plans we are aware of to move the city to another location, we expect it will be there not only “currently” but for a long time to come.)

In between these two sentences of demonstrable falsity, Mr. MacTavish offers a summary of Jewish history that makes one cringe in embarrassment for its historical and moral distortion. Ignoring or unaware of a rich, millennia-long history of cultural exchange with other groups, Mr. MacTavish leaves out 2000 years of Jewish history since the first-century Diaspora, with the single exception of the Holocaust, which he perversely suggests the Jews brought upon themselves because of their “exclusive religion.”

Later in his essay, he refers to Jews as a “race,” a falsely biologistic notion discredited since the Nazis gave such thinking a bad name.

To point out every mistaken notion in Mr. MacTavish essay is beyond the scope of this letter – nor, given how little of value would be left in the essay, do we guess that this would be worth anyone’s time. It is not easy to sort out in this essay what is ignorance, what malice, and what muddled thinking. (Mr. MacTavish is, after all, capable of beginning a sentence: “Scholars think this attributed to the hereditary prejudice against Jews-“  Does Mr. MacTavish perhaps mean “contributed” instead of “attributed”? And what is “hereditary prejudice”?)

As faculty we are deeply committed to cultivating and supporting an intellectually nourishing climate of free speech, mutually respectful dialogue, and critical thought and writing on campus-for all students, faculty, and staff, regardless of religion, nationality, political perspective, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and culture. A student newspaper of intellectual and ethical probity has an important contribution to make to our campus community in this regard. We are pleased that the editors have decided to issue a retraction and apology, and we hope that in the future the editorial decisions of the Vanguard will reflect the positive mission we all share.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Weingrad, John Ott, Robert Liebman, A.J. Arriola, Martha Balshem, Pelin Basci, Victoria Belco, Andrew P. Black, Karen Carr, Burton Christopherson, John Damis, Michael Flower, Nila Friedberg, Gina Greco, Leslie B. Hammer, Charles K. Johnson, Marvin Kaiser, Gil Latz, Caroline Litzenberger, Cheryl Livneh, Hanoch Livneh, Aart Lovenstein, Jon Mandaville, Ron Narode, Aaron L. Pearlman, Sandra Rosengrant, Patricia Schechter, Gretta Siegel, Dennis Stovall, Mara Tableman, Dave Thompson, Lawrence Wallack, Linda A. Walton, Patricia Wetzel, Richard L. White, Craig Wollner, Martin Zwick