We — the opinion section editors and editor-in-chief — feel it necessary to clarify an editor’s note we published Wednesday, Nov. 15, regarding our policy toward op-ed submissions on Israel-Palestine. The statement was vague, and it made claims that went beyond what was necessary for our goal — to use our editorial power such that we are not complicit in the ongoing mass death of Palestinians.
We want to be clear that the original decision was made by the four authors listed and not the Editorial Board as a whole.
The note introduced a new editorial policy not to publish, or to publish with critical editor’s notes, opinion submissions that we feel are directly linked to the perpetuation of mass death. We are retracting this policy. In the coming weeks, we will present the idea to the Editorial Board and discuss what such a policy could look like, what purpose it should serve, and why it should or shouldn’t be implemented.
The original note was published as a companion piece to a letter to the editor that rebutted a faculty op-ed calling for a ceasefire. We stated that we, in good conscience, could not publish “Zionist narratives” amid Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza without, at the very least, writing editor’s notes that problematized the arguments. By “Zionism,” we intended to denote a settler-colonial, expansionist political movement, as it is defined by Patrick Wolfe, an influential academic and founder of settler-colonial studies. We then included excerpts from a talk that Mohammed el-Kurd had given at the college earlier in the day.
Threats to our safety involving a doxxing campaign on social media have compelled us to take the original piece down. This update was in the works long before that occurred, as we were aware that the statement was vague and poorly argued.
Our statement did not appropriately reflect our intentions, and it made a rash policy decision that caused confusion and harm to some in the community. We apologize, and we hope that readers can take this update, which better reflects our intentions, in good faith.
The usage of the term “Zionist” in the title, specifically, generated a wide range of meanings that led some to believe we did not support the Jewish right to sovereignty and self-determination. We recognize that people have many different relationships with the term and, thus, that it requires rigorous elaboration. We retract our usage of the term in this context.
We realize that some feel hurt, excluded, and blindsided by our words. We sincerely apologize. We hope that this response can alleviate some of those very valid emotions, and we invite you to reach out with further concerns.
We issued the editor’s note in a context where the majority of the world supports a ceasefire in Gaza. The United States is one of the only nations that is still holding out. Given that college media has both direct and indirect impacts on the national scale, we feel a responsibility to use our power in every way we are able to push this issue beyond the tipping point. We are motivated by deep care and concern for the unnecessary loss of life that is taking place in Gaza and an attendant sense of moral exigency to use our platform to prevent further death.
As we’ve spoken to community members who were troubled by the statement, they expressed to us that it was illuminating, for them, to understand the timeline on which the note was written. The statement was composed late on Tuesday night into the early morning on Wednesday as our 9 a.m. publication deadline neared, and emerged from circumstances late in the production cycle that created a sense of ethical urgency. This urgency precluded the deliberation and analysis necessary to formulate a responsible and thorough policy.
After we published “Amherst College Call to Action,” a letter signed by a group of faculty members calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, we began receiving an increased volume of letters to the editor from readers expressing their disagreement and disappointment with the statement. To this point, all of these letters have come from alumni.
On Tuesday, Nov. 14, we were working on editing several of these letters for publication in the Nov. 15 issue. As we were editing, we found ourselves having to unravel dangerous arguments equating pro-Palestine speech to antisemitism, filtering inflammatory rhetoric such as the comparison of faculty members to “Nazis,” and assigning source links to statements that are widely disputed even within Western media. We were left with articles that, while free of explicit hate speech and fact-checked to the best of our ability, grossly misrepresented the issue with wholesale justification of the indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza. We felt that, if we moved ahead with publishing, we would betray both our journalistic commitment to truth and our moral obligation to act against mass death.
The U.S. is one of only several nations that continues to uphold Israel’s military campaign as a legitimate act of self-defense. This position, which perpetuates the mass death of Palestinians, can only continue insofar as Palestinian lives are devalued — converted into hypotheticals in a utilitarian equation that makes it seem as if the slaughter of thousands of civilians is justified or even necessary to eliminate Hamas, even though history has proven us time and time again that indiscriminate warfare is not an effective way to eliminate terrorism, and in many cases, only exacerbates the violence.
Growing up in the wake of 9/11 and the U.S.’s brutal retaliation, we have been aware for our entire conscious lives of the horrifically dangerous implications of this rhetorical strategy. We have witnessed the way in which counter-terrorism military campaigns in the Middle East — which depend on the systematic devaluation of the lives of civilians while claiming that bombardment is necessary for “self-defense” — instill only more resentment and violence toward the West. The cycle of violence must end somewhere.
Though our original editor’s note was not the correct way to go about it, we felt and still do feel a deep responsibility to use our power as editors in America to problematize the dissemination of these narratives. In part, we are trying to learn from the mistakes of previous generations of journalists. Reflecting on their coverage of the Iraq War, New York Times editors wrote in 2004 of their regret that they did not challenge information that they suspected, even at the time, led readers astray from the truth: “In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.”
We, thankfully, do not yet have the responsibility to directly steer national conversations around this issue nor work to illuminate the facts on the ground, which, as in 2004, evade capture by reporters. Perhaps the latter is inevitable — but the least we can do to compensate is to not allow arguments based on these contested facts and dehumanizing narratives to stand as unqualified truth, when this determination means, very literally, the difference between life and death.
Moving forward, we want to stage a conversation about how the opinion section should define, evaluate, and make publishing decisions around harmful political speech that does not fit within the strict bounds of “hate speech,” which we already edit for.
We believe that a college campus must be a place where challenging conversations happen and people embrace intellectual discomfort. As a college newspaper, we do not waver in our desire to create space and promote these constructive disagreements and conversations through our opinion section. However, we must acknowledge that our discourse around Israel-Palestine as well as many other political issues do not exist in a vacuum. They are also about real issues that have a real impact on the bodies and lives of people. This is, of course, not a cause for suppression of speech, but as editors, we must take into account conscience and concern for the real impact of our publication when evaluating articles.
To this end, we also want to acknowledge the harm caused by our original statement.
In the same vein, there is also a certain genre of pro-Palestine speech that justifies and celebrates Jewish and Israeli death, and that uses the conflict as an excuse for antisemitism. We do not tolerate these sentiments within the pages of The Student, and our proposed policy always would have upheld the same standard for all lives.
Thank you to everyone who reached out to us in a respectful manner (rather than harassing us anonymously) and made us realize our mistakes. We are students who are learning how to be journalists in the current contentious atmosphere — how to exercise sound judgment in emotionally charged situations amid competing ethical imperatives. We hope that our publishing this statement will also serve as an example to others. We need a world where people can speak openly but also have the space to learn and grow. That is going to be our goal going forward.
Sam Spratford ’24, Editor-in-Chief
Tapti Sen ’25 and Stacey Zhang ’26, Managing Opinion Editors
Willow Delp ’26, Assistant Opinion Editor