Friday, February 07, 2003

Compare and contrast -- looking for points in dispute in the Israeli flag case 

I�ve been reviewing several letters from the parties involved in the Flag/Poster incident at the College Republican�s kiosk. I have publicly placed the letter of the CR�s advisor, Dick Andzenge, here onsite. I also have received a letter by Justin Byma, Chair of the CRs, regarding a letter written by Phyllis Greenberg to the campus listserv two weeks ago. I asked Phyllis if she would like her account placed here, and offered to give her posting rights to the blog so that she could do so unimpeded in any way. She declined. I also have had contact with others on both sides of this issue with first-hand knowledge of the events. I've been asked by several to maintain their confidentiality.

Since it�s questionable whether or not the results of the investigation by Public Safety will be made public � and I think putting that information in the public would help resolve this � I am sifting through all that I�ve collected to see where the disagreements are about the events of 12/11. I focus on three items:

1. What was the provocation? As we�ve noted elsewhere, the professors and their supporters have focused on this poster from Jews for the Prevention of Firearms Ownership. This poster was actually advertising material sent to the CRs in 1999 by JPFO in support of its documentary, Nazi Death Camps � The Result of Gun Control. The poster probably had little to do with the CRs intention of supporting Israel�s right to self-defense when it was made. Still, there was an argument for that connection. It sat in a collection of materials the CRs had, and when the group was choosing materials for its display it was taken out, discussed and chosen. According to a conversation with Justin Byma, it had been displayed before.

What is remarkable is that the poster is not ever an issue discussed in the news reports anywhere until the chair of Greenberg and Karasik�s department puts it into a campus listserv blasting the University Chronicle for its coverage � on 1/22. Another faculty member supportive of the professors showed me the poster several days before. Throughout our earlier coverage (for example this) the focus is the flag. I have reason to believe that the poster was contributive to the professors� displeasure with the kiosk, based on discussions and email immediately after the incident. But in my opinion its evolution to being the focal point has the appearance of a search for some reason to turn the tide against the students.

To date, the students have not responded to the Jewish Faculty Association's request for an explanation for the poster. They will wait to see what happens with the investigation first.

2. What happened between Prof. Karasik and Zach? Zach is the photographer, Zach Spoehr. He is 19 and a good foot taller than Karasik; she is short but, well, not petite. The professors have focused on the physical differences and on his taunting. According to all accounts, Zach was standing behind Karasik taking pictures; the display would have been in the picture. According to the students, Karasik�s back would have been turned to the camera. Still, when the camera flashed, students report that she turned to Zach and said, �If you take my picture again I will break that camera.� Zach replied, �Oh yeah? Go ahead and break my camera.� He then lifted the camera over his head. According to Greenberg�s report, he continued to take pictures. The students still deny that Zach kept snapping pictures of Karasik after she asked him to stop. If the camera was indeed over his head, I�m not sure how he was taking pictures; even if the shutter was depressed, it seems unlikely he had the camera focused on anything. But he might. And the camera might not have been over his head. That�s a place where the investigation could add some information. It is at this point that Karasik either tripped and fell into Spoehr or lunged at the camera. The tripping story is told only by the two professors. Given the taunting discussion and several witnesses who described the discussion as "angry", the tripping version seems less credible.

One problem is age. Spoehr appeared the next day on local television (a news-only cable channel, Central MN News) and was rather proud of his actions. It wasn't a great display of maturity.

A bigger problem arises from the statement by Greenberg that �no one came to separate� Karasik and Spoehr. According to everyone I spoke to, Justin Byma intervened himself and escorted Spoehr away from the kiosk. This is in the CRs original statement. After this, Karasik and Greenberg went to see Student Life VP Nathan Church.

3. Did Church act alone? I have been wondering about this for the longest of times. All parties agree that Church returned alone to the kiosk, and Church said "had to ask us to take down the flag" according to the CRs original statement. Karasik and Greenberg did not return to the kiosk. (Note, the CRs refer to Church asking for the flag to come down, not the poster.) The kiosk remained with the flag covered up; there is no statement indicating that the poster even was covered up. Did Karasik and Greenberg ask Church to have the flag taken down, the poster, the whole kiosk, or did Church come up with this alone? His statement gives no indication what he exactly asked the students to remove. The students indicate that it was only the flag at question.

There�s one last issue that bothered me in the explanation from Greenberg. She reports that the two professors were getting flowers from a vendor who sets up a kiosk in Atwood, and that she saw from there the Star of David (Mogen David) on the CRs kiosk. In my own questions I asked the students which kiosk they had and they said Kiosk #4. The kiosks are set up around the stairways in Atwood and every time I�ve seen the flower vendor she has been at kiosk #1, which is on the opposite corner of the stairwell. That is, if they were standing at the flower kiosk and the students were set up in kiosk #4, the stairwell would have blocked their view of the CRs kiosk. Last night I asked Justin again about this, and asked from which direction the professors approached the kiosk. He replied they came from the direction of the library, which again is on the opposite side of the flower kiosk. He also said they came through the door from outside. Those two stories don�t match, unless 1) Justin was mistaken about their approach and they had come from around the stairwell instead � which still leaves me wondering how they could see the flag from that angle; 2) the faculty members had not in fact visited the flower kiosk � I know I�ve seen them come with flowers before, so I rather believe they were there; or 3) they already knew about the CRs� kiosk. The CRs report that there was vigorous debate around the kiosk by other students before the professors came and that some of the passers-by identified themselves as Jewish students. (At least one of these students supported the CRs message.) Is it possible one of the students told their JSA advisors about the kiosk, and the faculty members then went to investigate? There�d be nothing wrong with that, except that it might then appear they were predisposed against the kiosk.