Controversial column brings brouhaha at UNLV newspaper

A controversial opinion piece published last week in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s student newspaper has caused something of a stir both on and off campus and led at least in part to the resignation of one of the paper’s advisory board members.

The piece, written by Rebel Yell Opinion Editor Sharief Ali, references a recent shooting in a west Jerusalem seminary that left eight people dead.

Originally published in the paper’s March 10 edition, the piece was republished in Thursday’s Rebel Yell after UNLV employees found that about a third of Monday’s 3,000 copies had apparently been stolen from campus newspaper racks and thrown in recycling bins.

Nur Kausar, editor in chief of the Rebel Yell, said she believed the copies had been taken because of Ali’s piece.

“I can’t really think of any other logical reason why it would happen,” she said.

Ali could not be reached for comment. UNLV students are on spring break this week.

His piece, headlined “Attack shocks, doesn’t surprise,” begins: “On Thursday a Palestinian gunman walked into a Jewish seminary in West Jerusalem, killing eight students and injuring nine. This attack shocked people all over the world. But one must be honest; after the destruction the Israeli military inflicted on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, this was hardly a surprise.”

Dozens of people called or e-mailed the paper, or left postings on the Rebel Yell’s Web site in response to the piece. Some asked for the editor’s resignation, while others expressed support for the column.

Kausar said the Rebel Yell received more than a dozen letters in response to Ali’s piece. One came from Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., who criticized the column.

“Many tyrants have used distortions of history to justify atrocities,” Porter’s letter said. “I would like to make it very clear to the author of ‘Attack shocks, doesn’t surprise’ that no murderer deserves a spokesman. … Language is a dangerous and powerful weapon, especially if it is misguided.”

Gregory Brochard, an assistant professor in UNLV’s Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies, resigned from the paper’s advisory board in the wake of the editorial’s publication. The advisory board does not have a say in the newspaper’s content.

Brochard declined to comment on Monday except to say “it wasn’t exclusively that incident” that led to his resignation.

Several groups including the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas and UNLV Hillel joined Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., in a full-page ad in Thursday’s Rebel Yell condemning “all acts of terrorism” and expressing support for the “State of Israel” and “its right to defend its cities and borders.”

Berkley declined to comment for this report.

The Rebel Yell’s advisory board comprises students, faculty representatives and outside media professionals.

One of its members, CityLife Editor Steve Sebelius, said The Rebel Yell handled the controversy correctly by running on Thursday a news story about the controversy and two columns responding to Ali’s piece.

“When the reaction got heated, they decided to do a point-counterpoint in the following issue,” he said. “I think they did what a student newspaper ought to do when a controversy arises: Give voice to the university and students … allowing them to air out their differences instead of driving them underground by censorship.”

CityLife is owned by Stephens Media, which also owns the Review-Journal.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, agreed with the newspaper’s decision to reprint Ali’s piece.

“The best response to censorship is more speech,” he said. “Clearly it was a controversial editorial, but if it does provoke dialogue, it’s for the good.”

Kausar agreed. “The purpose of an opinion piece is to get people to talk,” the 21-year-old UNLV senior said. “It caused people to read more, to write rebuttals, to get involved.”

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0285.

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