Letters to the Editor

I’m writing with regard to Patrick Savage’s Dec. 1 column, “Rao’s Coffeehouse surpasses Starbucks by far.”

I agree entirely with Savage’s comments that the coffees served at Rao’s are outstanding, and that the ambiance is hard to beat. In addition, as Savage notes, Rao’s is locally owned. In drinking a cup there, one supports an Amherst business rather than the corporately-owned, non-franchised, multinational down the block that sends its profits out of our community to its West Coast headquarters. Yet, I drink elsewhere, for reasons briefly discussed below.

I try to limit my consumption, but when I do consume, whether coffee or anything else, I attempt to do so as an informed consumer, if possible lightening my ecological footprint and promoting social justice, or at least not hindering it. All but the most unaware now realize the social and ecological harm in the global South that growing and marketing coffee (among the world’s most heavily traded commodities) can cause.

Along with Savage, I too pursue a warm, comfy, cozy, happy and friendly experience when I step out for a cup. I get it from a good bean well-roasted, enjoyed with the knowledge that those who grew it received fair compensation for their efforts, that the land on which it was grown has not had its forest canopy removed, and that no pesticide residue or chemical fertilizer on the plantation is filtering through the soil to eventually accumulate in the bodies of the humans and other forms of life that the land also supports.

Thus, my preference is to drink at, say, the Black Sheep, which, unlike Rao’s, serves triple-certified coffees: organic, fairly traded, and shade grown. In fact, only triple-certified coffees are served there. It’s locally owned, and its beans are locally roasted. Additionally, the cafe has roots extending deeply into our community. It provides a stage for local musicians, and sponsors and partners with our local NPR station, the Tanglewood Music Festival and other western Massachusetts enterprises that contribute to the quality of life here.

As another story in its series on coffee shops in the Valley, The Amherst Student might consider exploring more fully the positive and negative impacts that coffee consumption has on the places where it is grown, and, in this regard, some investigative reporting on who’s serving what on the campuses and in the coffee shops of our community.

Biology Research Assistant

Kevin Eddings

Examine charges against Massad

With all of the intellectual debate focused on the problematic concept of Jewish identity in the post-1948 era, scholars of all stripes must have been pleasantly surprised to open the Feb. 2 edition of The Amherst Student and find that Max Ajl ’06 has neatly solved the puzzle for them. “Jews,” he writes, “are an ethno-religious group that would exist if Israel were to crumble into the Mediterranean basin.” Is this true? Most ethnic groups, including Palestinians, intimately connect “the land” with the concept of their own national identities. What should make the Jews different? And what of the Jewish cultures in Ethiopia, the former USSR, or the Arab Middle East that were saved from annihilation by the state of Israel?

Even given that anti-Zionism is distinct from anti-Semitism, the problem for Israel’s detractors is explaining why, absent of anti-Semitism, Israel is singled out above all other nations for international scorn. Why has the United Nations been so much more effective at condemning Israeli “aggression” than it has been at stopping genocides in Kosovo or the Sudan? Why is Israel hounded on college campuses while Arab countries that abuse human rights receive a pass?

The students in the film “Columbia Unbecoming” apparently charged that Massad was abusing his academic freedom by intimidating and harassing Israeli students. Massad replied by claiming that he was the victim of an “anti-Semitic witch hunt.” Ajl leaps to Massad’s defense, writing, “The film has been completely discredited,” an extraordinary claim to make given that the film has not even been released, save privately to the Columbia Board of Directors and select Jewish leaders. Ajl also nearly copies Massad’s defense word-for-word when he points out that one of the students in the film, Tomy Schoenfeld, told The Jewish Week that he was never in any of Massad’s classes. Of course, if Ajl had read further in The Jewish Week article, he would have learned that the alleged incident between Schoenfeld and Massad took place outside of class at a private lecture.

Ajl seems to believe that the well-funded Zionist conspiracy is threatening what would otherwise be a free exchange of ideas in Columbia’s Middle East Studies Department. Yet, among the most prominent donors to the department are a Frenchman who helped to arm Saddam Hussein, a Palestinian sympathizer who donated millions to the PLO before the Oslo Accords and the government of the United Arab Emirates, whose president is one of the most vocal Holocaust deniers in the world. Such benefactors should raise questions about the underlying biases of the department. Bias in and of itself is not a crime, but intimidation in any classroom setting is a threat to academic freedom. The charges against Massad should be considered seriously, not merely dismissed as a witch hunt.

Chris Pochon ’07

Singling out Israel is anti-Semitic

It has become so very fashionable for certain critics of Israel to cast themselves as the victims of a vast conspiracy of intimidation, organized (surprise!) by a sinister cabal of wealthy, powerful Jews. We are not anti-Semitic, they plead, but only anti-Zionist, or only critics of Israeli policy.

Let us please understand the terms clearly. Zionism is nothing more than the belief that the Jewish people are entitled to that which is claimed by other peoples around the world: the right of self-determination within the secure borders of their own home. To be against this proposition, to believe that only the Jewish people among the peoples of the world are not entitled to this right, is indeed anti-Semitic.

The modern phenomenon of anti-Semitism often hides behind the more politically correct label of anti-Zionism. It is less directed against Jews as individuals than against the Jewish polity. It transforms Israel from the Jewish nation to the Jew among the nations, a term now used commonly, if sadly, by political commentators.

So then, does criticizing Israeli policy necessarily make one anti-Zionist? Of course not, not any more than criticizing American policy makes one anti-American or criticizing Chinese policy makes one anti-Chinese. In Israel’s vibrant democracy, mainstream opposition political parties, representing hundreds of thousands of Israeli voters who are loyal citizens, routinely criticize any number of Israeli government policies, including decisions about the occupation and settlements. No levelheaded person would accuse them of anti-Semitism. Outside of Israel, there are millions of passionate Zionists who berate both the Sharon government and past Israeli governments for perceived mistakes. They are not guilty of anti-Semitism, either.

Thomas Friedman, writing in The New York Times, put the distinction neatly and succinctly: “Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction-out of proportion to any other party in the Middle East-is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”

When we read, whether in the pages of The Amherst Student or elsewhere, about Israeli “criminality,” “vulgarity of character” or “racism,” please, let’s apply Friedman’s test and let’s be honest about exactly what we are reading.

Professor of Chemistry

Joseph Kushick

Ajl ’06 fudged facts in his Feb. 2 column

I love an open academic forum, but somewhere the line must be drawn between opinion and fact. This is precisely the dilemma plaguing Columbia University, where three professors have come under scrutiny for teaching opinions on the Israeli-Arab conflict. Here at Amherst, Max Ajl ’06 (“A conspiracy to call anti-Zionism anti-Semitism,” Feb. 2) displayed a disturbing misunderstanding of history and a lack of journalistic ethics reminiscent of Columbia’s Middle Eastern studies department.

Attempting to discredit the allegation that a Columbia professor asked a student, who previously served in the Israeli Defense Force, how many Palestinians he’d killed, Ajl notes that the student never took a class with this professor. This is roundly acknowledged as factual. Ajl intentionally misleads us, though, omitting that this professor’s inflammatory comment occurred during a question-and-answer session after an open lecture, not in a class. Such “deliberate misreadings” are “morally and ethically bankrupt,” don’t you think?

A week after the United Nations’ commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Ajl contends that international Jewry would survive even should Israel “crumble.” I’ve been to Auschwitz. For 2,000 years, my People had no State. Without Israel, crematoria were fired up. Because there was no Israel, the dank stench of death still hangs in the air in the barracks at Auschwitz today. We all know the history, the numbers. Never again.

Arguing that the Jewish People do not need Israel allows Ajl to spew propaganda, such as labeling Zionism as support for an “overtly racist theocracy.” Zionism, my friend, means believing that the security of the Jewish People must be ensured through a sovereign Jewish state. Isn’t it ironic that this “theocracy” had no religious representation in its coalition government for the past two years? Would a Jewish theocracy violate the Biblical ideal of settling Greater Israel by executing the current Gaza-withdrawal plan?

Racism, on the other hand, means believing in the superiority of one race. On the streets of Jerusalem walk Jews of Ethiopian, European and Middle Eastern descent along with East-Asian foreign workers. On Tuesday, Israel announced that it will absorb all remaining Ethiopian Jews. Ajl, and those who share his reprehensible agenda, use “racism” to elicit a certain emotion. It would be irresponsible of me, however, to overlook that this accusation stems from Israel’s policies toward Arabs. But would an anti-Arab democracy have an Arab Supreme Court Justice, as Israel does?

Ajl’s writing goes beyond anti-Zionism. It is not simply “criticizing Israeli foreign policy.” It is lying.

Justin Epner ’08

See “The Vagina Monologues”

At Amherst College, vaginas rule the month of February. Every year, a talented, beautiful and passionate group of Amherst women performs and produces “The Vagina Monologues” on Valentine’s Day weekend. Every year, with or without a valentine, I go see “The Vagina Monologues.” Here are my top five reasons why.

One: Vaginas. They’re awesome! My first year here I was iffy about the show. I had heard snippets about the real “The Vagina Monologues” and, frankly, they made me blush. I was too embarrassed to tell my father about the show … even if I was in college. But I still went and while there were parts where I blushed and giggled, there were more parts where I laughed and cried.

Two: Charity. Every year, through ticket sales, donations and raffle tickets, “The Vagina Monologues” raise money that goes to organizations around the Pioneer Valley like The Every Woman’s Center, which helps victims of violence, rape and other injustices.

Three: The Raffle. You can win sex toys!

Four: U-N-I-T-Y! “The Vagina Monologues” raises awareness about the realities of women’s lives and issues that affect everyone. Sometimes, men feel isolated and blamed after hearing some of the pieces, but the point of “The Monologues” is to stop violence, not to insult or blame. It’s political, but it’s not about dividing people. Everyone knows a woman who can be a victim and everyone can do their part to help stop the potential and ongoing victimization of women in the world.

Five: Support. Support for your friends, for your peers and for the cause.

“The Monologues” are based on Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” If you’ve never been, you’ll love it. If you’ve seen them, your favorite pieces will be back along with some new material. “The Vagina Monologues” are coming, and they’re not just for lesbians and feminists.

Michelle Stowers ’05

Five College soup kitchen a reality

We would like to call your attention to a problem facing the homeless population in Northampton, which is the location of the majority of the homeless shelters in the Five College area. Three nights out of the week, the homeless population does not have access to a hot meal. This problem arises because the majority of the soup kitchens that do distribute meals all seven days of a week are located in Amherst. However, the cost of transportation (to and from Amherst on the PVTA) would be the same as the cost of a meal, which of course is the problem in the first place.

One solution to this dilemma is the creation of a Five College soup kitchen in conjunction with Smith College and the University of Massachusetts. We know there has been a lot of talk about starting a Five College soup kitchen in past semesters, but we do plan on having the soup kitchen operating by fall semester of next year. All three schools have been working hard to raise money to go towards hiring a soup kitchen organizer. Through this organizer we will turn an existing but non-functioning soup kitchen into our very own Five College soup kitchen. While the organizer will oversee the proper allocation of funds, rest assured that the soup kitchen will be staffed and run by students within the five colleges. This will be the very first student-run soup kitchen in the nation, so we will be making soup kitchen history! If you have any questions or want to get involved, please contact us at [email protected] or [email protected].

Josette Manzano ’07 and Eva Pietri ’07