Steve Horn admits he was drawn to bringing in a Palestinian speaker to a campus-based celebration of Israel in part because he "didn't want to be part of propaganda."
Horn, a UW-Madison junior majoring in political science and legal studies, is a member of Kavanah, a liberal-leaning student group that operates under the auspices of the UW's Hillel Foundation. Hillel, serving the campus Jewish community, sponsored a weeklong series of events in mid-April to celebrate Israel's independence; Horn was a member of the event's planning committee.
In late March, Horn was approached about sponsoring an appearance by Jad Isaac, a Palestinian academic from Bethlehem. Isaac, whom the Quakers were bringing to Chicago for other events, agreed to come to Madison on April 21 to give a talk at the UW about water rights in the West Bank.
"He's a well-known scholar on environmental issues in Israel and Palestine," says Horn. "I was pretty excited."
Horn approached Hillel about providing a room for the event and using money earmarked for Kavanah to cover some costs. An April 8 email from a Hillel staffer to Horn suggests it's a done deal, asking what equipment is needed and mentioning an agreement to pay for Isaac's hotel room.
On April 12, Horn was summoned by Hillel to a "crucial meeting," where he says he was peppered with questions about Isaac's views. The next morning, Horn got an email from Inbal Unger, Hillel's director of Jewish student life, itemizing "the details I would need to know in order to proceed with this program."
Among these was whether Isaac's talk would include "any pro-Israel points" and "positive" things about Israel. The email asked: "Does he support Israel's right to exist?" and "Does he believe in a two-state solution?" It also wondered whether Isaac might feel "unease" to appear as part of a celebration of Israel's independence.
Horn emailed these questions to his contact with the Quakers in Chicago. "Hillel is freaking out a bit about Jad coming," he related. "I apologize for their paranoia." He says the contact tried talking to Hillel, to no avail.
Greg Steinberger, Hillel's executive director, agrees some "hard questions" were asked about Isaac's visit but says the main concerns came from other members of Kavanah, who in the end "stepped away from the program Steve planned in their name."
David Meshoulam, a board member at Kavanah, and group president Eric Salitsky confirm this. "This event was handled poorly from the beginning," says Meshoulam. "There was a lot of miscommunication."
In the end, a compromise was struck to have the Quakers sponsor Isaac's speech and for Kavanah to book a room in the Humanities Building, where he spoke to about 20 people. Hillel also let the group use some of its funds to take Isaac to dinner, but did not pay for his hotel or other event costs.
"I didn't hear that anyone's voice was stifled," says Meshoulam, adding that Kavanah members "feel comfortable in openly criticizing Israel. It's how we position ourselves within Hillel." The real concern was whether the speech should be part of the larger celebration: "If Jad had come on a different week, none of this would have happened."
But Horn, an opinion writer at the Badger Herald, says this and similar dustups show that Hillel "doesn't allow open and honest dialogue on the Israel-Palestine issue to take place within its walls. Every time a proposal is brought forth that involves a critique of Israeli policies, hysteria unfolds." He says such concerns don't arise when speakers are aggressively pro-Israel.
Jennifer Loewenstein, a local activist and faculty associate in the UW's Middle East Studies Program, agrees, calling Hillel's list of questions akin to a "loyalty oath." She finds it quite distasteful: "Here we are on a university campus and academic freedom is bypassed when it comes to this organization [Hillel]."
Steinberger rebuts this, saying Hillel has sponsored speakers critical of Israel. "There's a very pluralistic debate that happens here," he says. "We're wide open to a whole variety of opinions, including critics of Israel."
Policing the police, the untold story
Lt. Linda Kosovac thought something must have gone wrong. On Friday, April 16, the Madison Police Department's head of Professional Standards and Internal Affairs sent an email to area media regarding three "sustained complaints" against officers in the first quarter of 2010.
Then she waited for the phone to ring. And waited. She even checked her "sent" file to confirm this email had gone out; it had. But the overextended local media missed a story that normally would have drawn notice.
In one case, an officer got a two-day unpaid suspension for engaging in personal business on duty. In another, a 10-day suspension was handed down to an officer who, during a single month last fall, had unexcused absences on seven days and took unearned time off on another eight days. Five days were held in abeyance, meaning they'll be dismissed after a year if no problems recur.
But the most severe discipline 12 days without pay, none held in abeyance - was imposed in February against an officer who made "sexually offensive" comments on three occasions.
Two of these, in December 2009 and January 2010, involved remarks made about other officers' domestic partners. Lt. Kosovac declines to be more specific about what was said, feeling this would re-victimize the targets of these comments, who are known in the department.
The third incident involving this officer, which came to light in the course of Kosovac's investigation, happened in August 2009. Here Kosovac is willing to elaborate, saying the officer whom her choice of pronouns reveals to be male told a female crime victim something like, "Just go out and have wild monkey sex and you'll feel better."
Kosovac says Chief Noble Wray was troubled by this officer's "pattern" of inappropriate remarks, hence the severity of the discipline imposed. "He really got hit hard," she says. "I think he got the message."
The officer has not appealed this discipline to the Police and Fire Commission, which would mean making the matter public. Kosovac is not surprised: "No one wants to go in front the of PFC for saying sexually inappropriate things."
UW's nuclear terror risk now even lower
In the aftermath of 9/11, UW-Madison officials hastened to assert that a campus-based nuclear reactor used for research and teaching posed little danger to the public or national security (see a 2002 Isthmus report).
Last month The New York Times reported that civilian research reactors, including those at universities, "are seen by Mr. Obama and his aides as particularly vulnerable to terrorist attack."
It took awhile to find a UW official willing to talk, but the message is the same: Don't worry.
"Since 9/11, the security of all civilian reactors has been upgraded significantly," says Michael Corradini, a UW professor of engineering physics. While he "really can't tell you" what all's been done, he says it involves "more people and more security."
The UW's reactor, one of 28 campus reactors in the U.S., is housed in the Mechanical Engineering Building, 1513 University Ave. Corradini says safeguards were added when the building was renovated in 2005.
Moreover, the reactor last year converted to using a lower grade of uranium, enriched to a level of 18%, down from 70%. The reactor at M.I.T, cited in the Times' story, still uses 93% enriched uranium.
According to Corradini, the lower enrichment level does not affect the uranium's radioactivity or the reactor's performance. But it does make it even harder to use pilfered material to blow parts of the planet to kingdom come.
"You cannot from this type of material make a bomb," he says. "There's not enough material. You'd have to steal it from multiple facilities."