Thursday, March 11, 2004

RICHMOND — A group of readers of the University of Virginia’s student newspaper are calling for the dismissal of a reporter who wrote a column they say was “deeply offensive” to the Jewish community.

The 900-word column said, among other things, that Jewish people “gesture like Italians and speak like New Yorkers” and that they “always know a good lawyer if you need one.”

In the March 2 column written for the Cavalier Daily, student A-J Aronstein said he was raised Catholic by his Catholic mother and Jewish father.

Mr. Aronstein, 18, said his column was intended to be lighthearted and was based on his experiences growing up outside New York City.

“If you laugh in the face of stereotypes, then they lose their power,” said Mr. Aronstein, a first-year student. “The most frustrating thing for me is to have my meaning so misunderstood. I am not an anti-Semite. … I have no regrets about my words or their intent.”

The Cavalier Daily is an independent newspaper and receives no funding from the university. It has no faculty on its staff.

Chris Wilson, the editor in chief, said Sunday that he has no intention of dismissing Mr. Aronstein, who writes a biweekly column.

“This was a very, very grave mistake, but I don’t believe in firing reporters for mistakes they’ve made unless they are committed in cold blood,” he said. “I’m confident he has learned a lesson that will last for a lifetime.”

However, several students said they were shocked that the newspaper, which has about 30,000 readers in the Charlottesville area, printed the column. They said the piece also was offensive to other ethnic groups.

“It perpetuated negative, devastating stereotypes that were completely untrue,” said a Jewish student who declined to be identified. “At a time where we are really seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism, it’s very, very scary.”

The newspaper has since published an apology for printing the column. Mr. Wilson, a third-year undergraduate student, said he will meet with concerned community members in the coming weeks.

University spokeswoman Carol Wood said Mr. Wilson and his staff are turning the experience into an educational opportunity. “You hate to see them take a hit for this,” she said.

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