MADISON – The online ad, a small text link, is easy to miss. It reads, “The Holocaust Question: The Power of Taboo.”

The advertisement on the Badger Herald Web site leads to a site denying the Holocaust and the University of Wisconsin-Madison student newspaper is now taking heat for running it.

Badger Herald Editor Jason Smathers on Thursday defended the decision to accept the $75 ad, while members of the campus Jewish community and a First Amendment expert repudiated the choice.

The issue raises questions of the delicate balance between the value of freedom of speech and the potential harm of certain messages.

The controversy started with a spate of anti-Semitic comments posted to a Badger Herald article earlier this month. That caught the attention of Mexico-based Holocaust denier Bradley Smith. Wanting to capitalize on the debate, he sought to place the ad.

Smathers rejects Smith’s message, calling it a “troth of lies” in an opinion piece, but said he allowed it to run because “no opinions or assertions can be so offensive that we cannot bring ourselves to hear them.”

“This newspaper has made a principle of accepting any individual or group advertisement submitted,” Smathers wrote in Thursday’s Badger Herald. “The only cases in which we would reject an advertisement are if it exhibits threats toward any person or group or is of a libelous nature. This advertisement, while certainly fueled by veiled anti-Semitism, does not rise to the level of threats and therefore does not merit rejection.”

But Howard Schweber, a UW-Madison political science professor specializing in the First Amendment, said the Badger Herald “got it wrong.”

He said that in this case, since the ad doesn’t present an argument but is just a link, it could serve as a recruiting tool for like-minded individuals.

“This looks much less like an ad trying to spark a debate than an ad that is using the Badger Herald as a platform for recruitment,” he said.

UW-Madison Hillel Director Greg Steinberger said he asked Smathers to pull the ad, which is scheduled to run for 30 days.

“They are an enabler for this Holocaust denial,” Steinberger said. “I asked for a public apology and I don’t think they’ve done that.”

But Smathers said he trusts that most in the campus community will see Smith’s message and turn against it. He said the money paid for the ad will go toward efforts to counter Smith’s movement.