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Critical bias

Editorial by Bruce Wark


All hell broke loose 16 years ago when I produced a report on the pro-Israeli bias of Peter Gzowski’s Morningside, CBC Radio’s leading current affairs show. I was producer of Media File, a CBC program that reported on the newsmedia. After the report aired, the shit hit the fan inside CBC. I spent days penning memos to my unhappy boss defending the story. Yes, I was pissing inside the CBC tent, but how can you report on the Canadian media without mentioning the pro-Israeli bias that shapes so much Middle East coverage?

I remembered the incident last week as I read editorials cheering the brutal Israeli attacks on Lebanon. The Globe and Mail praised Stephen Harper for rejecting the idea of a ceasefire. Harper described Israel’s violence as a “measured” response, sticking by his words even after it became clear that Israeli bombs were killing hundreds of defenceless Lebanese. Israel’s warplanes destroyed highways and bridges as more than 800,000 refugees fled. The UN secretary general described it as an “excessive use of force,” adding that Israel was imposing “collective punishment” on the Lebanese people—in violation of Geneva conventions on war crimes.

Harper, the Globe and editorial writers at other mainstream papers insisted that Israel was merely defending itself against terrorists, as if Israel itself never engages in terrorism. Official definitions say terrorism is the use, or threat, of violence, often against civilians, to influence governments or intimidate the public as a way of advancing political, religious or ideological causes. On the one hand, the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah captures two Israeli soldiers and fires volleys of rockets into cities and towns, forcing terrified Israelis into bomb shelters. On the other, a militant Israel subjects terrified Lebanese to a bombing campaign designed to make their lives hell.

That violence parallelled what was already happening in the Gaza Strip, a dirt-poor Palestinian territory that Israel’s critics describe as the world’s largest open-air prison. Israel ended its 38-year occupation of Gaza last September, but continues to control access to the territory where it routinely carries out assassinations and arrests. This spring, Israel fired 6,000 rockets into Gaza, ostensibly in response to the intermittent firing of primitive homemade rockets from Gaza into Israel. As Palestinian civilians died under Israeli shells, Palestinian resistors captured an Israeli soldier and demanded the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel responded by invading Gaza, bombing its only power plant, killing more than 100 civilians and arresting scores of politicians from the newly-elected government led by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. (Canada classifies Hamas as a terrorist group and in March, the Harper government cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority which governs Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.)

“The occupied territories continue to fester in Israeli life like a monstrous disease,” writes veteran Israeli journalist Amos Elon in the New York Review of Books. He warns that Israel’s refusal to give up its illegal control and occupation of the Palestinian territories means that Palestinian resistance is bound to continue. Israel is building a 730-kilometre wall to separate Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem from the Palestinians whose lands they occupy. “Meanwhile, the terror continues,” Elon writes grimly, referring to suicide bombers who kill Israelis on streets, in buses and restaurants.

But suicide bombs, homemade rockets or even the longer-range Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon are no match for the Israel’s advanced fighter jets, attack helicopters, tanks and missiles. The mainstream Canadian media depict groups like Hamas and Hezbollah as fanatical terrorists bent on Israel’s destruction—a depiction that seems to justify the continuing Israeli oppression and violence so warmly supported by George Bush and his pal “Steve” Harper. But if Israel really wants peace, Elon suggests, it will have to give up its settlements in the occupied territories and free the Palestinians. The long-term solution is political, not military.

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