By BROOKS KIND*
THE GREAT Israeli journalist Amira Hass once said the role of journalists is “to monitor the centres of power.” Based on his reporting, it would appear that CBC’s Middle East reporter Derek Stoffel has a very different conception of a journalist’s role, one more in line with Henry Kissinger’s definition of an expert, i.e., “someone who articulates the consensus of power.” Not only does he consistently fail to monitor the centres of power in Tel Aviv and Washington, but he regularly reports from their perspective, whitewashing or censoring their abuses in the Occupied Territories, attributing responsibility for the failure of the “peace process” to the Palestinians, and generally adopting all the standard conventions of western propaganda in his reporting from the region. His reports on Obama’s recent visit to Israel and the West Bank provide a case in point. Referring to Israel’s ongoing settlement building on Palestinian land, Stoffel said:
Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land the Palestinians say is rightfully part of their own future state. (World Report, March 20th)
Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land the Palestinians want for a future state. (World Report, March 21th)
[Obama] met with the Palestinian president who once again called on Israel to stop building settlements. The Palestinians say that land is rightfully theirs. (World at Six, March 21th) [emphasis added]
Following these reports I asked Stoffel in an email whether he considers it accurate journalism to describe the occupied territories as land the Palestinians simply “want”, or “say is rightfully part of their own future state,” when this claim and the illegality of Israel’s occupation are rooted in an overwhelming international consensus, numerous UN resolutions, and the Geneva conventions. I also inquired why he consistently refused to mention the legal status of Israel’s settlement policies under international law and the treaties just referred to, when this is so obviously critical in assessing Israeli policy and Palestinian resistance.
As usual, I received no response. Disclaimers of this type are a standard method of whitewashing the flagrant illegality of Israel’s behaviour in the occupied territories and spinning matters of universally accepted international law as matters of mere opinion. In an earlier report on the relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Stoffel slightly varied the formula:
You have to remember that just last month the US did criticize Israel for its decision to press ahead with new settlement construction in a controversial area of East Jerusalem. (The World this Weekend, January 20).
In the past Stoffel has also referred to “disputed East Jerusalem.”
“Controversial.” “Disputed.” “Land the Palestinians say is theirs.” These are all deliberately misleading and obfuscatory terms when applied to the illegally occupied Palestinian territories. They are used over and over by the CBC, which has been repeatedly challenged on them and even been compelled to acknowledge their “error,” but still cannot manage to refrain from making liberal use of them. Apparently, the need to whitewash a favoured states’ crimes outweighs the responsibility to tell the truth or even to observe one’s own organization’s stated policies.
Another standard media trope involves portraying the US and Israel as genuinely seeking peace, but not finding reciprocal good will among the Palestinians, particularly Hamas. Its occasional retaliation against Israeli repression is invariably portrayed as unprovoked violence, which then elicits a harsh (but implicitly justified) Israeli response. In the same World at Six report of March 21, Stoffel gives us a striking example of this, speaking about Obama’s visit to the West Bank:
The difficulties of finding peace here all too visible. (sound of angry crowd chanting in Arabic.) In Ramallah, protesters burned an effigy of Obama, accusing the president of choosing sides, choosing Israel. Earlier today, two rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel: a clear message not everyone wants peace. Obama described Mahmoud Abbas as a true partner for peace. He met with the Palestinian president who once again called on Israel to stop building settlements. The Palestinians say that land is rightfully theirs.
In the same e-mail in which I challenged Stoffel on his misleading description of the occupied territories, I posed the following questions relating to the above passage from his report:
Why are the rockets and effigy and the stock audio clips – so beloved by Western reporters – of enraged Arabs chanting, “a clear message that not everyone wants peace”, while the continued ethnic cleansing of illegally occupied land and all the horrific repression that this entails and that you regularly ignore, does not constitute such a “clear message”? And why do you report on this Palestinian violation of the cease-fire while suppressing – there is no other word for it – the over 100 Israeli violations, including at least four killings, dozens of wounded, and numerous administrative detentions (i.e. kidnappings) that have undoubtedly provoked the rocket attack, but that your audience is prevented from knowing anything about? I have sent you UNICEF reports on the criminal abuse of Palestinian children that you have also refused to report on. In the midst of such ongoing, criminal abuses by the Israeli state, how is it credible journalism to describe the victims of these atrocities as the side that does “not… want peace”?
Stoffel’s refusal to answer these questions is understandable. As he and his producers are aware, this is not credible journalism but pure spin, a widely disseminated media fairy tale that portrays Israel and the US as pursuing peace and diplomacy, while in reality they are systematically, and with great violence and lawlessness, undermining any possibility of it. The US-backed settlements and ongoing land-theft alone are sufficient to establish this.
Concealing the illegality and extent of the settlements and Israel’s daily human rights abuses – such as the violations of the November 2012 ceasefire, the treatment of Palestinian children documented in the recent UNICEF report, or the misery inflicted by ongoing blockade of Gaza – is what makes such deceitful narratives possible. The routine suppression of the most salient and damning facts about Israel’s occupation – the modus operandi of CBC middle east reporters past and present – is therefore the foundation of the whole propaganda framework. To quote Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “when truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.”
It’s long past time to end this silence, these lies of omission. An organized Israeli lobby responds very effectively whenever a piece critical of Israel appears in the mainstream media, using flak to intimidate journalists and producers, one of the factors that creates the bias in CBC’s coverage just outlined. Unless they get more flak from the other side, i.e., from those of us who are appalled by the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ basic rights and concerned that we are implicated in them by our government’s and media’s complicity, this bias will remain the default orientation of their middle east reporting. Please write to the CBC challenging their coverage, and demanding that they begin reporting on the daily human rights abuses committed against the Palestinians and on the illegality of the occupation, settlements and land confiscations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In order to promote constructive dialogue and debate, please use polite, non-aggressive language.
- Derek Stoffel, CBC middle east correspondent: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Don Spandier, executive producer, World at Six email@example.com
- Esther Enkin, senior news editor, Esther.Enkin@cbc.ca
- Jennifer McGuire, news editor in chief, Jennifer.McGuire@cbc.ca
*Brooks Kind, a former resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, is an artist, activist and media critic living in Canmore, Alberta.
For further analysis of CBC reporting on Israel-Palestine, please see