Canadian media show their bias in downplaying Israeli violence

Coverage from major outlets has consistently failed to explain historical context and the uneven power dynamics in the region
Thousands rallied for Palestine May 15 at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. (Krisna Saravanamuttu)
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It’s no secret that the Canadian government has close ties with the Israeli political and military establishment. Support for Israel’s militarism has been an enduring feature of the Canadian political landscape, and just a few months ago Canada opposed the International Criminal Court’s decision to investigate alleged war crimes perpetrated by Israel.

This partisanship does not, however, limit itself to politics. In recent days, Canada’s media has displayed an equally egregious bias in its coverage of the violence currently raging in Israel and Palestine, presenting an overly simplistic and out-of-context analysis of the violence taking place.

Given that this is the worst escalation of violence in the area in recent years, it bears stressing that critical and scrupulous coverage is essential. Moreover, rigorous reporting is imperative when considering the ties that bind both the Canadian and Israeli political leadership.

Absence of contextualization

Canada’s media has by and large presented the violence taking place in the Middle East as a symmetrical escalation of tensions.

Most outlets — the CBC, the Toronto Star and others — reprinted material from the Associated Press, whose phrasing which depicted the violence as proportional exchanges of force, instigated by “clashes” at the Al-Aqsa mosque. These were not clashes, but state-sanctioned crackdowns on Palestinian worshippers.

In fact, Canadian mainstream media not only mischaracterized these events but also described them out of context.

The catalyst for the recent violence was the expulsions of Palestinian families from the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Several families were notified weeks ago that they had to abandon their homes in order to make room for Israeli settlers. This demand was understandably met with anger as Palestinians residents resolved to resist their evictions. The calls for resistance rapidly spread beyond Sheikh Jarrah, drawing the support of Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories.

Moreover, this was not an isolated occurrence. The state of Israel has repeatedly encouraged and enabled the theft of Palestinian homes by settlers. In 2020 alone, hundreds of Palestinian families were forcibly removed from their homes, either as cruel and unusual punishment or to make room for Israeli settlers.

Palestinian rockets are improvised devices, whereas Israel’s military is supplied by top-rated weapons manufacturers, some of which are in fact Canadian.

This injustice is illustrative of the power dynamics in the region. The Israeli state has for several decades maintained a settler-colonial relationship with Palestine. Amnesty International qualifies Israeli policy as institutional discrimination directed at a population under military occupation. The hallmarks of this policy are the continued negation of Palestinian human rights and the enduring threat of militarized supremacist violence.

The CBC’s claim that “up until now, populations lived in relative peace” shows the extent of the misunderstanding and misrepresentation. There has been ongoing violence and repression in Israel-Palestine, and this year alone 31 Palestinians, among them nine children, have been killed by Israeli police and military forces, with many more injured.

No such explanation has been featured in mainstream Canadian reporting. Outlets began their reporting with the police confrontations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, framing the subsequent armed exchanges as a sudden boiling over of long-simmering tensions. In truth, there was nothing sudden about the incidents of state violence experienced by Palestinians at Al-Aqsa; it was a continuation of a supremacist policy designed to dissuade and prevent Palestinian resistance.

Canada’s media is by no means the exception in this case, as Western media has aggregately failed to situate the current violence within its historical and political context. Doing this would require recognition of the fact that most Western states have actively supported Israel’s campaign against Palestinian rights.

Coverage that condones Israeli aggression

More disturbing is deliberate misrepresentation.

A survey of reporting by Canadian media points to an intentional distortion of facts — one that notably presents Israel and Palestine as equal opponents who have stumbled into armed conflict as a result of ambiguous tensions. Most accounts have chosen to highlight the Palestinian armed response as the initial show of force, thereby skewing the timeline of events.

These reports begin by mentioning the rockets fired by Hamas, then note the bombing by Israeli forces. This effectively and implicitly frames the narrative around Israel’s response to Hamas. Readers are thus led to believe that the escalation in violence began with Hamas, when in fact it was responding to Israel’s armed repression of Palestinian civilians. The question here is not whether the use of defensive force can be legitimately debated, but of how and why these events are misrepresented by the press.

Moreover, by framing events in this way, the press implicitly presents the violence as proportional when it is not. Palestinian rockets are improvised devices, whereas Israel’s military is supplied by top-rated weapons manufacturers, some of which are in fact Canadian. Israel also has a defence system to protect its civilians from Palestinian rockets, whereas Gaza and the West Bank are entirely vulnerable to Israel’s bombs — which explains the disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties.

There have been no instances of residential buildings being flattened by Palestinian rockets, though there is footage of Palestinian apartment buildings, and most recently international press headquarters, collapsing after being struck by Israeli bombs.

Presenting each side’s use of force as symmetrical is an egregious manipulation of reality, one that serves to minimize the disproportionality and cruelty of Israeli state violence.

Obfuscating Canada’s stake in this conflict

Canada’s media has also failed to expose the ties between the Canadian and Israeli political establishments.

Between 2018 and 2020, Canadian exported weapons and military technology to Israel with a cumulative worth of over $28 million. The economic and trade relationship between both nations is not insignificant, and it helps explain Canada’s continued commitment to Israel at the expense of Palestinian rights. This relationship is nevertheless ignored by most journalists.

Canada’s media play a significant role in downplaying international crimes.

The Canadian government’s failure to condemn and, at times even acknowledge, the humanitarian crimes perpetrated by Israel has been a fixture of national politics for decades. Since 2000, Canada has voted down 166 UN resolutions condemning Israel’s abuse of Palestinian rights. More recently, Trudeau’s government opposed the International Criminal Courts jurisdiction on the suspected crimes committed by Israeli forces. Trudeau’s government also recently adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which controversially labels criticism of the state of Israel as antisemitic.

None of these facts were included in recent reports on the conflict.

Were they to include this information in their reporting, Canadian media would be forced to acknowledge that Canada does not occupy a neutral position in this conflict. Such a realization would further provide the grounds for calls for greater government accountability in this matter. In other words, rigorous reporting could destabilize the Canadian political establishment. Evidently, however, Canadian media prefers to toe the party line when it comes to Israel-Palestine. For anyone critical of Canadian media this is, unfortunately, not surprising.

As Andrew Mitrovica recently noted in a piece published by Al-Jazeera, Canadian media habitually ignore Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. He notes the absent Canadian response to the publication of a Human Rights Watch report that states unequivocally that Israel is criminally oppressing and brutalizing the Palestinian people. Both the Canadian government and media regularly recognize the legitimacy of Human Rights Watch on other matters, yet when it comes to Israel they are conspicuously silent.

In short, Canada’s media play a significant role in downplaying international crimes — crimes that many credible commentators have qualified as genocidal. This is unacceptable given Canada’s complicity in tolerating Israel’s supremacist violence. As a result, the Canadian public is not only misinformed about the violence taking place in the Middle East, they are woefully ill-equipped to demand an appropriate political response from their government.

Elizabeth Leier is a freelance journalist and graduate student at Concordia University in Montreal. Her interests include international politics, foreign policy and climate justice.

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