April Fool's No Laughing Matter at The Star

April 11, 2005


April 11, 2005

Dear HonestReporting Canada Subscriber:

April Fool’s is a time for concocting tricky schemes that elicit laughter. But this April the Toronto Star served up a collection of Middle East news and opinion that was no laughing matter. Will you take a moment now to keep the Toronto Star honest?

Salacious Pro-Israeli Gadflies

Describing Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes’ March 29 lecture at the University of Toronto, the Star’s headline read: “Protests muted as pro-Israeli gadfly speaks.” To emphasize Pipes’s support for Israel, reporter Christian Cotroneo used the term “pro-Israeli” three times in the article and described Pipes as “a vocal supporter of Israeli interests.” Yet Pipes was not on campus to promote a pro-Israeli agenda. His lecture topic was “Radical Islam and the War on Terror,” a subject on which Pipes has published several books.

Cotroneo referred to Pipes’ comments with the unusual phrase “every salacious syllable the speaker uttered.” Merriam-Webster defines salacious as “arousing or appealing to sexual desire or imagination; lecherous, lustful.” And as the Star’s headline writers surely know, a gadfly is a person who annoys or irritates by persistent criticism. Does the Star’s referral to Pipes as a salacious pro-Israeli gadly reflect linguistic incompetence or a bias against Pipes, his ideas and his support for Israel?

Lynk and Linkage

On April 1 the Toronto Star published an opinion piece by University of Western Ontario professor Michael Lynk, entitled “Nailing Kazemi’s torturers,” in which Lynk wrote that Canadian victims of foreign torture should be able to sue foreign governments in Canadian courts. Lynk then named several Middle Eastern countries that torture prisoners, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, and concluded, “Israel regularly practises torture on Palestinian prisoners.”

Lynk’s inclusion of Israel under the same umbrella with other Middle Eastern states is misleading. Unlike Israel, Arab states are run by non-democratic regimes that deny basic human rights. The recent U.N.-sponsored Arab Human Development Report, an analysis of the Arab world authored by an independent group of Arab intellectuals, states that, “Perhaps one of the greatest menaces facing any Arab citizen is the frequent disappearance of suspects in detention.” The Saudi regime is known to punish prisoners with amputation, removal of eyes, and beheading, for crimes including murder, robbery and homosexuality. Canadians Maher Arar and William Sampson claim they were tortured in Syrian and Saudi jails.

In contrast, Israel is a liberal democracy where Arabs (including members of two anti-Zionist Arab parties, Hadash and Balad) sit in Parliament. An Israeli Arab serves as a permanent member of Israel’s Supreme Court. In 1999, Israel’s Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling prohibiting interrogation techniques involving physical pressure. And Israel allows representatives of the Red Cross and other groups to inspect its prisons regularly.

Comparing Israel’s treatment of prisoners to Arab regimes’ treatment of prisoners is like comparing apples to oranges. Why did the Star’s editors not insist on a fair and accurate portrayal of prisoners’ rights in the Middle East?

Who is a “Militant”?

Like many news organizations, the Toronto Star avoids using the word “terrorist” to describe Palestinians who murder Israeli civilians, preferring the less provocative term “militants.” But in an April 8 news brief, the Star drew a direct parallel between “Jewish ultra-nationalists who have vowed to hold a rally” and “Palestinians who have vowed renewed violence”.

The news brief began:

“Israel will ban non-Muslims from a sensitive Jerusalem shrine on Sunday amid fears Jewish militants could provoke bloodshed aimed at stalling Israel’s planned withdrawal from Gaza, officials said yesterday.”

The same brief concluded:

Palestinian militants have vowed renewed violence if Jewish nationalists enter the compound.”

With its casual use of the term “militants,” the Star blurred the distinction between Israelis who wanted to hold a rally and Palestinian groups repsonsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians.

Does the Star now equate Israeli protesters with Palestinian terrorists?


How You Can Make a Difference

Tell the Toronto Star that it must ensure fairness and accuracy in its news and commentary pages. Focus on one or more of these items and write to the Toronto Star editor at: lettertoed@thestar.ca

  • Please keep your letter polite and to the point, using your own words.
  • Please include your name and phone number.
  • Please forward a copy of your correspondence to bcc@honestreporting.ca.

Thank you for your ongoing commitment to fair and accurate media coverage of Israel and the Middle East.




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