Home Media Action Alerts2019 UPDATED: CBC Implicitly Smears Israeli Lone Soldiers From Canada As Akin to Canadian ISIS Recruits & with Dual Loyalties

UPDATED: CBC Implicitly Smears Israeli Lone Soldiers From Canada As Akin to Canadian ISIS Recruits & with Dual Loyalties

by Mike Fegelman

Update: May 15, 2019:

Following complaints by HonestReporting Canada to CBC executives and direct dialogue with CBC Ombudsperson Jack Nagler, the CBC’s Ombud has responded to our concerns in a complaint by C.A.M.E.R.A. concerning CBC’s implicitly smearing Israeli lone soldiers from Canada as being akin to Canadian ISIS recruits and for including an antisemitic trope of alleged dual loyalties.

Though Mr. Nagler asserted in his review that the CBC report “… does not violate CBC journalistic practices,” he came to the conclusion that CBC Parliamentary Bureau reporter Elise von Scheel’s article lacked “focus”, required “deeper context,” needed “tremendous nuance” and a more “in-depth understanding of whatever sensitivities are at play.”

To read the Ombud’s full review please click here or see the bottom of this alert where it can be read in full.

*** See Important Update At The Bottom of The Communique ***

It’s perfectly legitimate for the CBC to produce a news report on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and more specifically, about Canadians who enlist in the Israeli military, also known as “lone soldiers”.

It’s quite another thing for the CBC to implicitly analogize between Canadians who join the IDF (a recognized army, from a democratic country and regarded as the most moral military in the world) and those who join ISIS (an outlawed terror group, known for its many massacres and its pursuit of a worldwide Islamic caliphate).

In a report published by CBC News on February 22 by CBC Parliamentary Bureau reporter Elise von Scheel, this disturbing analogy was included in this report.

CBC reported the following (emphasis added):

Neither Global Affairs Canada nor the Department of National Defence nor Public Safety Canada currently keeps track of the Canadians serving in the Israeli military.

The issue of keeping tabs on Canadians who choose to fight overseas was the subject of heated debate in the House of Commons last spring, as opposition MPs pushed back against Public Safety Canada’s pitch to reintegrate returning members of ISIS.

That debate resurfaced recently around the question of what to do with Canadians being held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as the U.S. withdraws from Syria. But experts caution against drawing a comparison between Canadians serving in the IDF and those who leave to join extremist groups.”

Israel, however controversial it might be, is considered to be an ally of the Western world,” said Derek Penslar, a professor of Jewish history at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.”

There’s a very close military relationship.”

It’s thoroughly inappropriate for the CBC to feature an analogy between Canadian ISIS recruits and Canadians who enlist in the IDF. While the CBC article does include a quote from Professor Penslar who cautions against using such comparisons, the very reference to this analogy smears Israel and the IDF, and serves to delegitimize Israel’s efforts to recruit foreigners to serve in its military. As the report acknowledges, many other nations like the U.S., Bolivia, Russia, Belgium and France allow foreign nationals to serve in their armed forces. So what’s the issue then? Importantly, this isn’t the first time CBC featured such comparisons. In 2015, then Mideast bureau chief Sasa Petricic compared ISIS terrorists to foreign recruits of the Israeli Defence Forces. After concerns were raised, the reporter tried to walk back the comment.

The report then veers towards a discussion of issues of potential “conflicts of interest” that could arise for Israel’s lone soldier recruits from Canada who may be asked to do surveillance efforts of Canada or other treasonous activities, presumably espionage. Was the CBC implicitly raising the spectre of dual loyalties, regarded widely as an antisemitic smear? The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism states the following:Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

The resultant effect is that the patriotism of Jewish Canadians enlisted in the IDF is challenged.

Amazingly, and in a roundabout way by linking to its previous reporting, the CBC report then implicitly equates Israel’s lone soldiers with, of all people, convicted terrorist Omar Khadr (now released) who confessed to murdering a U.S. army medic, Christopher Speer, in Afghanistan in 2002.

And then the CBC article veers its attention towards the charity status of the Lone Soldier Centre, an organization that provides housing and other services for lone soldiers. The CBC article says the following (emphasis added):

“(The Lone Soldier Centre, for example, has charitable status in Canada through the Ne’eman Foundation, a fact that has been called out by critics who see any Canadian support for the Israeli military as controversial.)”

Statistics are based on 2017 numbers provided by the Israel Defence Forces and the Lone Soldier Centre in Israel. (IDF/Facebook)

This CBC report comes on the heels of a January 4 CBC article which critiqued the Jewish National Fund of Canada, as a “Canadian charity used donations to fund projects linked to Israeli military”.

The Canadian Jewish News reported the following at the time:

The Jewish National Fund of Canada (JNF) is defending itself against a highly critical article about its fundraising that was published by the CBC earlier this month. The Jan. 4 online article by the CBC’s Evan Dyer alleged that the JNF, one of Canada’s oldest Jewish charities that’s best known for its tree-planting and environmental work in Israel, has been the subject of a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) audit over a complaint that it used charitable donations to build infrastructure for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), “in violation of Canada’s tax rules.” The article claimed that JNF has funded projects on Israeli army, air and naval bases.

In back-to-back months, CBC News has produced feature-length articles which have been highly critical of the Israeli military, all done by its parliamentary bureau.

Interestingly, what prompted the CBC to produce both of these reports? With respect to its recent article on the lone soldier recruits from Canada, there certainly isn’t anything NEW in this “news”, which makes you question the motive for the CBC’s producing this report at the onset. This begs the question, why did the CBC produce and publish this report now?

Notwithstanding, there are some silver linings to this article in how it quotes Canadian lone soldiers expressing their pride for being part of the IDF, saying that their service is to protect their heritage and for “Israel to be here for future generations.” The article also acknowledges that it takes 15 seconds for a rocket from Gaza to reach Israel. Of course, the article only describes Hamas terrorists as “militants” and describes Palestinian rioters as “protestors”. The CBC has published the following correction to its article:

Alarmingly, this CBC article tarnished the reputation of Israel and its armed forces, by casting Israeli lone soldiers from Canada as being akin to Canadian ISIS recruits and for tacitly challenging their patriotism and loyalty to Canada.

Shame on the CBC.

HonestReporting Canada has filed a complaint with CBC News Editor-in-Chief Jennifer McGuire and we encourage you to also file a complaint. Send emails to: Jennifer.McGuire@CBC.ca. Please refer to Elise von Scheel’s February 22 report entitled: “‘I don’t see why I shouldn’t have to serve’: Why young, Jewish Canadians are enlisting in the Israeli military”.

UPDATE 1: February 28, 2019:

HRC received the following reply from the CBC on February 28 acknowledging several corrections it made to this article subsequent to our complaint. Notwithstanding, HRC has asked the CBC’s Ombudsman to carry out a review of this report as we contend it violated CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Dear Mr. Fegelman

Thank you for your email to Jennifer McGuire, the Editor in Chief and General Manager of CBC News pointing us to a critique on your website about an article entitled “I don’t see why I shouldn’t have to serve”. Why young, Jewish Canadians are enlisting the Israeli military.” written by Elise von Scheel.

As the Director of Journalistic Standards and Practices, I’m responding on her behalf.

I have reviewed the article, and I wanted to let you know that we have made three adjustments to it.

We had made an error both in the copy of the article and the caption underneath the graphic illustration of the United Nations statistics of casualties sustained by Palestinians as part of the “March of Return” events.

We have updated the copy to read:

The United Nations estimates 171 Palestinians were killed and thousands more injured during demonstrations that lasted for most of the year, and another 57 were killed in “other contexts,” including “Palestinian attacks, Israeli airstrikes and infiltration attempts into Israel.” The UN reported one Israeli death in that period.

We also updated the caption. As well, while I don’t share your view that von Scheel was drawing a direct comparison of Canadians serving in Israel, to ISIS recruits, the paragraph was not written clearly enough, and I could see where a reader might draw that inference. We have made some changes to that section, which I feel addresses that concern.

I also asked that we remove a link to an Omar Khadr story in the section about dual citizenship. Concerns had been raised about its relevance in the script, and I agreed.

You can see the updated article here.. I regret the errors in our copy – it was missed in the vetting process, and that should not have happened. I trust that our other edits have alleviated some of your concerns.

I would appreciate it if you would note this action on your website.

Sincerely,

Paul Hambleton

Director of Journalistic Standards and Practices

CBC News

UPDATE 2: March 7, 2019:

The Canadian Jewish News published an important commentary by Rabbi Howard Morrison of Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda synagogue entitled: “The CBC used my son to attack Israel”.

His commentary can be found below, along with an unabridged version of his sermon that was recently orated to his congregation:

UPDATE 3: March 27, 2019:

In a letter published in the Canadian Jewish News this week, immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann (who was interviewed and quoted in this CBC article) has accusing the CBC of “false reporting” in regards to Ms. von Scheel’s report.

Mr. Mamann claims that his “words were taken completely out of context” and that “my words were sensationalized in order to advance the trope of the Jew with divided loyalties to demonize Israel.”

Mr. Mamann concludes by saying: “The CBC article was written as a hatchet job on the Jewish state and the men and women who risk their lives defending Israel’s civilian population from terror. It pains me to no end that my attempt to assist that reporter with a theoretical scenario was used to demonize the Jewish state that I love so dearly.”

Read the full letter here:

UPDATE 4: May 15, 2019:

Following complaints by HonestReporting Canada to CBC executives and direct dialogue with CBC Ombudsperson Jack Nagler, the CBC’s Ombud has responded to our concerns in a complaint by C.A.M.E.R.A. concerning CBC’s implicitly smearing Israeli lone soldiers from Canada as being akin to Canadian ISIS recruits and for including an antisemitic trope of alleged dual loyalties.

Though Mr. Nagler asserted in his review that the CBC report “…. does not violate CBC journalistic practices,” he came to the conclusion that CBC Parliamentary Bureau reporter Elise von Scheel’s article lacked “focus”, required “deeper context,” needed “tremendous nuance” and a more “in-depth understanding of whatever sensitivities are at play.”

To read the Ombud’s full review please click here or below:

Inferences and Israel (May 14, 2019)

The complainant, Tamar Sternthal, was troubled by an online article about Canadians who have enlisted with the Israel Defence Forces. She felt the article made it seem as though signing up to defend Israel is equivalent to joining ISIS.

COMPLAINT

You are the Director of the Israel Office for an organization called CAMERA, which stands for Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. You were one of several people who expressed concerns about a February 22nd online article headlined ‘I don’t see why I shouldn’t have to serve’: Why young, Jewish Canadians are enlisting in the Israeli military.

The article profiled two young Canadian men who had voluntarily joined the Israeli army. They are among a group of recruits known as “lone soldiers”, because they have no immediate family in Israel. Reporter Elise von Scheel described the experiences of these two men. She also examined a number of issues and questions that might conceivably be raised by such a program.

You raised two distinct concerns. The first involved an inaccurate depiction of casualty numbers which took place at the border fence between Israel and Gaza during an event referred to by Palestinians as the “Great March of Return” in 2018. The original version of the story said:

The United Nations estimates more than 200 Palestinians were killed and thousands more injured during demonstrations that lasted for most of the year and continue still.

You noted that the article included a hyperlink to the UN source of the information, and argued that this link did not substantiate the figure reported by CBC. You wrote:

The U.N. states:

  • Since the start of the ‘Great March of Return’ demonstrations on 30 March 2018 and up to the end of October, 171 Palestinians have been killed, including 33 children, during the demonstrations. A further 57 people, including 10 children, were killed in other contexts, including Palestinian attacks, Israeli airstrikes and infiltration attempts into Israel, according to information collected by OCHA.

Thus, according to the U.N., 171 were killed in the demonstrations through October, while an additional 57 were killed in Palestinian attacks on Israel, Israeli airstrikes on militants, and infiltration attempts into Israel.

Your second concern involved a reference in the story to ISIS.

In a separate very troubling issue, von Scheel raises a comparison between young Canadians serving in Israel’s military and Canadians who joined ISIS jihadists in Syria. She wrote:

  • The issue of keeping tabs on Canadians who choose to fight overseas was the subject of heated debate in the House of Commons last spring, as opposition MPs pushed back against Public Safety Canada’s pitch to reintegrate returning members of ISIS.
  • The debate resurfaced recently around the question of what to do with Canadians being held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as the U.S. withdraws from Syria.
  • But that debate concerned radicalized Canadians fighting for a terrorist group, not Canadian citizens serving in the military of a long-standing ally.
  • Experts caution against drawing a comparison between Canadians serving in the IDF and those who leave to join extremist groups.

Indeed, there is no comparison to be drawn, so why does von Scheel make one? Rather than clearly explaining the phenomenon of Canadians serving in a friendly army, von Scheel confounds her readers with an irrelevant, unfounded and highly explosive comparison.

Other complainants raised similar issues. Some were concerned about a section of the article alluding to the possibility that Canadians fighting on behalf of another country could face a conflict of interest. They perceived this to be questioning the loyalty or patriotism of Jewish Canadians. There were also questions raised about the article’s hyperlinks to past stories, in particular a story about Omar Khadr.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Paul Hambleton, Director of Journalistic Standards and Practices, responded on behalf of CBC News.

He acknowledged the original story reported the casualty numbers in Gaza incorrectly, so CBC corrected the article to read as follows:

The United Nations estimates 171 Palestinians were killed and thousands more injured during demonstrations that lasted for most of the year, and another 57 were killed in “other contexts,” including “Palestinian attacks, Israeli airstrikes and infiltration attempts into Israel.” The UN reported one Israeli death in that period.

Mr. Hambleton disputed the idea that the article made a direct comparison between Israel and ISIS, but acknowledged he “could see where you might draw the inference.” He said that CBC has revised that section of the article.

Mr. Hambleton also said that CBC removed the hyperlink to the Omar Khadr story.

You asked for a review, arguing that the change CBC made to the story was inadequate:

By including information about young Canadians joining ISIS (five paragraphs) in an article about young Canadians joining the Israeli military, von Scheel, intentionally or not, has made an inappropriate, unfounded comparison, implicit if not explicit. The caveat that “[E]xperts cautions against drawing a comparison” underscores the fact that this is exactly what the CBC has done.

REVIEW

It is self-evident that by reporting inaccurately on the casualties in Gaza the story violated CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices. It is also evident that CBC News acknowledged the error when it was raised, and corrected it in an appropriate and transparent fashion.

While that portion of your complaint is straightforward, the reference to ISIS is much less so. The complexity is captured by a key word you and other complainants used: “implicit”. Complainants were consistent in saying that this section of the article put the Israeli army and ISIS on the same plane of morality, and that this was unfair.

The article contains no such explicit statement. Rather, as Mr. Hambleton said, it’s an inference drawn by the complainants. While that reaction is understandable, it’s not the only way one can interpret this section of the article.

Here is how the original version read:

Canada not tracking lone soldiers

Neither Global Affairs Canada nor the Department of National Defence nor Public Safety Canada currently keeps track of the Canadians serving in the Israeli military.

The issue of keeping tabs on Canadians who choose to fight overseas was the subject of heated debate in the House of Commons last spring, as opposition MPs pushed back against Public Safety Canada’s pitch to reintegrate returning members of ISIS. That debate resurfaced recently around the question of what to do with Canadians being held by the U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as the U.S. withdraws from Syria.

But experts caution against drawing a comparison between Canadians serving in the IDF and those who leave to join extremist groups.

“Israel, however controversial it might be, is considered to be an ally of the Western world,” said Derek Penslar, a professor of Jewish history at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

“There’s a very close military relationship.”

The issue the author raised is not, as you suggested, irrelevant and unfounded. There is instead a legitimate question worthy of discussion and debate: should the federal government track Canadian citizens who go abroad to represent another country? Nor was it a question conjured out of thin air by the reporter; it echoed a debate already begun when parliamentarians grappled with the problem of Canadians leaving the country to join ISIS. The context is different, of course. ISIS is a vastly different entity, with different implications for Canada’s national security, but there is no denying that some of the questions overlap.

This unfortunate situation also raises questions about the law surrounding Canadian citizenship. Currently, in order to become a Canadian citizen, you must first complete a rigorous application process. There are of course a number of eligibility criteria. For example, any prior convictions can seriously hinder your ability to become a Canadian citizen. As things stand, you can remove these hurdles by acquiring a Canadian pardon. However, perhaps more should be done to enhance national security? Only time will tell.

Given there is no explicit comparison on which to rely, I’m left to judge Ms. von Scheel’s intent as she wrote the article. Was she simply highlighting that the issue of tracking the activity of Canadians abroad is already something politicians have begun to consider, or was she suggesting that joining the IDF – the military force of a Canadian ally – is akin to joining ISIS, which is on Canada’s list of terrorist entities? Considering she immediately includes the line “experts caution against drawing a comparison” between the IDF and ISIS and quotes an expert who lays out a fundamental difference, I conclude it’s the former.

The problem, then, was the construction of the passage’s first two paragraphs. They left room for doubt about their meaning. If we’ve learned anything in this day and age of skepticism about the media, it is that people are less inclined to give a journalist the benefit of the doubt.

I was interested in how CBC responded to the complaints. Mr. Hambleton told you that changes were made, and here is how the article reads currently. I have highlighted the key addition in red:

Canada not tracking IDF soldiers

Neither Global Affairs Canada nor the Department of National Defence nor Public Safety Canada currently keeps track of the Canadians serving in the Israeli military.

The issue of keeping tabs on Canadians who choose to fight overseas was the subject of heated debate in the House of Commons last spring, as opposition MPs pushed back against Public Safety Canada’s pitch to reintegrate returning members of ISIS.

The debate resurfaced recently around the question of what to do with Canadians being held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as the U.S. withdraws from Syria.

But that debate concerned radicalized Canadians fighting for a terrorist group, not Canadian citizens serving in the military of a long-standing ally.

Experts caution against drawing a comparison between Canadians serving in the IDF and those who leave to join extremist groups.

“Israel, however controversial it might be, is considered to be an ally of the Western world,” said Derek Penslar, a professor of Jewish history at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

“There’s a very close military relationship.”

The article now states explicitly that the two circumstances are distinct. It may not be perfect, but it is a reasonable effort to ensure that readers do not draw unwarranted conclusions. This section of the story does not violate CBC journalistic policies.

That section notwithstanding, the article as a whole struggles to live up to its own ambitions. At its heart is a profile of two Jewish Canadians who choose to join the Israeli military. It examines their motivations and their experience. Fair enough, but in the name of adding context, it covers so much ground that it loses focus. Among the questions it asks are: How many such soldiers are there? What difference does it make that Israel has compulsory military service? How appropriate is the conduct of Israel’s military? What happened during recent outbreaks of conflict in Gaza? Do other countries allow foreigners to enlist? Should Canada keep track of these people? Might they actually be in conflict with Canada’s interests?

I don’t dismiss that any and all of those threads are worthy of journalistic pursuit. There is nothing in the JSP, though, that says they all have to be done at once. In fact, this is how it describes “accuracy”:

“We seek out the truth in all matters of public interest. We invest our time and our skills to learn, understand and clearly explain the facts to our audience. The production techniques we use serve to present the content in a clear and accessible manner.”

This is one of those times where less detail could have made for a clearer story. Keep in mind that I’m not calling for “less context”, but I am calling for deeper context, even if it means covering fewer angles. Had this article been framed more modestly, its journalistic purpose could have come through more clearly, and its various sections might be less open to dispute or competing interpretations.

Case in point – the section of the story that asks whether Canadians fighting for the Israeli army (or presumably any foreign army) might find themselves in a conflict of interest.

This, again, is a legitimate (albeit hypothetical) question to ask. Allies do not always share the same perspective, or the same interests. Allies have even been known to spy on one another. It stands to reason that representing another country could, at times, clash with what is in the best interests of Canada.

At the same time, we know that questioning the loyalty of minorities, including Jews, has long been used as an insidious form of discrimination. So tackling the conflict of interest question requires tremendous nuance, and a deep understanding of history. Ms. von Scheel told me that her point here was to drive home the complexity of the issues relating to “lone soldiers”, not to question their loyalty. I have no reason to doubt her, but there were other ways to explore this issue while still paying more attention to legitimate and deeply felt sensitivities.

The funny thing is that the reporter went to great lengths to create a comprehensive feature story. There are many different voices represented, and the two lone soldiers are given ample room to share their stories. That it ended up on my desk drives home the importance for CBC journalists of a tight focus, and in-depth understanding of whatever sensitivities are at play.

Sincerely,

Jack Nagler
CBC Ombudsperson

Comments

comments

You may also like

Leave a Comment

Help Fight Media Bias Against Israel!

Sign up for email alerts from HonestReporting Canada to receive vital resources that educate and empower you.
SUBSCRIBE
close-link