HRC in Huffington Post: "Harper's Visit to Israel: When Journalistic Objectivity Need Not Apply"

January 29, 2014

Is La Presse columnist Agnes Gruda, like some in the mainstream media, guilty of the bias they project onto Prime Minister Harper? HRC thinks so. Read our commentary appended below or at Huffington Post Canada.

Why did Harper’s speech in the Israeli Knesset cause a Montreal journalist to contemptuously indict Stephen Harper with a “binary” and “black and white” vision?

After all, in his speech in the Knesset, Harper voiced traditional European and American support for a two-state solution, the idea of justice that “extends no less to the Palestinian people than it does to the people of Israel” and “a just and secure future for the Palestinian people”. 

The answer is that Harper also voiced considerable support for Israel. But in the radical chic post-modern world which La Presse journalist Agnes Gruda and those like her inhabit, one cannot be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. According to this mindset, pro-Palestinian support requires the negation of any identification with the Israeli narrative. “An honest broker”, therefore, is defined as one who is at odds with the Israeli position. Thus, Harper’s reiterated support for Palestinian statehood and a donation of $66 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority was not sufficient testimony of his pro-Palestinian sentiment because it was marred by his vocal support for Israel.

Gruda was apparently offended by Harper’s quite basic observation that Israel is a sole democracy surrounded by states suffering from tyranny, instability and a basic lack of human rights. In a country like Israel where everyone is equal under the law, she was miffed by Harper’s description as “sickening” those who perpetuate the lie of Israel “apartheid”. Journalists who cannot tell the difference between democracies and dictatorships or between fact and fiction are ill-prepared for the business of objective journalism. 

Gruda, like others in the media, also misreported Harper’s speech and blithely assimilated any and all criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism. Harper, though, said the opposite: “Criticism of Israeli government policy is not in and of itself necessarily anti-Semitic”. Instead, Harper asserted that the singling out of Israel for selective condemnation constitutes anti-Semitism, a definition shared by the European Union Working definition of anti-Semitism and the Ottawa Protocols, signed by 51 countries. Blurring such important distinctions trivializes contemporary anti-Semitism and provides cover for the selective condemnation of Israel to persist unchallenged.

Reporting on the Israeli-Arab conflict exclusively through the lens of Israel’s actions comes at the detriment of a genuine understanding of other factors which make peace elusive. Like many in the media, Gruda refrains from critical judgment of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) governance, it’s bankrolling of terrorists bankrolling of terrorists, its jailing of journalists, its inculcation of hatred of Israel and Jews in the curriculum of Palestinian schools or the naming of kindergartens the naming of kindergartens and sports teams sports teams after terrorists. A lack of criticism also accompanies reporting of the PA’s parades and confetti for released terrorists who are hailed as “heros” for having murdered Israeli civilians. Canada’s principled support of Israel can only be interpreted as ‘unreasonable’ when the public is made unaware of this institutionalized hatred, thanks to a media moratorium on Palestinian incitement.

The media also generally neglects to critically examine the effect of the PA demand for the “right of return” which would create a demographically de facto Arab state in Israel proper by flooding the Jewish state with 5 million hostile Palestinians. Or how about examining the obstacle posed by the PA refusal to accept an end to territorial claims in any final peace agreement?

Many in the media, on the other hand, enthusiastically exercise critical reporting on Israel. As Harper observed in his remarks to journalists: “When I’m in Israel I’m asked to single out Israel, when I’m in the Palestinian Authority I’m asked to single out Israel and in half the other places around the world you ask me to single out Israel.”

The effect of ignoring Palestinian obstacles to peace puts the exclusive focus on Israel as the recalcitrant peace partner. This has opened the door to the media-inspired fiction that Israeli settlements are the main obstacle to achieving peace. Few are the media consumers who are apprised of the fact that Jewish homes comprise less than 2% of the West Bank and are not, in fact, “illegal” according to a significant number of legal experts.

The focus on settlements in turn leaves little room for attention to core Israeli concerns such as security, the importance of which is demonstrated by the reactionary and deadly forces sweeping the region and surrounding Israel’s borders. The indelible precedent of the failure of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza to secure peace continues to weigh heavily on Israeli citizens who are the continued targets of terrorism and rockets.

The zeal to criticize Israel while asking no hard questions of the Palestinian Authority raises questions concerning media bias. Indeed, one can argue that it is through the prism of media distortions that the charge of excessive and “binary” support can be interpreted.

The question therefore becomes: are some in the media, like Gruda, guilty of the “binary” and “black and white” attitude they project onto Prime Minister Harper–only in reverse?


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