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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

December 24, 2002

When will CBC finally use the 'T' word?

Norman Spector, Canada's former ambassador to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, served as deputy minister to former B.C. premier Bill Bennett and as chief of staff to Brian Mulroney writes to Peter Mansbridge and the CBC.
I'm writing as a friend, and as a friend of the CBC. I've been thinking about your Mideast coverage, but the timing never seemed right to send this letter. After hearing Chief David Ahenakew praise Hitler and the Holocaust, that time has now come. You wouldn't know it from most of the coverage from Toronto, but Ahenakew was not just addressing events that took place more than 50 years ago.

Jews caused the Second World War, he believes; by "killing people in Arab countries" they will cause a third. No context. No mention of Hamas bombers who kill themselves and murder Israeli civilians.

New York Times reporters, though not yours, routinely explain that Hamas's goal is not to end the occupation, but to eliminate the Jewish state. For months, I've been weighing CBC arguments against labelling them "terrorists." When that position erupted into a personal attack on Neil Macdonald (whose tough but fair reporting while in Ottawa I highly respected), I decided to hold off writing to you. More recently, the issue became embroiled in the war of words between the CBC and Israel Asper, another target of Ahenakew's paranoia. With media convergence shrinking the outlets open to minority views such as mine, one does not lightly tread into this minefield. So I waited and watched.

Here's how I see it. Your reporters have not been known to question whether the Sept. 11 attacks were anything other than terrorism; nor has any disputed that the murderers of Aussies, Britons and two Canadians in Bali were terrorists. So, when our government listed Hamas as a terrorist organization, I thought the CBC had an opportunity to change tack. Nothing doing. Apparently, it's still for impressionable young viewers to make up their minds whether they'd prefer to join the Boy Scouts or an organization that's illegal in Canada and blows up babies in Jerusalem.

More recently, Human Rights Watch concluded that such attacks rise to the level of "crimes against humanity." The organization added that nothing could justify them, not even the occupation or settlements that figure so prominently on CBC. Therefore, I fully expected to hear the "T" word pass through CBC lips, when men in orange vests next flashed across my Television screen, meticulously scraping body tissue off bloody sidewalks. Fat chance. But hope sprang anew in recent weeks, as I observed Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham prepare his flip-flop on Hezbollah. That organization, too, wishes to eliminate Israel. Though Hezbollah claims to be resisting occupation, the UN notes that Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon is "complete."

Peter, the decision to list both its military and political wings was inevitable, once the Americans added Hezbollah to their "A-team" of terrorists. Yet, your journalists would question this shift in Canadian policy.

I also appreciate everyone is proud of Neil Macdonald's disclosure that Hezbollah's Sheik Nasrallah may not have threatened to take "martyrdom" operations beyond the Mideast. I, for one, hope he got it right. If the alleged statement were behind our government's policy change, it would mean Canada believes it's one thing when Israelis are murdered, and "terrorism" when Aussies are.

Reluctantly, I've concluded this double standard of morality infuses CBC reporting. Last week, even the UN Security Council, for the first time in its history, condemned an attack on Israelis as terrorism. Yet Canada's national broadcaster did not use the term in reporting on the bombing of the hotel in Kenya, or the missiles fired at an Israeli passenger jet.

The vote in the Security Council was 14-1, with only Syria dissenting. Its policy toward Israel was expressed last year by President Bashar al-Assad. Greeting the Pope, he accused the Jewish state of "trying to kill religions in the same way (they) betrayed Jesus Christ."

Peter, I know this is not company you'd wish to keep. I also know you would not want to encourage the view, expressed by another of your reporters, that "the latest in a series of pressure tactics" by the "Jewish lobby" lay behind the decision to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Judging from my e-mail, that kind of language in reports on the Mideast can only serve to encourage David Ahenakew and his ilk in their demented view of the world.
The CBC thinks if they were to call them terrorists they would be taking Israel's side. They aren't concerned though that by not calling them terrorists they are taking the terrorists' side. With respect, to call them terrorist is to take the side of morality. Terrorism is not acceptable. Period.