For CBC, a dog story is more important than Israel’s apartheid

There is no good reason why Canada’s public broadcaster did not cover the HRW Israeli apartheid report.

The building of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto [File: Reuters/Mark Blinch]

For much of Canada’s media, the death of an old dog is more newsworthy than the suffering and deaths of imprisoned Palestinians.

That is, in particular, the disgraceful, inescapable indictment of the journalists who populate Canada’s national network, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

If the CBC and you doubt this, remember these facts.

On April 27, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the cautious darling of the Western press, published a 213-page report belatedly finding that Israel has, almost since its engineered inception, ruthlessly and systematically persecuted Palestinians.

The overarching motive behind Israel’s ruthless, systemic persecution of Palestinians is not to keep Israelis safe. Rather, Israel’s sinister aim is to impose ethnic supremacy in occupied Palestine and to crush Palestinians into ghettos with grinding, inhuman efficiency.

The, by now, familiar scenes of fanatical Israeli thugs – in and out of uniforms – assaulting Palestinians resisting eviction from their homes in occupied Jerusalem are vivid proof of Israel’s malevolent intent. So too are, of course, images of the limp, disfigured bodies of infants and children – all victims, yet again, of Israel’s brutal bombardment of Gaza.

Israel, HRW concluded, has, for generations, been guilty of apartheid as a matter of international law, not a facile, rhetorical allegation.

The HRW report made a lot of news and triggered a lot of commentary on this page and on other major media across the globe. But not in Canada. And, most blatantly, not on any of CBC’s many publicly-financed digital and broadcast platforms.

Not a word was uttered about, nor was a moment devoted to, the HRW report by any CBC journalist on April 27, despite the network having received an advance copy.

Now, on May 8, the Obama family’s cute Portuguese water dog, Bo, died, after succumbing to cancer. Bo was described as a “White House celebrity” in the headline attached to a lengthy story about his death published by the CBC online.

So, in the cockeyed calculus of CBC journalists, the passing of a “celebrity” dog constituted “news” that required Canadians’ urgent attention, but Israel’s documented crimes against humanity exacted on besieged Palestinians – decade after pitiless decade – did not warrant even a mention by the network on April 27 and save for this buried, passing reference, in the days since.

The CBC also did not invite a Palestinian-Canadian on any of its news or current affairs programmes to discuss the HRW report’s careful findings and recommendations that demanded its attention since they would have provided an instructive framework for Canadian viewers to understand Israel’s manifest record of aggression.

Beyond being a sorry, indelible stain on its already fading reputation, CBC’s institution-wide embargo of the HRW report is in glaring violation of the public broadcaster’s unique, supposedly sacrosanct, mandate to offer Canadians programming that “informs, enlightens and…reflect[s] Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences”.

Why was the HRW report not covered?

To try to answer that question, I approached 17 hosts of the CBC’s most popular news and current affairs programmes with several queries via email to explain their individual and collective failure to “inform, enlighten” and allow Canadians, including scores of able and willing Palestinian-Canadians, to “reflect” publicly on HRW’s report from April 27 onwards.

None of these suddenly mute journalists-turned-TV and radio personalities who ask questions for a living responded. Not one. Instead, they shunted me to a CBC PR official.

Their sad hypocrisy is on clear, dishonourable display.

These CBC journalists – who routinely extol the virtues of the fourth estate and the broadcaster they work for as an indispensable means to hold powerful public and private individuals and institutions to account – retreat like timorous politicians into silence when a nettlesome member of the fraternity tries to hold them to account.

Like celebrities, these star journalists defer to their PR “people” to speak for and protect them from prickly questions.

In a series of emails, CBC spokesperson, Chuck Thompson, acknowledged that CBC “did not pursue any stories regarding the Human Rights Watch report from April 27th”.

Later, when pressed, he claimed that “there was no edict (nor would there ever be on any story) from anyone within CBC News not to cover this report. Every day, across the service, our program teams make independent, editorial decisions as to what they will cover on their respective shows”.

Translation: Yes, it is true, all these CBC journalists working on all these news and current affairs programmes all decided not to cover the HRW report on precisely the same day and they made all those editorial decisions all by themselves. But in no way was that an act of collusion. It was just a miraculous happenstance.

This is as absurd as it is shameful and it cannot stand for several irrefutable reasons that gagged, myopic CBC journalists and their excuse-mongering confederates need to understand finally.

The CBC is owned by Palestinian Canadians too. They can no longer be treated not only as invisible but as the “other” on Canada’s public airwaves.

As such, when a leading human rights group finds that Palestinians have been methodically humiliated, evicted, imprisoned, tortured, murdered and had their ancestral homes stolen as a consequence of Israeli apartheid, then their voices must be heard clearly and repeatedly on the CBC.

Further, CBC can no longer be permitted to practice a transparent double-standard when it comes to its coverage of international human rights “abusers”.

Examine a slice of the incriminating evidence.

On January 14, 2020, CBC posted a story online on an HRW report lacing into China’s human rights outrages.

This is the story’s stinging lead paragraph: “In an annual report, Human Rights Watch released a scathing review of the Chinese government, calling on the international community to push back against ‘the most brutal and pervasive oppression China has seen in decades.’”

Three years earlier, CBC produced a 22-minute documentary that put Russia in its journalistic crosshairs and explained to its audience in a headline: How Canada set out to punish Russia’s human rights abusers.

When HRW establishes that Israel is culpable for the wholesale, illegal persecution of Palestinians and of practising apartheid in occupied Palestine, the CBC treats this criminality as taboo and has failed to air calls in Canada and abroad for Israel to be punished for its crimes.

By prohibiting Palestinian Canadian writers, academics and historians a forum to inform, enlighten and reflect upon HRW’s scathing report, CBC has deliberately prevented Canadians from inspecting the historical context to make sense of the recent eruption of state-sanctioned violence throughout occupied Palestine.

Israel’s unlawful and pending evictions of Palestinians from their homes in occupied Jerusalem, its unilateral repression of Palestinians’ right to assembly, its bloody, sacrilegious attacks on Palestinian worshippers at one of Islam’s holiest sites, its indiscriminate, disproportionate killings of children, women and men in Gaza are not the latest “spasms” of the Israeli-Palestinian “conflict”.

These are, as HRW makes plain, acts of an occupying army whose intent is to batter, bludgeon and bomb Palestinians out of their land and existence.

That preening, “progressive” apostle of human rights and rules-based order, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also prefers to say and do nothing about Israel’s crimes. Lately, he has been busy granting friction-free interviews to obsequious reporters and self-proclaimed online luminaries who play an agreeable game of T-ball with the ever-effervescent prime minister.

Predictably, Trudeau is never challenged to square his puerile-sounding, unqualified support for Israel with, as HRW succinctly and accurately puts it, “the reality on the ground”.

When he is grudgingly compelled to address “the reality on the ground”, Canada’s telegenic poster-boy for hypocrisy clings to and spouts lies in the face of the perpetual humiliation, violence and terror visited on Palestinians by Israel in occupied Palestine – yesterday, today and tomorrow. Only days ago, as the Israeli army was primed, once more, to pummel Palestinians into deference and submission, Trudeau declared like a wind-up marionette that “Canada supports Israel’s right to assure its own security”.

Trudeau’s “policy” towards occupied Palestine – such that it is – amounts to this: Palestinians are supposed to take it, take it, take it, take it, take it, take it, take it, take it as long as Israel wants to humiliate them, traumatise them, evict them, steal from them, imprison them, torture them, maim them, shoot them, cluster-bomb them, invade them, and slaughter them.

Canada’s diplomats – who, stripped of all the polite embroidery, do Trudeau’s callous, retrograde bidding in the Middle East – have been “reviewing” HRW’s report for two weeks.

An official with Canada’s foreign ministry, Global Affairs Canada, “respectfully declined” my requests to be interviewed about the brutality of Israeli apartheid and the grim, familiar costs of the uprising unfolding in occupied Palestine to resist it.

Just like the gallery of uncharacteristically taciturn CBC journalists, apparently, this nation’s diplomats have other, more pressing matters on their minds.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.