Canadian protester deported from Israel

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Report about the arrest and deportation from Israel of a Canadian protester

You filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman after receiving a response from Ms. Jane Anido, Director of Radio News Programming, on August 26, 2008.

The complaint followed a report aired on “The World At Six” on July 29, 2008. The report by Ms. Iris Makler concerned the arrest and subsequent deportation by Israeli authorities of a Canadian citizen, Mr. Victor McDiarmid, due to his involvement in a protest held in the Israeli occupied West Bank.

The report by Ms. Makler was based on a telephone interview with Mr. McDiarmid from the prison where he was being held prior to his deportation. Mr. McDiarmid spoke of his treatment at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Ms. Makler reported that Mr. McDiarmid was part of a protest organized by the International Solidarity Movement that opposes the building of the controversial Israeli barrier.

You objected to the following elements in the report: 1. An insufficient description of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and its aims. 2. The report's description of the protests as “increasingly violent” with the implication that the ISM alone is responsible for the violence. 3. Mr. McDiarmid was not asked for his opinion as to the veracity of the charges against him. 4. The reporter's use of the term “security barrier” which assumes a benign intent on the part of the Israelis. 5. Insufficient explanation of the consequences of the barrier to the Palestinians and to their economy.

Investigation

Victor McDiarmid, a 23-year-old Canadian, was deported from Israel after being arrested in Ni'ilin in the Israeli occupied West Bank. He was protesting against the construction of the West Bank barrier.

Mr. McDiarmid had been living for the month prior to his arrest in the West Bank town and working as a volunteer for an organization known as the International Solidarity

Movement. He was arrested for allegedly taking pictures of Israeli soldiers who were breaking up the protest in which he was involved which occurred in a restricted military zone. Mr. McDiarmid claimed in an interview with CBC Radio that the soldiers who arrested him beat him and spit on him for between five and ten minutes. After Mr. McDiarmind's arrest, ISM lawyers arranged for him to be released on bail with the condition that he stay away from Ni'ilin for two weeks.

Before that could happen, Mr. McDiarmid was moved to Ben-Gurion Airport, for immediate deportation back to Canada. The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) had requested his deportation.

An Interior Ministry representative told Israeli media that Mr. McDiarmid was being deported because his visa had been cancelled “for not following the army's orders.” The Israeli army released a statement that claimed Mr. McDiarmind and a Palestinian national had been arrested for "violating a closed military zone order and violently attacking two border policemen."

The ISM planned to appeal the deportation decision claiming that Mr. McDiarmid was being singled out. Under Israeli law, no foreign citizen can be allowed to intentionally disturb operations by security forces, “especially while acting illegally and violently,” the statement continued. An Israeli army official said that Palestinians who protest against the barrier are frequently joined by activists, thus causing “an already tense situation to flare up.” (Jerusalem Post, July 27, 2008.)

Mr. McDiarmid is the first ISM volunteer to be deported from Israel since 2003. He is not allowed to re-enter the country for 10 years. The ISM is a non-governmental organization founded in 2001 to protest against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Its aim is to draw worldwide attention to conditions in Palestine by bringing Western volunteers to disrupt the Israeli presence on the West Bank and Gaza. Although its stated aims are non-violent, the ISM has been criticized by the Israeli government and others for engaging in provocative tactics that have resulted in the deaths of some of its volunteers, most notably Rachel Corrie. Corrie, an American college student, was crushed to death in 2003 while trying to block demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza by an Israeli army bulldozer. The Israeli Army's investigation of the Corrie death concluded that the soldiers operating the bulldozer had no intention of harming her. But the ISM garnered considerable attention from that event, and the continuing controversy around the circumstances of her death.

Newsroom Management Response

Jane Anido's response is quite detailed and it is worth assessing her remarks.

1. On the question of whether the Makler report gave sufficient context and background to the role of the ISM, Ms. Anido states that a lack of time precludes giving the audience a fuller explanation of the mission and goal of the organization. In broadcasting, time restrictions are always a factor. But not to explain under whose auspices Mr. McDiarmid was protesting might be equally misleading. ISM as some critics have alleged, has been directly linked to some of the major players in the Palestinian community, some of whom are accused of engaging in violent activities. As such, the minimal description of the ISM (“a Palestinian support group”) is to present only a partial, and possibly inaccurate description and risks sanitizing what some critics perceive as terrorist-related activities.

2. Ms. Anido correctly states that the report's language about “increasingly violent protests” does not imply that the Palestinians are the cause of the violence. It is clear from the report that the building of the barrier has been a provocation that has resulted in clashes between Palestinians (and their supporters) and the Israeli army. While the Israeli government has insisted that the barrier is there to dissuade terrorist attacks, critics insist that the barrier is THE provocation.

3. You say that the report failed to ask Mr. McDiarmid as to the veracity of the charges against him. Instead Ms. Makler only included those portions of the interview in which Mr. McDiarmid spoke of his alleged mistreatment at the hands of Israeli soldiers. Whether Ms. Makler asked about the charges against him is unknown.

The version of events as spoken by Mr. McDiarmid was a powerful statement and added to the emotional urgency of the report but did not add to the requirement for balance. Ms. Anido's justification was that the report did state the charges against Mr. McDiarmid. Had time permitted, a response from Mr. McDiarmid would have added to the story.

4. You objected to the description of the barrier in the report as a “security barrier” suggesting that a more appropriate term would be simply “barrier” or “separation barrier.” Ms. Anido correctly points out that this is one of many euphemisms in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict where control of the language has become part of the struggle between the parties. The barrier is a highly controversial project. Supporters argue that the barrier is a necessary tool to protect Israeli civilians from Palestinian terrorism, especially when suicide bombings increased significantly during the Second Intifada. The barrier has been one major factor behind the significantly reduced number of incidents of suicide bombings from 2002 on. Opponents of the barrier argue that the structure is an illegal attempt to annex Palestinian land under the guise of security, that it not only violates international law, but it has the intent or effect to

pre-empt final status negotiations, and severely restricts Palestinians who live nearby, particularly their ability to travel freely within the West Bank and to access work in Israel. In a 2004 decision, the International Court of Justice declared construction of the wall “contrary to international law.” The Jewish settler movement also condemns the building of the wall for appearing to renounce the Jewish claim to the whole of Biblical Israel.

Because of the conflicting claims as to the “real” motivation for building the barrier, you are correct in stating that the term “security barrier” by the Israeli government tends to give a public relations gloss by softening the effect of the barrier for the Palestinian community.

The term “barrier” as adopted by the BBC and the United Nations is probably more accurate and appropriately journalistic. 5. You say that the report was insufficient in explaining precisely how the barrier has affected the lives and the livelihood of Palestinians. Ms. Anido is correct in stating that those explanations “are beyond the scope of this particular report.” The background and the complexities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict are so profound and so deeply historical than not every report can engage in complete historical regress. CBC News is correct in assuming that its audience is knowledgeable and aware of many of the details and much of the nuance of the situation. As such, CBC News is not required to recapitulate the history of the region in every report. CBC News has done dozens, if not hundreds of reports on Radio, Television and on cbc.ca by giving the background to the dispute and the opinions of thoughtful observers to this story.

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices

The report in question touches on two aspects mentioned in the CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices guidelines. One is whether the report has been complete and contextual. On the question of balance, the guidelines state in part,

CBC programs dealing with matters of public interest on which differing views are held must supplement the exposition of one point of view with an equitable treatment of other relevant points of view. Equitable in this context means fair and reasonable, taking into consideration the weight of opinion behind a point of view, as well as its significance or potential significance.

Second, did the report, as part of its ongoing coverage of this story, avoid appearing partisan on a matter of great interest and importance for many in the CBC audience? On that question, the guidelines state in part:

Continuing news and current affairs programs must present a balanced overall view of controversial matters, to avoid the appearance of promoting particular opinions or being manipulated into doing so by events… Such continuing news and current affairs programs, particularly magazine programs, are expected to present the general flow of ideas prevalent in our society. This will entail, at times, broadcasting the views of a single author, scientist, thinker, expert, artist or citizen, whose thoughts merit airing on their own account. In performing this role, those responsible for journalistic programming must avoid a cumulative bias or slant over a period of time and must be mindful of the CBC's responsibility to present the widest possible range of ideas.

Conclusion

  1. Your claim that the report failed to explain the mission of the International Solidarity Movement is correct. If time permitted, the controversies surrounding the ISM should also have been mentioned. Given the time restrictions, the description in the report was sufficient.
  2. Your claim that the report unfairly implies that the Palestinians are responsible for the violence around the anti-barrier protests is incorrect. The report correctly states that the barrier has been a flashpoint for protests and as such its construction is also a provocation.
  3. The report was lacking Mr. McDiarmid's version of events that led up to his arrest. You are correct that this is an important missing element.
  4. The term “security barrier,” if not a misnomer, certainly has attributes of softening the impact of the structure. The report was remiss in using what is the preferred Israeli description.
  5. The report was unable to give a complete picture of the lives of Palestinians affected by the barrier. However, that was not the focus of the report and CBC News was correct in not including it because of time constraints.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. More care must be taken to ensure that descriptive language in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict avoids euphemisms that could be perceived as endorsing one side or another.
  2. 2. Advocacy groups such as the International Solidarity Movement and others in the conflict should be given as much context as time allows.
  3. CBC.ca could be an effective resource for the audience by providing more accessible background information and easier archival retrieval of reports on the Middle East conflict that is of importance to many CBC listeners and viewers. 4. No on air apology or correction is necessary.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman