Iran and Israel: The debate over Iran's intentions

The complainant, Constantine Kritsonis, complained that it was wrong to say “various Iranian officials have threatened to destroy Israel” in the context of an article about various countries’ reactions to the Iranian nuclear deal. Leaving aside arguments about translation error in one notable instance, there are enough threatening quotes to justify that characterization.

COMPLAINT

In the wake of the completion of a nuclear deal between Iran and the so-called P5 Plus 1 leaders (United States, France, China, Russia, Britain and Germany), CBCNews.ca published a story that was a survey of reaction in various countries and international bodies. The article was entitled “Iran Nuclear deal divides U.S., world leaders”. One of the countries mentioned was Israel. It explained the strong opposition to the deal and cites as one of the reasons that “Iranian officials have threatened to destroy Israel in the past.” It was this sentence you objected to:

Please quote just *one* Iranian official with authority to speak for Iran who said Iran will destroy Israel.

Iran has never threatened to destroy Israel. It is true Iran’s supreme leader has stated it is a good thing for Israel to not exist and has supported Hezbollah who has fought wars against Israel.

However that is legally and ethically vastly different from stating Iran will destroy Israel as CBC claims.

You rejected the management response from the Executive Producer of CBCNews.ca, who provided several examples that advocated the destruction of Israel. You said not one of them actually said so and it was dangerous for CBC to extrapolate. You also said you were concerned about this characterization of Iran’s intentions because “then CBC is also saying ‘Israel now has the legal right to attack Iran.’”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Lianne Elliott, Executive Producer, CBCNews.ca, responded to you and explained that while the story was authored by CBC News writers, it contained files from the Associated Press. She said the line that you referenced was from the AP source, and is one that they use fairly often in this context. She told you that Associated Press says this statement is a “fair and accurate characterization of statements made by senior Iranian leaders” and that they directly and indirectly call for the destruction of Israel.

She passed along five statements to back this up:

In April, 2015, Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi, chief of Basij forces or paramilitary wing of the Revolutionary Guard, said: “Rest assured that our turn in the scene of martyrdom-seeking jihad will come soon, elimination of Israel is a non-negotiable issue. Liberation of Palestine is our obvious purpose.”

In 2013, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech that Iran will annihilate Tel Aviv and Haifa if attacked by Israel. And in 2012, the leader posted the following quote on his website: “The Zionist regime is truly a cancerous tumour in this region and it must be, and will be, cut out.”

In 2013, Hojatoleslam Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative in the Revolutionary Guard, said, “The Zionist regime will soon be destroyed and this generation will be witness to its destruction”.

In 2014, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “This barbaric, wolf-like and infanticidal regime of Israel which spares no crime has no cure but to be annihilated”.

In 2015, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander in chief of the Revolutionary Guards said, “The Revolutionary Guards will fight to the end of the Zionist regime …We will not rest easy until this epitome of vice is totally deleted from the region’s geopolitics.”

REVIEW

You reject the notion that journalists can extrapolate. They are not just scribes recording facts. It is part of their responsibility to interpret and synthesize information. CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices recognizes this when it states:

We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.

There was controversy some years ago over a mistranslation, occasionally still quoted, of a statement from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that “Israel should be wiped off the map.” Scholars say that what he was really saying was that Israel will collapse.” But this was not one of the statements provided to you by Ms. Elliott.

You seem to think the only way it would be justified to say Iran has stated it would “destroy” Israel is if the word “destroy” was used. I don’t think the test is quite that literal. I am aware, as Ms. Elliott also mentioned, that there have been officials who have made more conciliatory statements. This was not an article about the nuances of Iranian foreign policy, and the rhetoric it uses. Specifically in this case, the mention was made in the context of Israel’s reaction, where that rhetoric is taken seriously. The article is an overview of reaction to the nuclear deal from many countries, Israel among them. Here is the full section of the article that includes the line you object to:

Israel has been the most vocal and active opponent of negotiations with Iran, saying any nuclear deal and lifting of sanctions would pose an existential threat to the country. Iranian officials repeatedly have threatened to destroy Israel in the past. Iran also backs militant groups that attack it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it is a “stunning historic mistake.”

An accord with Iran, he said on Tuesday, will allow it “to continue to pursue its aggression and terror in the region.”

There has been no violation of CBC journalistic policy.

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman