Controversy in Context.

The complainant, Richard Fox, objected to an interview on the Sunday Edition with a documentary filmmaker about his production entitled “The Settlers”. It was his take on the settler movement and the issue of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Mr. Fox thought it was anti-Jewish. It was an exploration of Shimon Dotan’s views. The context was the film, not the peace process. There was no violation of policy.


The Sunday Edition of February 12, 2017 featured an interview with the creator of a documentary entitled “The Settlers.” You strongly objected to the interview’s content and called it “anti-Jewish discrimination”. You thought parts of it bordered on hate-speech and questioned a line in the introduction to the interview which referred to Israeli settlements as the most incendiary roadblock to peace:

There is no evidence for that. The settlements were not an obstacle in any of Israel's peace agreements including Oslo, Egypt or Jordan. Nor were they the obstacle for peace in any of Israel's major conflicts such as the wars of 1947, 1967, 1973, etc. The obstacle to peace there now is that the Palestinians won't go to the negotiating table, as mandated by the UN in the first place. The premise of your story, that the settlements are to blame for lack of peace, is wrong. It doesn't show both sides. It demonizes the Jewish state and is a breach of journalistic standards.

You took issue with many other statements in the interview as well. You questioned why there was no mention of any of the activities on the Palestinian side that have hindered the peace process:

He ignores the suicide attacks, knife attacks, sniper attacks, mortar attacks, rocket attacks, vehicle attacks, bomb attacks, intifadas, refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, anti-Jewish education, etc. by the Palestinians.

You also questioned the statement that the settlements are illegal. You asked what law is being broken. You also disputed that the settlements are outside Israel’s borders because “there is no defined border.” You added that the story condemned Israel for allowing settlers to attack Palestinians. You said the government prosecutes offenders, and it is the Palestinian government “which praises its citizens for doing the same.”


The February complaint was not answered until July. The Executive Producer of Sunday Edition apologized for the lapse, saying she mistakenly thought a reply had been sent. She addressed one of the specific areas you raised, the legal status of the settlements. She pointed out that Michael asked the filmmaker about the settlements’ legality, and it is Mr. Dotan who stated that they were illegal, even under Israeli law.

She did not respond to the other specifics you raised, other than to say she did not agree they were anti-Jewish or incitement to discrimination.


CBC Journalistic policy calls for balance, fairness and impartiality. That means that a diverse range of views and opinions are reflected over a reasonable period of time. It also notes that journalists are to use their professional judgment and expertise in presenting information. Another critical consideration is the purpose of a particular segment, and how it is framed. You believed that the issue of settlements in the occupied territories was highlighted to the exclusion of any actions or positions of the Palestinian side, and that implied bias. That might have been the case if this were an examination of the peace process and the search for solutions - it was not. It was a single interview with the filmmaker of a documentary about the settlers and the settlements. It was an exploration of his point of view and his experiences in making the film. He did have a particular point of view, stated clearly right from the outset. He considered the settlements detrimental to Israel’s long-range interests and a serious impediment to peace. There is nothing against policy in doing a single interview that explores the point of view of an expert or advocate. That is the case here. I note that in fact Mr. Enright does probe some of Mr. Dotan’s positions. Much of what you attribute to Mr. Enright is actually stated by his interviewee. The question of the legality of the settlements, for example, is broached in this way:


I want to clear up a point because this keeps coming up time and time again and that’s the question of legality of these settlements. People say that it’s a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention, that an occupying power cannot re-settle its own civilians on territories that it has under its military control.


Exactly so.


Are they legal or illegal. Now, various Israeli governments say “no, no, they’re legal because these are military installations” or they are part of the defence system. Which is the case?


Well, Israel seized saying that. They did say that at first, and furthermore they did an attempt, you know, a calculated attempt to camouflage them as military outposts because, according to the Geneva Convention, a State is allowed to establish military presence …


For defense purposes …


Yes, but we are well beyond that. Now, the settlements are illegal according to international law. All of them. Within the State of Israel, after the Oslo Accords of 1993, where Israel took upon itself not to establish any new settlements, on one hand it did expand dramatically the existing ones, and many of them grew to the cities that you are mentioning, and on the other hand there were new formal settlements that they called outposts. Now those outposts are illegal according to Israeli law, not only according to international law. In Israeli law they are illegal, period. At the same time, the Israeli government and several governments, actually, since 1993, turned a blind eye. It’s illegal with a “wink”, and, at the same time, they are illegal, the State of Israel provides infrastructure, military, a fence, everything …

Mr. Enright actually asked Mr. Dotan if he could see any justification for the settlements, noting the precariousness of Israel’s security, in this exchange:


And yet, and yet the country is surrounded by nations and peoples that would like to see the eradication, the total effacement of Israel, and all the Jews. There seems to be a constant threat. Does that lead to any justification in your mind for the creation of these settlements?


I would say quite the contrary, the opposite. Israel has to be strong, no doubt about it, but Israel’s might has no value whatsoever if Israel is not right, and there is no justification to the presence of Israel if it will cease to be a moral just society. If it will not aspire, at least, to be that. If it will not use its strength to stabilize the region, then it has really put its future in peril.

You thought the fact the story called the U.S. president the godfather of Israeli injustice and that every Palestinian faces a wall every day was particularly odious. Again, it was the interviewee who used the phrase - and he used it in reference to the current Israeli government’s embrace of President Trump. In this case, Mr. Enright also probed the view:


Netanyahu and his government were among the first, if not the very first, in the world to embrace Trump. Now, the fact that they allow Trump to be the new Godfather of the Israeli settlement enterprise is telling about the nature of this enterprise and tragically about the nature of the present Israeli leadership. I’ve no words to describe how terrible that this reality is and it looks like they will stop at nothing and they will not recognize that the trajectory that they put Israel in now is a dead-end situation. It’s not going to lead to anything positive. It will just create more harm and more harm and eventually it will blow up in our face.


But in the United States, and I’ve talked to people who voted for Donald Trump, well the first thing they say is “he makes me feel safe and that’s very important to me and my family”. As it is to someone who lives in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv or Herzliya, make me safe, secure my life.

Mr. Dotan said his purpose in making the film was to try to understand and present the views of the settlers, because from his perspective the issue of the settlements is an impediment to peace. You dispute that they are. The issue of the growth of the settlements has been at the table, and remains unresolved. It has been documented that the issues of the settlements is one of the major ones to resolve in the search for a peaceful solution. It is not the only one, nor is it implied anywhere in this discussion that it is. The introduction to the interview indulges in hyperbole when it states: “Of all the roadblocks to peace between Israel and its neighbours, none is more controversial and incendiary than the question of civilian settlements in the so-called occupied territories.” There are other issues, like the disposition of Jerusalem that may qualify, but it is reasonable to highlight this complex issue as one that will have to be addressed. You reject that the growth of the settlements has been an obstacle - you are entitled to that view. Based on available facts, it is a reasonable analysis that it has been.

There is no hate speech or racism in this interview. It is an exploration of the ideas and analysis of a commentator with some expertise in the subject. It forms part of ongoing coverage of this issue and is not a violation of CBC journalistic policy.


Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman