Israel and Apartheid.

The complainant, Terry Specter, objected to an Opinion piece by Neil Macdonald in which he labelled Israel an apartheid state. She rejected the characterization and questioned Mr. Macdonald’s claims that statements from former Prime Ministers and high-ranking officials substantiated his claim. This was a provocative column but it did not violate CBC journalistic policy.

COMPLAINT

You took issue with an opinion column published on CBC’s news website entitled Forget the ‘slippery slope’, Israel already is an apartheid state.” You disputed Mr. Macdonald’s claim that various former Israeli leaders have labelled the country an apartheid state. You said the people he cited were actually saying the opposite:

To be precise, the cited individuals warn that Israel would be in danger of becoming an apartheid state if Israel were to adopt certain policies: policies which Israel has not adopted and most likely never will. Such is the nature of political debate in any free democracy: opposing politicians dramatically predict the consequences that would result from following one possible path to its theoretical conclusion.

You also said that it is not surprising that in a democracy like Israel - with free speech rights - some would make extreme statements. You added that there is only one political figure whoever called Israel an apartheid state - and that was in 2007. The politician, Shulamit Aloni, is dead and she was at the time a member of the “far left Meretz party.” You think there is no factual support for Mr. Macdonald's contention. You said his references were from those well outside the bounds of normal political discourse and there is no evidence that any mainstream political figures would agree with his position.

You believe that CBC News is anti-Semitic because of the publication of this article:

Please as you are an anti-Semitic newspaper get your facts right, even though it is easier and, more politically correct to print news about Israel rather than let your anti-Semitism become public knowledge.

You were one of many who wrote to complain about this column. Most pointed out, as you did, that those cited in support of Mr. Macdonald did not label Israel an apartheid state, but warned it could become one in the absence of the creation of two states at the end of the peace process. Others took exception to his characterization of the settlements on the West Bank, and, like you, questioned the notion of a Palestinian state, because it has “never been a state.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Managing Editor of @cbcnews, Steve Ladurantaye, responded to your concerns. He pointed out that the article was in the Opinion section of the website and reflected Mr. Macdonald’s view. The section is designed to capture a range of perspectives on a variety of subjects, including controversial ones. He agreed that those he quoted stated that Israel was in danger of becoming an apartheid state. He thought that made their statements relevant and appropriate information to back up Mr. Macdonald’s contention that the conditions already existed to merit the description of an “apartheid state.”

I appreciate your point and as you say, there are likely to be a range of opinions on any controversial subject that will be informed by any number of sources. While some may be older than others – that doesn’t mean a writer should feel they’ve passed a best-before date in all instances. And as you say, the writer does point out that many of those columns weren’t making the specific claim, but rather casting into the future to say what could happen under certain circumstances. I believe that makes them relevant.

He told you that there would be an article to provide a perspective different than Mr. Macdonald’s as is required by CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices:

That means we must be vigilant in ensuring all sides of an issue get aired, something we are working toward in this instance after several writers came forward offering to make a counter-argument.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices has policy about Opinion. Since the launching of the Opinion section on the website, there has been an editorial decision to feature more opinion pieces than in the past. It is a space for featuring a variety of perspectives that present one view at a time, and by definition will be contentious. It must, however, stay within guidelines:

Our programs and platforms allow for the expression of a particular perspective or point of view. This content adds public understanding and debate on the issues of the day.

When presenting content (programs, program segments, or digital content) where a single opinion or point of view is featured, we ensure that a diversity of perspective is provided across a network or platform and in an appropriate time frame.

When we choose to present a single point of view:

• it is clearly labeled, and

• it does not misrepresent other points of view.

Our value of impartiality precludes our news and current affairs staff from expressing their personal opinions on matters of controversy on all our platforms.

I should point out that while Mr. Macdonald worked as a CBC reporter for many years, in his current position he is a designated columnist, therefore would fall under this policy.

You and other complainants pointed out that the Israeli politicians cited do not declare Israel an apartheid state, but rather warn that it is headed in that direction. You are correct. It may have been clearer but Mr. Macdonald actually acknowledged that fact:

The time has come to call the duck a duck. It's time to agree with a long list of Israeli political leaders, academics and public figures on both the political left and right, including three former prime ministers, a winner of the Israel prize, two former heads of the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet, and one of the country's principal newspapers, all of whom have warned that the Jewish state is becoming, or already is, an apartheid state.

I would choose the latter characterization.

It is he who declared that this was the reality on the ground. It is his analysis of the current situation and his assessment that there is little hope of a peace settlement. That is his personal view, and it is expressed in an opinion column. I have no doubt there will be other occasions to solicit other opinions and analyses as developments around the peace process occur.

The other policy that is relevant is the one dealing with balance:

We contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion. Our content on all platforms presents a wide range of subject matter and views.

On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held these views are. We also ensure that they are represented over a reasonable period of time.

Mr. Macdonald’s column was provocative and controversial. Mr. Ladurantaye mentioned in his response that an opposing column would be published. In the interim, that has happened. On November 2nd, about 10 days after Mr. Macdonald’s column was published, staff at CBC News published a rebuttal by Shimon Koffler Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). It was entitled You can’t analyze Israel without understanding the experiences of its people. CBC policy does not define what a “reasonable time period” is. I would consider this a reasonable time frame, and I note the article explicitly states it is in response to Mr. Macdonald’s views.

You argue that those who have used the label or warn against it are from the fringe. In fact, there were three Israeli prime ministers who used the term: Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and David Ben-Gurion. There is a reference to his statement in an article published in The Times of Israel: “David Ben-Gurion, like Kerry, warned of future apartheid.” The citation comes from a book by Hirsh Goodman, an Israeli journalist. In the article it states:

Israel, he said, better rid itself of the territories and their Arab populations as soon as possible. If it did not Israel would soon become an Apartheid State. Demography, he said, was a greater danger than not having the territorial depth the right wing was always claiming Israel needed to defend itself.’

As you pointed out, Israel is a democracy which enshrines free speech. As Mr. Macdonald pointed out, the argument about the shape of the future and the treatment of Palestinians is robust and open there. Canada too is a democracy with rights of free speech. I recognize that you strongly object to this characterization of Israel, and reject it entirely. That does not mean that there is no room for strongly-held views, as long as there is balance to provide other interpretations. You raise the issue of anti-Semitism. I recognize there are times when criticism of the state of Israel and its policies are a surrogate for anti-Semitic positions. This is not one of them. It is also true that one can be highly critical of the government and its policies, as are many Israelis and that it does not arise from anti-Semitism.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman