Tough, Not Biased.

The complainant, Isi Erez, thought Carol Off showed her personal feelings through an angry interview with an Israeli politician. Tone is somewhat subjective - the interview was probing but I did not detect anger. The questions were challenging but did not violate policy.

COMPLAINT

You found an interview Carol Off did with Sharren Haskel, a member of the Knesset for Likud, the Israeli parliament, to be “rude and even angry.” You think that interviewers should be calm and not show their personal feelings.

As a taxpaying Canadian, I expect the CBC and "As It happens" in particular, to be balanced in its coverage of world events and its employees to "behave Canadian". There is no need to be rude in order to make a point or try to win an argument.

Ms. Carol Off in particular, has been rude and one sided too many times. I strongly believe that this should be addressed.

You thought this was an unseemly show of opinion and showed an anti-Israel bias. The interview concerned the fate of African asylum seekers in the country. The day before the interview Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had announced a deal that would enable 16,000 of them to be resettled in western countries, including Canada, while others would be permitted to stay in Israel. Later the same day he cancelled the agreement. Ms. Haskel is a member of his government.

You questioned whether the migrants were bonafide refugees or merely seeking better economic opportunity.

According to the Israeli government, the vast majority of the migrants are seeking economic opportunity. Some sought the refugee status only after their arrival. According to international law, these are not refugees. The migrants initially arrived in Egypt, and from there they often paid thousands of dollars for Bedouin smugglers to transfer them to the border between Egypt and Israel. The source of the money remains somewhat of a mystery but certainly creates questions about the true motives of the migrant workers.

The transfer of 16,000 migrants to Western countries organized by the UN refugee agency was not actually accepted by these countries! I have to stress again that these are not “refugees” but illegal migrant workers. They are even rejoicing and dancing in the streets when their countries of origin have national holidays. True refugees do not behave in such manner.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of As It Happens, Robin Smythe, responded to your complaint. She told you that the context for the interview was the announcement and then suspension of the agreement regarding the asylum seekers. She said that Ms. Haskel was interviewed to try to find out the reasons for the change of plans. She explained Ms. Haskel was able to explain “very clearly and at some length” why her government has concerns about allowing the migrants to stay:

She explained that Israel was already accepting “a few thousand” Jewish refugees from Ethiopia and that Israel preferred Jewish migrants. She said that the African migrants had not arrived “in a legal way”, that they should have stayed in the other countries they reached first, for example Egypt, that their numbers when they brought their families would overwhelm Israel’s economy, and that she felt Israel’s resources and those of other western counties would be better spent “bettering the lives of Africans in Africa”.

That is one point of view. I think it is fair to say that Ms. Haskel is a respected member of the Likud Party and the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. She is articulate, knowledgeable and a skillful spokesperson well able to present and defend the government’s position.

She noted that it is a journalist’s responsibility to allow a politician to state their position, but also to “question assumptions” and to challenge them when appropriate. She added asking hard questions is not a sign of bias.

REVIEW

Listening to this interview more than once I discerned that the guest was able to present her views and provide the perspective of the government she was representing. That is what is called for when CBC policy talks about presenting a range of views. Nowhere in the code does it talk about a prohibition in challenging or probing those views.

Tone is somewhat subjective. I appreciate to your ears it sounded rude and angry. I heard Ms. Off asking challenging and probing questions, especially when dealing with those with accountability - that is a fundamental journalistic function. You might not have liked the line of questioning, but that does not make it biased or inappropriate. You raised various points about the true nature of the asylum seeker. Ms. Haskell was given reasonable opportunity to explain the reasoning behind her country’s concerns and those reasons are clearly and articulately presented:

CAROL OFF
But, you know, Israel is not being asked to take in millions of people. It’s asked to take in, in this deal would be 16,000 of these migrants. And the ones who are asking for asylum aren't coming because of food, water or work. They are people coming from a genocide in Darfur in Sudan. They are fleeing Eritrea, one of the worst countries for crimes against humanity and called slave-like conditions. These people are stateless and persecuted. To an Israeli Jew — just let me ask you — again to an Israeli Jew like yourself does that not sound familiar?

SHARREN HASKEL
A couple of things are about what you said because this is a little bit of misleading information. It's not actual fact. If you're fleeing from a genocide then you will stop at any kind of border just a sort of save your life. Those people have crossed a few different countries on the way when they didn't have life threatening — like for example Egypt.

Later in the interview Ms. Haskell was able to explain the perspective and unique issues the state of Israel faces in dealing with migrants:

CO
What's the evidence that that's a problem? We spoke with an Eritrean who was in Israel. We spoke with him yesterday who learned how to speak Hebrew. He was gainfully employed. He was part of the economy. What's the evidence that these people are a drain on your economy?

SH
Well, obviously it's a matter of preferences, as I said before. And when there are a few thousands of immigrants in Ethiopia waiting, it means that a lot of the resources that we put into a Hebrew school, into professional work, into housing will actually go toward them. And it's a matter of whether we put our preferences.

CO
Can I ask you if the reason why the choices you're making is because you only want to have Jews who come to Israel, you don't want anyone who is not Jewish?

SH
The way Canada was founded and the way Israel was founded is different. Israel was founded as a shelter to Jews who were persecuted for thousands of years all around the world. And we have to make sure that the Jews have at least one place where they have a safe haven where they can't be protected. Whatever happens around the world, wherever they’re persecuted they know that this is a place where they can come and they can be protected, they can defend themselves and they can choose their own sort of future and their own life. And so in that term yes, absolutely. Every single Jew around the world needs to know that whenever they choose to come to Israel, to immigrate to Israel, Israel is open for them whether they're being persecuted or whether it's from an ideological choice. So yes, my answer is yes.

There were a few points in the interview where Ms. Off came in rather quickly as the guest was finishing her sentences but her tone did not seem angry or overly aggressive to me. It was no different from any other accountability interviews with politicians in this country, for example. There was no violation of policy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman