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New Socialist Webzine

Weaving a Racist Narrative on Gaza: The CBC's Contribution

By Labib Mohammad ElAli

In the aftermath of the recent war on Gaza, and in the context of the expanding Israeli settlement project in the West Bank, calls for joining the global Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) movement will surely increase in Canada.

They should be readily heeded. BDS is a pro-active and effective vehicle for creating real pressure, both political and economic, on Israel to bring an end to the occupation and its apartheid infrastructure internally. Most recently, graduate student associations at York University and the University of Toronto have voted to endorse BDS, and begin to implement the terms of the boycott as it pertains to their institutional contexts. Other student groups at major universities are on their way to passing similar motions.

As awareness around BDS grows, it will be critical to build a nuanced understanding of the alarming shift in some major Canadian institutions towards even greater complicity in Israeli colonialism, atrocity and mass oppression. Where this is the case, it is often done through a silencing of any criticism of Israel, coupled with the sophisticated weaving of a false and racist narrative that demonizes Arabs and any other victim of Israeli brutality.

During the week of Israeli raids on Gaza earlier last month, CBC radio’s flagship Toronto morning radio show, Metro Morning, participated in that silencing with remarkable consistency. All the segments referenced in the analysis below are available online.

What the CBC Already Knew

News of Israel’s deliberate escalation of violence in order to trigger a war, including the targeting and gunning down of children in the days leading up to November 15, had been reported and verified well in advance of the week of the most intense Israeli raids.

During the week of the segments analyzed below, the CBC would have been well aware of the horrifying and mounting civilian death toll in Gaza, and the circulating analyses (though they were hardly needed). These analyses indicated clearly that Israel was using the Israeli-initiated violence to create a context of confusion, which it then used to excuse its planned slaughter, which of course it executed.

The CBC would also have been well aware that Israel was relying on heads of state in the US and Canada to excuse their atrocities, including the targeting of journalists, while appearing neutral. Israel would be significantly hindered from the ability to commit atrocities unchecked without that false moral cover.

Metro Morning: Weaving a False Narrative

Friday, November 16: In the midst of the early killing in Gaza, Metro Morning ran a piece titled Cultural Accommodation, about a Muslim man who refused to cut a Muslim woman's hair. While the questions posed by the segment might be critical and worth debating, what is troubling is the choice to run a piece that subtly evoked images of Muslim male hegemony on that day specifically.

The night before, major American and Canadian news stations delivered predominantly racist reporting on Gaza, and sought to excuse Israel’s actions through the veil of a “war on terror” narrative that demonizes Arabs and Muslims. Furthermore, the CBC is working with the full knowledge that the government currently in power is working tirelessly to inflame and entrench Islamophobia in Canadian society.

Monday, November 19: After a weekend of Israeli mass killings, Metro Morning ran an interview with a Syrian youth called Fighting Continues. In the context of heavily biased Western reporting on Syria, the interview subtly evoked images of brutal dictatorships in the region. This stoked the vague and inherently racist perception that Israel is surrounded by barbaric hostility. And it did so without reference to the historically duplicitous role of Western states in emboldening repressive regimes while fueling sectarian violence in Arab countries.

The youth in the interview is brave to have gone in the streets in Syria when he did. It is how the CBC used him and when that is of concern.

Tuesday, November 20:  By this date, in a war triggered and escalated by Israel through the targeted killing of children, 137 Gazans had been killed, the majority of them civilians. In response, rockets from Gaza killed a total of 3 Israelis.

For its first interview from Palestine or Israel since the beginning of the raids, Metro Morning chose to interview Laura Hochman for its segment, We Are Doing OK. Laura was volunteering on an Israeli army base, and was interviewed to let Canadians know that she and those around her were alright.

In the context of what was unfolding in Gaza, the timing and theme of the segment bordered on the perverse.

The segment was scripted to portray the Israeli Defense Forces, one of the most repressive and bigoted armies in the world, in righteous and innocent terms, while they were in the midst of executing a war crime. It also subtly suggested that Israelis are constantly living under some imminent danger from which they need to protect themselves, and posited this as the primary explanation for what was unfolding in Gaza.

Wednesday, November 21: On Wednesday, the CBC interviewed Eva Bartlett from Gaza, in a segment titled No Ceasefire Yet. Twenty-six years of age and Canadian, Eva expertly steered the conversation towards truth reporting, and as soon as possible clearly articulated the atrocities that Israel is committing. She explicitly mentioned the premeditated assassination of children in the lead up to the slaughter, and the targeted massacre of civilians.

The host side-stepped Eva’s statements and allowed them to fade without any emphasis. Worse, he began to silence Eva’s attempts at breaking through with some analysis by arguing the racist line that Israel is responding to aggression, a claim which by now was being challenged and refuted by even major mainstream news sources, including the British newspaper, the Guardian.

Thursday, November 22: Metro Morning interviewed Romeo Dallaire in a piece titled Kids and War. Dallaire was the Commander of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, and is widely regarded as a humanitarian for his work during and in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.

Without any mention of Israel’s targeted killings of children, the piece focused on mitigating the effect of news and images from the raids on the emotions of Canadian children watching television. It used Dallaire’s brand (for lack of a better word) to steer any discussion away from a real understanding of what was unfolding, and towards a framing of the slaughter in the false context of a prolonged and seemingly un-resolvable conflict.

And again, the host first opened the segment with a mention of Israeli kids running to bomb shelters, and then referred to Palestinian children as "victims" of “strikes,” language that fails to capture that they were in reality military targets. The very fact that Romeo Dallaire was on the air but there was no mention of targeted child killings by Israel is itself a way of re-visioning recent and critical history.

Friday, November 23: On the day of the ceasefire, and after more than 150 Gazans had been killed (compared with three Israeli civilians), Metro Morning interviewed an Israeli who grew up on a settlement, Lia Trachansky. She was in Canada at the time.

It is important to note that Lia is a journalist with the REAL News Network, and has a history of solidarity work with Palestinians, as well as work countering racism and inequality in Israel. After speaking with her directly, she let me know that her interview was heavily edited.

What aired was a piece about Lia’s own emotional process of coming to terms with the existence of Palestinians. The overall effect of the interview was to supplant the reality of Palestinians suffering the consequences of illegal settlements and brutal violence from the uglier segments of Israeli society with the image of white Israeli settlers on the front lines braving a surrounding enmity. This image is potent in the context of the racial contract of common interest between Canada and Israel that researchers have been calling attention to in recent years.[1]

Metro Morning chose to end the interview with a statement from Lia that she is in love with Israel in a “profounder way” now that she sees “its ugly parts.” The show chose to cap off a week of weaving a false narrative by picking out the one statement from her interview that engendered feelings of love for Israel, and in doing so diverting attention away from the desperate need for an inquiry into the mass killings that Israel had just perpetrated.

To be sure, the abhorrence of engendering feelings of love on a morning radio show to cleanse the image of a colonial state, one that only hours before concluded a deliberate massacre of civilians, goes without saying.

Furthermore, the declaration of a “profounder” love for Israel by Lia on a major radio show after a week of intentional mass killing of civilians and the horrifying response from segments of Israeli society and major Israeli institutions during the raids, is not only disgraceful, but is yet a further degradation of Palestinian dignity and life. It is a slap in the face of those Palestinian mothers in deep and yet-fresh mourning over their slain children. And it is especially dangerous when coming from someone who is not only seen as a more moderate Israeli, but who is an acting Middle East correspondent for the REAL News Network, a network which strives for more critically-oriented reporting.

The CBC Silenced Inquiry into Israeli Atrocity and Constructed a Racist Narrative

In the end, CBC’s Metro Morning actively participated in silencing a truth-based analysis of what was happening in Gaza, removing it from any regional or historical context, and bringing Canadian society into closer complicity and acceptance of oppression, atrocity and apartheid in Palestine and Israel. The result was a narrative that left listeners more confused, or worse, led them to dangerously racist conclusions. For those that already harboured racist viewpoints, it did much to fuel their bigotry.

During the entire week, Metro Morning did not have one Palestinian voice on its show, let alone Gazan. The one Arab voice was that of a youth, a Syrian, who had no grasp of the context of what is unfolding in Syria or Gaza.

The audacity of constructing such a deeply flawed and racist portrayal calls into question its integrity as a source of news and analysis. It also begs for an urgent inquiry into the decision making structures and the personnel responsible for producing and crafting content on Palestine.

In closing, the overall impression given by Metro Morning’s sequence and framing of reports during the Gaza raids is that mass killing of Arabs must no longer have any real bearing on the Canadian conscience, other than serving as a footnote in constructed narratives that further entrench racism.

Notes:

[1] Yasmeen Abu-Laban and Abigail B. Bakan, “The Racial Contract: Israel/Palestine and Canada,” Social Identities, 14:5 (637-660), September 2008.

Labib Mohammad ElAli Labib is currently pursuing a PhD in sociology, in an area related to white supremacy and the shaping of Arab identity through violence. His work to date has been on restorative ecological agricultural and on universal access to treatment for poverty related diseases. He is Palestinian and lives in Montreal, QC.

 

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