Last summer’s fiasco at Canada’s national broadcaster CBC over its censure of the word Palestine has brought new focus to the debate over why there is such pro-Israel bias in most media in North America.
Some brief background: The CBC show “The Current” had an interview with Joe Sacco where the host used the word Palestine. This was deleted in the later online version and apologized for the next day. In the subsequent uproar from listeners about this action, it was learnt that CBC’s language guide actually embeds this kind of anti-Palestinian discourse. The relevant clause in their language guide was more extreme than some “hasbara” handbooks, basically “NO” to all things Palestine.
Four months later, the case is still under review at the CBC’s Ombudsman office; but the results of his investigation are by no means guaranteed to overturn their archaic policies, either in respecting universal human rights or even common journalistic practice. We hope this will not be a case of “the mountain laboured and brought forth a mouse”, as happened with a previous complaint involving biased coverage at CBC.
Which begs the question – why is anti-Palestinianism so entrenched at Western media outlets like CBC? Is it simply because of the influence of the Zionist lobby or are there other factors at play? Is it because Canada also shares a settler colonialist past? Or is it because of Canada’s subservience to U.S. foreign policy?
An article written in July 2020 titled “Uncovering Canadian Media’s Devastating pro-Israel Bias” by journalist Davide Mastracci offered a glimpse into the reality of how media has become so dangerously biased.
The “blunt force trauma” approach described so accurately in Mastracci’s article that was prevalent in the Israel Asper/CanWest era in Canada lives on in a more covert legacy like CBC’s language guide. Following are excerpts from that convoluted language guide on Palestine vs. Palestinian territories, as detailed in an official response by Paul Hambleton, Director of Journalistic Standards.
“Palestine vs. Palestinian territories — There is no modern country of Palestine, although there’s a movement to establish one as part of a two-state peace agreement with Israel. So do not refer to Palestine or show a map with Palestine as a country. Use the term “pro-Palestinian” instead of “pro-Palestine” when referring in generic ways to Palestinian supporters. Areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority are considered Palestinian territories: Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza Strip…But the UN does not grant nationhood, and it remains premature to call Palestinian territories the country of Palestine. When making references to historical Palestine, use clear language (e.g., “British Palestine” is the accepted term for the British Mandate of Palestine, which administered the region between 1920 and the birth of Israel in 1948).”
Multiple inaccuracies in this policy were already highlighted in Canada Palestine Association’s request to the Ombudsman Office for a review, from the colonialist nature of so-called “British Palestine” to the extreme and petty refusal to even allow pro-Palestine as a generic term. But another point that needs addressing: what is this “Fateh-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza”? Does CBC talk about Likud-run Israel? Or Saud Royal Family-run Saudi Arabia? And this particular phrase also stands out: “But the UN does not grant nationhood”. But hold on a minute, didn’t the UN already do precisely that in 1947 with Israel, by passing the Partition Plan and Resolution 181?? This level of arrogance and condescension, coupled with a conscious refusal to portray the Palestinians as a national unit and entity, runs deep.
This approach is also prevalent in the Canadian government’s stated policy, which CBC refers to as backup for its flawed language guide. At first blush, Canada’s official position might appear somewhat fair-minded, although of course always favouring Israel’s security as the first criteria to consider. But a closer look reveals that, with the exception of using proper names like Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestine National Council, there is also no use of the word Palestine throughout the entire document (exactly like CBC). Any logical mention of the state of Palestine or just Palestine is replaced by the more ambiguous “Palestinian state”. For example, the Canadian government is supposedly committed at some undetermined point in the future to a “Palestinian state living side by side…with Israel”.
Is this accidental or is there a coordinated effort here as well to undermine any references to the national identity of Palestine? Is this done intentionally to bolster the Israeli narrative, a narrative guaranteed to never result in a genuinely sovereign and independent state of Palestine?
Words are important weapons in the hands of Israel and its international supporters, and Zionist ideologues have worked for decades to sanitize language to better favour their goals and objectives. This is why they refuse to speak of Palestinians in Israel, instead they must be called Arab Israelis (another policy favoured by CBC although they seem confused if it should be Arab Israelis or Israeli Arabs). That’s why they talk of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, not Israel and Palestine. And that’s why the Canadian government’s voting record at the UN, despite its more recent claims to recognize Palestinian self-determination, ends up overwhelmingly supporting the “Greater Israel” settler colonialist project.
CBC’s mishandling of this issue has had the unintended result of shining a spotlight on the decades-old erasure of Palestinian national identity in both the Canadian media and government. Be it interference in university hiring, or appointing notorious pro-Israel advocates to police free speech, or CBC’s outrageously biased language guide, it seems the attempt to eviscerate all things Palestine is moving forward with an increasing intensity and ruthlessness.
Denying the existence and culture of indigenous peoples, and denying the humanity of the colonized, are all shared traits in the supremacist mentality of settler colonialists. But such fabrications, negation of Palestinian identity and racist pronouncements will not halt the Palestinian march towards equality, liberation and return.
by Marion Kawas
Another version of this article was carried in Mondoweiss.