Whitewashing Israeli crimes: Derek Stoffel’s Middle East reporting

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Article submitted by Brooks Kind

StoffelThe great Israeli journalist Amira Hass once said the role of journalists is “to monitor the centres of power.” Based on his reporting, it would appear that CBC’s Middle East correspondent Derek Stoffel has a very different conception of a journalist’s role, one more in line with Henry Kissinger’s definition of an expert, i.e. “someone who articulates the consensus of power.”

Not only does Stoffel consistently fail to monitor the centres of power in Tel Aviv and Washington, he also regularly reports from their perspective, whitewashing or censoring their abuses in the Occupied Territories, attributing responsibility for the failure of the “peace process” to the Palestinians, and generally adopting all the standard conventions of western propaganda. Stoffel’s reports on US President Obama’s recent visit to Israel and the West Bank provide a case in point. Referring to Israel’s ongoing settlement building on Palestinian land, Stoffel said:

Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land the Palestinians say is rightfully part of their own future state. (World Report, March 20, 2013)

Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem on land the Palestinians want for a future state. (World Report, March 21, 2013)

[Obama] met with the Palestinian president who once again called on Israel to stop building settlements. The Palestinians say that land is rightfully theirs. (World at Six, March 21, 2013)

Asking Stoffel for answers

Following these reports, I e-mailed Stoffel to ask whether he considers it accurate journalism to describe the Occupied Territories as land the Palestinians simply “want”, or “say is rightfully part of their own future state” when there’s an overwhelming international consensus that Israel’s occupation is illegal and that it violates numerous UN resolutions and the Geneva Conventions, the treaties that regulate the conduct of war and that protect civilians from its effects. I also asked why he consistently refused to mention the legal status of Israel’s settlement policies under international law and the treaties just referred to, when this is so obviously critical in assessing Israeli policy and Palestinian resistance. As usual, my e-mail received no response.

Disclaimers of the type Stoffel uses are a standard method of whitewashing the flagrant illegality of Israel’s behaviour in the Occupied Territories and spinning matters of universally accepted international law as matters of mere opinion.  In an earlier report on the relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Stoffel varied the formula slightly:

You have to remember that just last month the US did criticize Israel for its decision to press ahead with new settlement construction in a controversial area of East Jerusalem. (The World this Weekend, January 20, 2013)

In the past Stoffel has also referred to “disputed East Jerusalem.”

Controversial. Disputed. Land the Palestinians say is theirs. These are all deliberately misleading and obfuscatory terms when applied to the illegally occupied Palestinian territories and they are used over and over by the CBC despite the fact that this usage has been repeatedly challenged, leading to their acknowledgement of “error” on several occasions.

For example, on March 18, 2010, Lynda Shorten, then executive producer of As It Happens, responded to my e-mail asking if it was CBC policy to refer to occupied territory as disputed.

“No, it is not,” she wrote. “We regret the error. Israel annexed East Jerusalem and some 30 square miles of surrounding land to West Jerusalem after the 1967 war. Although Israel regards Jerusalem as an integral part of its territory and subject to Israeli law, that view is not widely shared. The international community, including Canada, the United States, Britain and the European Union, do not recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem and considered it to be occupied territory like the West Bank.”

Nevertheless, as we see in Stoffel’s reports, the same obfuscation continues. Apparently the need to whitewash a favoured state’s crimes outweighs the responsibility to tell the truth or even to observe one’s own organization’s policies.

Israel portrayed as peace seeker

Another standard media trope involves portraying the US and Israel as genuinely seeking peace, but not finding reciprocal good will among the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, whose occasional retaliation against Israeli repression is invariably portrayed as unprovoked violence which then elicits a harsh (but implicitly justified) Israeli response. In the same World at Six report of March 21, Stoffel gives us a striking example of this, speaking about Obama’s visit to the West Bank:

The difficulties of finding peace here all too visible. (sound of angry crowd chanting in Arabic.) In Ramallah, protesters burned an effigy of Obama, accusing the president of choosing sides, choosing Israel. Earlier today, two rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel: a clear message not everyone wants peace. Obama described Mahmoud Abbas as a true partner for peace. He met with the Palestinian president who once again called on Israel to stop building settlements. The Palestinians say that land is rightfully theirs.

In the same e-mail in which I challenged Stoffel on his misleading description of the Occupied Territories, I posed the following questions relating to the passage from his report quoted above:

“Why are the rockets and effigy and the stock audio clips – so beloved by Western reporters – of enraged Arabs chanting, ‘a clear message that not everyone wants peace’, while the continued ethnic cleansing of illegally occupied land and all the horrific repression that this entails and, that you regularly ignore, does not constitute such a ‘clear message’? And why do you report on this Palestinian violation of the cease-fire while suppressing – there is no other word for it – the over 100 Israeli violations, including at least four killings, dozens of wounded, and numerous administrative detentions (i.e. kidnappings) that have undoubtedly provoked the rocket attack, but that your audience is prevented from knowing anything about? I have sent you UNICEF reports on the criminal abuse of Palestinian children that you have also refused to report on. In the midst of such ongoing, criminal abuses by the Israeli state, how is it credible journalism to describe the victims of these atrocities as the side that does ‘not… want peace’?”

Stoffel’s refusal to answer these questions is understandable. As he and his producers are aware, this is not credible journalism but pure spin, a widely disseminated media fairy tale that portrays Israel and the US as pursuing peace and diplomacy, while in reality they are systematically, and with great violence and lawlessness, undermining any possibility of it. The US-backed settlements and ongoing land-theft alone are sufficient to establish this.

Responding to CBC propaganda

Concealing the illegality and extent of the settlements and Israel’s daily human rights abuses – such as the violations of the November 2012 ceasefire, the treatment of Palestinian children documented in the recent UNICEF report, or the misery inflicted by the ongoing blockade of Gaza – is what makes such fraudulent narratives possible. The routine suppression of the most salient and damning facts about Israel’s occupation – the modus operandi of CBC Middle East reporters past and present – is therefore the foundation of the whole propaganda framework. To quote Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “when truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.”

It’s long past time to end this silence, these lies of omission.

An organized Israeli lobby responds very effectively whenever a piece critical of Israel appears in the mainstream media, creating flak – complaints, condemnations, criticisms, etc. – to intimidate journalists and producers (it probably doesn’t take much). Unless they get more flak from the other side, i.e. from those of us who are appalled by the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ basic rights, this bias will continue to frame its Middle East reporting.

Please write to the CBC challenging its coverage, and demanding that Canada’s public broadcaster begin reporting on the daily human rights abuses committed against the Palestinians and on the illegality of the occupation, settlements and land confiscations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In order to promote constructive dialogue and debate, please use polite, non-aggressive language.

  1. Derek Stoffel, CBC Middle East correspondent: derek.stoffel@cbc.ca
  2. Don Spandier, executive producer, World at Six: don.spandier@cbc.ca
  3. Esther Enkin, senior news editor: Esther.Enkin@cbc.ca
  4. Jennifer McGuire, news editor in chief: Jennifer.McGuire@cbc.ca
  5. David Michael Lamb, senior producer, World Report david.michael.lamb@cbc.ca

For further information see:

For further analysis of CBC Middle East reporting:

Brooks Kind is an artist, activist and media critic who lives in Canmore, Alberta

About Bruce Wark

Bruce Wark is a freelance journalist and retired journalism professor who lives in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He taught the history and ethics of journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia for 15 years. Before that, he worked for 19 years at CBC Radio news serving as a producer in charge of such network programs as World at Six, World Report and The House. He also produced Media File, a national program that looked critically at the performance of the news media. Along the way, Wark also worked as CBC Radio's legislative reporter in Ontario and as its National Reporter in Canada's Maritime provinces.
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