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Canada’s leading NGO promoting press freedom released a strong statement earlier this month demanding the Canadian government take action to protect journalists in Gaza under attack by the Israeli army, which has killed 25 protesters and independent journalist, Yasser Murtaja.
The murdered Palestinian journalist had been wearing a flak jacket with “Press” emblazoned on it. When Israel’s defense minister was challenged about why a journalist had been murdered, Avigdor Lieberman claimed he was a Hamas commander. Not only did various reports challenge this claim, noting that Murtaja had just received an $11,000 contract to work on behalf of USAID, which vets its contractors rigorously to ensure they have no blemishes which would prohibit their engagement with the U.S. government. A knowledgeable Israeli source told me point-blank that Lieberman was lying.
In response to CJFE’s statement, the Israel Lobby group, Honest Reporting, attacked it and the group for violating supposed journalistic standards demanding non-partisanship and objectivity in reporting. It claimed that CJFE was acting outside its mandate in intervening in a political dispute against Israel. The Israel advocacy group listed all the corporate sponsors of the 2017 annual fundraising event and the Gala co-chairs, some of the most prominent journalists in the nation.
The Lobby also managed to recruit some individuals, actually calling themselves journalists, to attack CJFE; “liberals” all, who of course support free speech. Just not “political speech.”
No, an organization with “Canadian journalists” in its name requesting political positions that have nothing to do with journalism does not advance journalism. That’s the entire issue here.
— Doug Saunders (@DougSaunders) April 10, 2018
Among other things they actually accused the staff member who authored the statement, Kevin Metcalf, of expressing his own personal political views. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Metcalf actually expressed his ‘personal’ political opinion that it’s very bad to kill journalists, and that states which do it should be condemned.
When the newly-installed CJFE communications director, Tom Henheffer was asked what was wrong with the statement, all he could muster was that it was “unfortunately interpretable.” Which I suppose means that the Israel Lobby and its supporters in the Canadian media could use the wording of the statement to attack CJFE. Which leads to the question: why be an NGO dedicated to press freedom if you can’t defend press freedom when the going gets tough, in a situation where you’re going to be attacked for doing so?
The attacks were apparently enough to get many of CJFE’s mainstream media board members to run for the hills. Journalists are supposed to be made of sterner stuff. The board chair of CJFE and four board members resigned from their leadership roles. They had no interest in fighting back in the face of the power of the Canadian Israel Lobby. They and their respective media outlets also withdrew their support for the organization. There were discussions about closing down the group. The staff member who wrote the original statement, Kevin Metcalf feared his job was on the line.
At a crisis board meeting last week, CJFE decided to retract the original statement and put Metcalf on paid leave till it could determine his fate. He published this statement about his plight on Facebook. In light of the fact that CJFE has “disappeared” the statement and even removed it from Google cache and the Wayback Machine, I offer it here in full:
CJFE is gravely concerned by the extrajudicial killings of demonstrators which occurred on March 30, 2018 in Gaza. It has been reported that the Israel Defence Force (IDF) used sniper fire, tank rounds and “less lethal” munitions like tear gas during a civil order event on the militarized border between Israel and Gaza. The United Nations reported that 15 Gazans were killed and more than 1000 were wounded. The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms has stated that among those wounded in the massacre are many journalists.
We acknowledge the fact, as Israeli authorities have stated, that border demonstrations at the “March of Return” in commemoration of Palestinian “Land Day” were disorderly and boisterous in nature. We also recognize that the use of lethal force to respond to boisterous demonstration or civil disorder is an anathema to the principles of democracy, freedom and justice. Similar incidents have occurred in Tunisia, Syria and Ukraine. If similar incidents transpired in 2018, in any other country, the condemnation from the international community would be swift and clear.
Canada is recognized internationally as a close ally of the Israeli state. It is incongruous to profess support for democracy, human rights or press freedom while ignoring the deleterious effect that this repression by an allied state has on these values. Failure to condemn the IDF’s brutality will undermine Canada’s moral authority when condemning similar acts by any other nation-state. Targeted attacks against demonstrators and journalists must be condemned wherever they occur. Canada must speak out to defend universal principles of human rights, democracy and press freedom.
The Government of Canada must condemn the one-sided use of military force against civilian demonstrators and media in Gaza, must immediately call for a cessation of these brutal practices, and must use all available diplomatic, political and economic channels to pressure Israel to initiate a fulsome and transparent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the massacre, which left 15 dead, and more than 1000 wounded.
A new statement was issued which maintained the criticism of Israel’s assault in Gaza, but withdrew as inappropriate the demand that the government take any action. The board’s position was that Metcalf’s statement violated the mission of the organization and should never have been published. This, despite the fact that Metcalf, who was responsible for CJFE’s communications and social media presence, submitted it to the acting executive director, who rewrote parts of it with him, and then approved its release.
Metcalf’s suspension didn’t last long. He was fired last Thursday by CJFE. It’s ironic that an NGO devoted to freedom of expression would fire its communications director for advocating on behalf of murdered journalists in Palestine; even for having the temerity to suggest that Canada’s government should do the same. Perhaps they should change their name to Canadian Journalists for Partially-Free Expression.
By the way, Israel is ranked 112th in the world in a 2013 survey of world press freedom; out of 170 countries. Not exactly a stellar record. One of the main reasons for this low ranking is Israel’s suppression of its own media (via military censorship and judicial gag orders) and Palestinian media as well.