I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy in the past few years of my journalism career to exposing the pro-Israel bias in Canadian media.
Many people are aware the bias exists in some form, but may not have much to base their feeling on besides anecdotal evidence. My work has tried to reach out to those people with decades-worth of concrete examples, as well as to convince others who believe no such bias is around. Sometimes this work has required me to conduct in-depth research, going back into newspaper archives, blogs, academic papers and books in order to establish patterns and trends. On other occasions, like this one, the work is far more straightforward.
Last week, the National Post launched what it has since described as “a five-month celebration” of Israel. The paper has informed readers that it will “toast [Israel’s] food, its multiculturalism, its world-leading innovation, its most intriguing people and more,” and told them to expect “commentary, video, podcasts and more feting the ‘start-up’ nation.”
Running in-depth series on a specific state isn’t unheard of in the media, and sometimes they can be useful. For example, I found some series on the Soviet Union published throughout the year of its 100th anniversary to be interesting. But in almost all of these cases, the series are intended to provide a mix of analysis. Relevant praise will be offered, but it will be accompanied with criticism as well.
There’s no sign that the National Post intends to provide readers with this sort of nuance. In fact, even amidst one of the most pro-Israel media landscapes in the world, outright declaring a five-month celebration for the state stands out as especially noxious.
The first of the series’ articles were published in the January 7 edition of the paper, which had its cover page dedicated entirely to the new project. These articles have since been published online. They all uncritically praise the apartheid state.
One author argues that in the face of supposedly rising antisemitism, Jewish people need to leave their homes and go to occupied Palestine in order to be truly safe. In other words, Jewish people need to get out of North American and European countries and go live with each other if they want to survive. Sound familiar?
Focusing on similar themes, another writer presents as a “demographic accomplishment” the fact that “Hebrew University demographics expert Sergio Della Pergola estimated that by 2030, barring an ‘extreme event,’ ‘most of the Jewish nation will be living in the State of Israel.” The writer seems to take pleasure in their prediction that “woke BDS Jews are backing the wrong horse, but — not for the first time in Jewish history — they’ll learn that lesson from rude experience.” I wonder what period of Jewish history the writer is talking about here?
In the third article, the writer wonders how Israel could be “one of the most dominant nations for its size,” and somehow fails to mention the more than $150 billion given to the state by the United States since its creation. The author claims that, “Decades of near-constant armed conflict with larger foes has forged the Israeli military into the international poster child for doing more with less.” Despite whatever propaganda Israel supporters have come up with, the state hasn’t fought a “larger foe” in decades, and perhaps never has given the mass support it receives from other countries. And as per international opinion, outside of a few Western countries, Israel’s military is the poster child for child killers.
The major article in the series thus far, published in several other outlets, offers a very whitewashed version of the history of both Israel and Zionism, claiming that Zionism has a “romantic story” and that the existence of Israel is “downright miraculous.” It contains no mention of Palestinians post-1948, and claims that Israel is “one of the world’s few democracies, guaranteeing regular votes and permanent rights to every citizen.”
Some readers, from anti-Zionists to so-called liberal Zionists, will decry the National Post’s project for its timing. They will bring up the fact that a far-right, fascist government has taken charge of the state. They may also point out that Israelis are protesting right now. How can a newspaper launch a celebration of a country just as it is taken over by fascists, they may ask?
They’re obviously not wrong to be concerned about this government. But focusing on the timing of this series as opposed to the fact that it exists at all is short-sighted, and prevents a deeper critique of both Israel and the media (something “liberal Zionists” are notorious for and depend upon, but which principled critics of Israel should avoid).
Israel’s fascist government’s ideology isn’t a misreading or departure from Zionism. In fact, as Richard Silverstein argued in a Jacobin article released last week, the current Israeli government contains Zionists who embrace “the fascist ideology that inspired major sections of the movement during its formative years a century ago.” And, of course, Zionism has for Palestinians always resulted in a material reality of settler colonialism, apartheid and death.
Moreover, although the National Post’s series is disturbing, it’s just part of a long trend in the media, both at that paper and others. It’s not an aberration. I explained this in great detail in a June 2020 article I wrote at Passage, but in sum: the National Post and many other current Postmedia publications were bought by a hardcore Zionist in 2000, who spent the next couple of years demonizing, punishing and sometimes firing journalists at those papers who dared to publish anything critical of Israel. The bias was so intense that it even led Reuters to ask the chain to remove its reporters names from wire copy they published, because they’d change the story to further push pro-Israel framing. This bias has since continued at the paper, and its top-down, lack of editorial independence makes it all the more dangerous.
This series deserves whatever criticism it will get. It’s a disgrace that it’s being published, and even more dangerous that it has been so by the flagship paper of Canada’s largest media monopoly, with parts of it being widely republished throughout the chain. But it’s not a departure from the norm. Rather, it’s an encapsulation of the past few decades of Canadian media, just as the new, fascist Israeli government is the same for the state.
By devoting a series to celebrating Israel, the National Post is (directly and indirectly) celebrating the genocide, killing and apartheid it has practiced. In other words, it’s doing what the media here always has, but just a bit more openly and shamelessly.