Far from being the “most moral army in the world,” as they like to claim, the Israeli military is depraved and cruel.

They have acted as the military muscle enforcing Israel’s decades of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide.

They have killed thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, including children and the disabled.

They are going to be investigated by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

And, according to a group of lawyers, human rights activists, academics, religious leaders and others, they are here in Canada, trying to recruit Canadian citizens to join their forces.

Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act makes it illegal for anyone to recruit, or help recruit, any person, with the exception of foreign nationals, into any armed force other than Canada’s. Yet according to this group, that is exactly what Israel and its supporters in Canada are doing.

In October 2020, this group published a press release and an open letter on the Just Peace Advocates website detailing their claims. They also filed a formal complaint with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti.

The complaint alleges that a range of figures, including Israeli diplomats and consular officials, members of the Israeli army, and even Canadian government authorities, have committed illegal acts by recruiting, or helping to enable the recruitment of, Canadians into Israel’s army.

Subsequent releases by the group allege that some private Jewish schools, as well as community institutions and organizations, have also taken part in this recruitment by, among other things, hosting Israeli army members and allowing them to share their experiences with impressionable youths. One member of this group, a rabbi, has detailed how this process can begin at least as early as elementary school, as he witnessed in the institution his children used to attend.

Pretty shocking story, right? Definitely seems like it should be of interest to the media.

If you can read French, you may have come across the story in Le Devoir, which has even put it on the front page, or a couple other publications.

If you’re a Passage reader, there’s a good chance you read other independent media in Canada and the United States, and may have seen the story covered in Rabble, Canadian Dimension, The Canada Files, Mondoweiss, or Electronic Intifada. Outside this crowd, however, it’s safe to assume very few Anglophones in Canada are aware of these allegations, as this campaign has been entirely ignored by English-language corporate press.

I took a look through the Canadian Newsstream database to see if I could find any stories in English mentioning this campaign. The database boasts of offering “unparalleled access to the full text of nearly 300 newspapers from Canada’s leading publishers.” I found 0 English-language results.

I got in touch with the team behind the campaign, and they explained that they did their best to get it covered, reaching out to a range of publications including CBC, the Toronto Star, Canadian Press, the National Post, and others.

Most of the places they reached out to entirely ignored them, while others showed some interest and then disappeared, claiming they didn’t have enough time or just offering no reason at all. None of them have published a story about the campaign.

Of course, no media outlet is obliged to publish anything, and pitches are turned down all the time for good reasons. Regardless, bias in Canadian media doesn’t just turn up in who writes a story, how a story is written or who the writer quotes. It also plays a role in determining what stories get told at all.

With that in mind, editorial choices about what to publish should be open to criticism. That’s what I’m going to do here, as it’s hard to understand why this story hasn’t been written about in English-language mainstream media unless bias or a double standard has played a role.

I’ll be looking at the following factors to show why the story should be reported: the messengers; evidence; institutional response; past interest in the topic.

The Messengers

Sometimes stories get shot down without any consideration because of the messenger. For example, a prominent reporter initially replied over email to the group’s pitch about their campaign by stating, “But from a news point of view, a criminal complaint might make the bar, but a letter from the usual suspects probably doesn’t. There are so many of those … just laying out the crude reality of the news business.” (I’ll come back to this quote later on.)

Take a look at the signatories on the open letter the group published. There’s more than 170 of them, including former MPs, priests, reverends, and rabbis, academics at all different levels, lawyers, respected activists, journalists, union leaders, artists, and well-known figures outside of Canada, including Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, and Ken Loach. It’s bizarre for a journalist to just write them all off. This is a serious group of people, making serious claims, that deserve serious coverage.

Judgement of messengers often has more to do with political bias than any honest assessment of the qualifications of those bringing the story forward. For example, Canadian corporate media has no problem covering every time B’nai Brith or the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs pumps out another accusation of antisemitism. Yet the group behind this campaign gets reduced to the “usual suspects.”

Regardless, while not looking into this story because of the messengers would be a mistake, it’s also unlikely that this is why the story has been ignored.

The Evidence

Stories should be evaluated based on the evidence supporting them, not the person bringing them forward. Shooting down a story because of the messenger would only be justified if the person is untrustworthy and the journalist could not verify the story any other way. This is not the case here, not only because the group is well-respected, but also because they provided evidence that can be investigated and verified without them. Here is just some of that evidence.

The Consulate General of Israel in Toronto posted an ad on their website, in both English and Hebrew, about IDF recruitment, reading, “The IDF representative is coming to the consulate. Personal interviews will take place. If you are interesrted [sic] in joining the IDF or you have not fulfilled your duty according to the defence service law, you are welcome to book an appointment.”

This is relevant because, contrary to what Israeli officials have said, the ad seems to be appealing, in part, to those who aren’t required to join the Israeli army, meaning non-Israeli citizens, which would be illegal. The group notes that this is just one of several occasions of such an ad being posted over the past few years. The Consulate General also hosted an event where an Israeli colonel talked about his experience in the army to a group of high school students.

Additionally, last January, Canada’s Ambassador to Israel, Deborah Lyons, held a government-sponsored event honouring Canadian citizens currently in the Israeli army. More than 30 of these soldiers attended, out of a total of at least 78 in the army at the time. Lyons said, “We both share a love of Canada and a love of Israel. We at the embassy are very proud of what you’re doing. It’s really quite incredible. The experience I know that you’re having is going to sustain you for the rest of your life.”

Canada’s Defense Attache Col. Rick Thompson described the party as a “networking” event, and a “nice gesture” for soldiers who may be “home sick” and “want to talk hockey.” Speaking on the history of Canadian citizens joining Israel’s army, Thompson said, “The regular Joe Blow on the street might not know about it.”

The group has also provided evidence regarding this alleged recruitment in schools, as well as community institutions.

For example, Federation CJA posted notice of a June 7, 2020 event on their website titled, “Nefesh B’Nefesh VIRTUAL Webinar: Joining the IDF.” The event’s description reads, “Everything you need and want to know about joining the IDF. Topics that will be covered include: • The Lone Soldier Program • IDF Programs • Relevant Degrees in the IDF • Who is a Lone Soldier • Age of Arrival • Aliyah to Draft – Timeline • Michve Alon: Hebrew Course & Moledet • Army Structure: Combat & Non-Combat • Lone Soldier Rights & Benefits.” There is a disclaimer that, “Federation CJA does not endorse the content of non-Federation CJA events listed in this calendar.”

A nearly identical ad, with a similar disclaimer, though for a June 4 event, was posted on the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s website. The link now displays a 404 error message.

Moreover, a journalist actually interested in a story, or one who just isn’t lazy, would not limit themselves to evidence provided by someone giving them a tip. Instead, they would assess that evidence, and then look into the matter themselves to find more. While a group of people may tip a reporter off to a story, and give them some initial leads, the reporter does not have to, and should not, rely solely on them.

Independent research on this subject would quickly confirm that, at the very least, Canadians have been joining Israel’s army, and its predecessor, for almost 75 years. A recent Canadian Dimension article outlines some of this history.

For example, Canadians played a major role in the Haganah, which was a brutal, Zionist paramilitary organization in Palestine that operated before Israel’s creation. A June 2020 Haaretz article on the organization’s history is titled, “Assassinations, Terror Attacks and Even Castration – the Hidden Actions of Israel’s Pre-state Militia.”

An Israeli Ministry of Education document notes, “In Canada, recruitment began in early 1948, and yielded excellent results within a very short time when some 100 infantry and armored corps veterans of World War II enlisted in the service of the Hagana.” The ministry estimates that more than 230 Canadians joined the Haganah. Canadians also took part in the 1948 war, as well as the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Palestine.

As noted by Canadian Dimension, Canadians have taken part in more recent military efforts as well: “In 2017 it was 230 and during Israel’s 2014 destruction of Gaza (which killed 2,200 Palestinians), 145 Canadians were thought to be fighting in the Israeli military. At least 25 individuals from the Greater Toronto Area fought in Gaza during Israel’s 22-day 2008/2009 assault, which left 1,400 dead. During Israel’s 2006 assault on Lebanon the Canadian Jewish News reported that dozens of Canadian youth left home to join the IDF.”

It’s difficult to believe that none of these soldiers were recruited, and that they all just magically decided one day to join a foreign army. It’s well established that radicalization doesn’t work that way.

So, even just a cursory look into the matter demonstrates that: there are Canadian citizens in Israel’s military; Jewish schools, community institutions and Israeli officials may have played a role in the recruitment of these citizens; the Canadian government seems to be endorsing this alleged recruitment, which violates its own laws. Evidence is not the problem here.

Institutional Response

Canadian journalists can be deferential to law enforcement. In some cases that means they won’t pursue a story until it has been brought to the criminal level or law enforcement is actively investigating the matter.

As I mentioned earlier, for example, one prominent reporter told the group that their story may only be taken seriously if they file a formal criminal complaint. Well, just a few hours after the reporter sent that email, the group mentioned a criminal complaint was in the works, and offered to share it with the reporter.

Then, on Oct. 19, 2020, just a few weeks later, the criminal complaint was made public. It was addressed publicly the next day by Lametti, who said the police, not his office, should be the ones to look into the matter. On November 3, the group then filed a formal criminal complaint with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.

And, on January 3 of this year, the group posted an update to their website noting, “Today new evidence was provided to Rob O’Reilly, chief of staff for the office of the RCMP Commissioner, regarding illegal Israeli military recruitment in Canada. Recently the RCMP indicated they were investigating Israeli military recruitment taking place in Canada.”

Reporters shouldn’t wait for law enforcement to look into a matter before doing so themselves. Yet even if that’s the standard they want to use, they still failed to live up to it in this case. The fact that the RCMP is investigating the issue offers more than enough reason for journalists to write about the story. It is effectively giving even the most skittish, docile reporters the go ahead.

Yet in English-language mainstream press, more than a month after the group announced the RCMP was looking into the issue, and several months after it was first addressed by Lametti, there is still no coverage.

Past Interest In Illegal Foreign Recruiting

What makes matters worse, and gives suspicions of a double standard more weight, is that the media has demonstrated a clear interest in foreign forces illegally recruiting Canadians to join their ranks. In fact, over the past few years the press has been fixated on this topic, including on a story that turned out to be a hoax.

Every single one of the publications the group reached out to about alleged illegal Israeli recruiting covered attempts by ISIS to bring Canadians into their forces. This coverage had serious flaws, so I don’t ask for it to be replicated, but mention it only because this story got a ton of attention as a whole, with hundreds of results in the Canadian Newsstream database, as well as frequent coverage elsewhere.

Some would argue that ISIS is worse than Israel’s army, so it deserves more attention. Putting that question aside: the law bars all foreign recruiting, regardless of the force doing it; Israel being an ally of Canada doesn’t give it an exception, nor should it inform how media outlets cover the matter; Israel being an ally of Canada could in fact justify more scrutiny, as it wouldn’t be very friendly for Israelis to knowingly subvert Canadian laws for their benefit.

There’s also good reason to believe Canadians would care about the story, as they have explicitly rejected the idea that Israel deserves special treatment as a Canadian ally. For example, a 2020 EKOS poll, sponsored by several groups, including Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, found that, “86% of Canadians disagreed with the statement that Canada should overlook Israel’s alleged human rights violations since it is an ally.” It’s not a stretch to assume this would apply to illegal military recruiting as well.

And, there’s very little reason to believe that this story would only appeal to what the reporter dismissively labelled as the “usual suspects.” In fact, it likely would attract interest from across the political spectrum for a variety of reasons, some more legitimate than others.

For example, some Canadians oppose army recruitment in general. Some Jewish Canadians may be disturbed to learn that Israeli officials are preying on members of their community in schools. Canadians from countries targeted by Israel’s military forces in some form — including Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, more than 550,000 people according to the 2016 census — would likely want to know about recruitment going on here. There’s a good chance liberal nationalists and pro-military conservatives would be scandalized by Canadians being pulled into the Israeli army instead of Canada’s. (I’m deeply opposed to both.)

The press has shown interest in this topic before, and there’s good reason to believe Canadians would care about it too.

To sum it up: we have a story Canadians would be interested in and on a topic the press has cared about in the past, being told by a trustworthy group of people, with evidence to back it up, that law enforcement is taking seriously enough to investigate. And yet, nothing from mainstream English-language press in Canada.

As I’ve written in the past, the pro-Israel bias exists at every level of corporate Canadian media, including widespread editorial support for the Israeli army’s massacres in Gaza. This is bad enough, but the fact that Canadian outlets are now seemingly refusing to look into the role Canadians may be playing in this killing as a result of alleged illegal Israeli activity is even worse.

Mainstream English-language press has a massive reach that independent publications can’t compete with yet. As such, their lack of investigation into the topic means Canadians are being robbed of the chance to hear about it and put pressure on politicians to take it seriously. In the meantime, Palestinians are being killed, and Israeli apartheid is further entrenched.