By Taylor C. Noakes
Postmedia issued an apology this week to a pro-Israel pressure group called “HonestReporting Canada” for running an Amnesty International ad in the Dec. 6 2021 edition of the Montreal Gazette. The ad was for Amnesty’s “Write for Rights” campaign, and featured 15-year-old Palestinian journalist Janna Jihad.
A Postmedia employee, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, confirmed with The Maple that the apology was made because HonestReporting Canada (HRC) took issue with the ad.
In a statement published Dec. 7, HRC claimed the ad was “anti-Israel” and contained “misinformation.” Postmedia’s apology gained public attention after being flagged by Davide Mastracci, the managing editor of Passage.
HRC issues media alerts to their followers when they perceive a news article, report or opinion piece to have an anti-Israeli bias, and encourage their members to contact media organizations to complain.
Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign, which takes place every year for International Human Rights Day, profiles individuals and communities who are facing human rights violations. Jihad, who featured in the Gazette’s ad, regularly faces threats and intimidation for documenting the Israeli army’s treatment of Palestinians.
Jihad has documented life under the Israeli occupation of Palestine since the age of seven, when two of her family members were killed. She has since featured on Democracy Now!, and has been interviewed by both the South African Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera.
The Amnesty ad indicates that Jihad fights an oppressive system in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
In its statement, HRC took issue with the fact that Amnesty’s 56-word ad did not provide "context" or "evidence" demonstrating that Jihad has been the victim of intimidation and harassment.
“The Montreal Gazette certainly should have known better than to run an advertisement like this,” reads HRC’s statement, which was published before the Gazette issued its apology.
As well, HRC complained the ad did not mention details of what they admit the Israeli army concluded was the unjustified killing of Jihad’s uncle, Rushdie Tamimi, at the hands of Israeli soldiers in 2012.
HRC states that the Israeli army’s conclusion of wrongdoing within its ranks is proof the country is “governed by the rule of law,” even in cases that HRC characterizes as soldiers acting “in self-defense.”
According to a news report by Haaretz in 2013, Israeli soldiers fired 80 rounds of live ammunition at a group of Palestinians that included Tamimi. The military probe found the Palestinians were throwing stones towards a road from too great a distance to pose any danger.
After the Israeli soldiers shot Tamimi in the back, they prevented anyone from giving him medical aid for several minutes, Haaretz reported.
HRC’s executive director Mike Fegelman did not return The Maple’s request for an explanation about how detailed information regarding Tamimi’s death could have been included in the space of a newspaper ad.
Postmedia’s apology, issued to HRC by the media company’s senior vice president for local ad sales Adrian Faull, states: “The Amnesty International ad copy … does not meet our advertising guidelines and standards. This advertisement should not have been published and was a direct result of human error.”
The Maple contacted Lucinda Chodan, editor in chief of the Montreal Gazette, for clarification about what standards and guidelines the ad contravened, and whether the paper first received complaints from the public or HRC.
Chodan said she thought the ad material spoke for itself and declined additional comment. She did not confirm who initially lodged a complaint about the ad.
Amnesty International told The Maple it wasn’t made aware of Postmedia’s apology until after it was published on HRC’s blog. The human rights group further stated that Postmedia made no attempt to contact them to discuss the matter.
Ketty Nivyabandi, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada’s English section, was deeply troubled by Postmedia’s actions.
“Postmedia fell sway to a concerted lobbying campaign that precisely aims to silence Palestinian voices like Janna’s,” said Nivyabandi in a statement to The Maple. “Postmedia’s response should concern everyone in this country. This is shocking and further silences a young teenage girl who has won the admiration of the world for her remarkable courage and citizen journalism.”
HRC is also running a media alert about a recent interview conducted by CBC Montreal, in which Eyal Weizman — a British-Israeli architect and researcher —said the Israeli army and security apparatus develop surveillance technologies relating to the occupation of Palestine.
Weizman likened the situation to a laboratory in which new weapons and technologies are developed and tested in a real world environment before being marketed worldwide.
Fears Of Reprisal In Canadian Media
There is fear among Canadian journalists that criticism of Israeli government policies and military actions may result in retaliation. Vice World News reported in May that the CBC barred two reporters from covering Israel-Palestine after they joined more than 2,000 other Canadian journalists in signing an open letter that demanded fairer coverage of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Many mainstream news publications in Canada prohibit the use of the word “Palestine.” CBC forced one of its radio hosts to apologize on-air for not using the preferred term “Palestinian territories” earlier this year.
As Passage’s Robert Hiltz wrote in May, Paul Hambleton, the CBC director of journalistic standards, said the broadcaster’s language policy may be influenced by Canada’s “foreign affairs positions.”
Taylor C. Noakes is an independent journalist and public historian from Montreal.