In Toronto, an estimated 13,000 community members gathered to protest the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) bombing campaign in Gaza, on May 15. But you wouldn’t know it from Canada’s news reports.
Nathan Phillips Square was filled, Saturday night, with ordinary people from all backgrounds, protesting the ongoing IDF bombing campaign and the Israeli government’s forcible removal of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. The siege has already killed hundreds of Palestinians and levelled whole city blocks, with tacit support from Canada’s government and weapons makers.
The rally was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), a left-wing organization committed to ending the occupation, to women’s liberation and to defending refugee rights. Rallies were also organized in Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, London and Milton. The rallies marked an international Day of Action—both against the bombing and marking the 73rd Nakba anniversary—recognizing the 1948 expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes.
This was a mass rally. Attendees included representatives from the labour movement, student movement and community organizations. Many whole families attended, bringing along elderly people and young children. Despite belligerent police and security—who tried to fence the crowd into about half the city square—no injuries were reported in the main rally. Organizers further insisted attendees comply with COVID-19 safety protocols. Community groups were also on hand to provide masks and hand sanitizer to those without.
Media distorts rally
The Saturday rally was a massive show of force against the bombing and occupation. But media coverage was slow, reluctant and skewed against Palestinian solidarity.
One of the first stories published about the Toronto rally was by the Canadian Press, based on a police press release. It lumped the Palestine demonstration with an earlier, right-wing anti-lockdown protest and focused on two arrests made outside of the main rally. The article did not feature any interviews with organizers or attendees but it was reposted by a number of outlets including CBC News.
Later, CP released another article, headlined, “Tensions flare at Israel-Palestinian demonstrations in Montreal, Toronto, focusing not on the protest but on a nearby right-wing counter-protest. No PYM organizers and no attendees were quoted—but the Toronto police and the Centre For Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) were. Police connected the rallies to violence while the CIJA warned that the Palestinian rights rally was part of “a wave of anti-Semitism.” The article was reposted by the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star.
A cursory look at coverage finds that only a subsequent staff article by the Toronto Star, and one webpost each by CityNews and CP24, interviewed any of the 13,000 demonstrators. But even that CP24 article made the unlikely allegation that the demonstrators “surrounded” anti-Palestinian counter-demonstrators—despite, as CP24 phrased it, a “heavy handed police presence.”
Expectedly, the Toronto Sun also failed to interview any organizers or attendees. But that didn’t stop the Sun from alleging that the community organizers and families who attended wanted violence.
“Despite the provincial stay-at-home order,” Sue Ann Levy wrote “at least 5,000 Palestine supporters turned up to decry the latest Israel-Gaza conflict — several seemingly itching for a fight.” On Tuesday morning, the top article on the Sun’s homepage is an editorial titled ANTI-SEMITISM UNLEASHED—insisting the protests were inciting violence, and aiding an unspecified “terrorist cause.” It also didn’t quote participants.
In reality, the organizers made significant efforts to denounce anti-Semitism and made it clear in the days leading up to the rally that it has no place in the movement. They made it clear that those putting forward anti-Jewish chants, slogans or placards would be removed.
These were not difficult statements to find, had these journalists made any appreciable effort to find them.
Lacking interviews with organizers or demonstrators, much of the coverage focused on a grainy cellphone video of a right-wing counter-protester, outside the protest, engaged in a scuffle that he eventually lost.
According to the National Post, in the video: “Masked men waving Palestinian flags surrounded and beat a lone middle-aged Jewish man near Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square.” Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Toronto mayor John Tory and others repeated this narrative.
The full video, however, soon cast doubt on this interpretation.
At the start, a group of Palestine supporters are surrounded by supporters of the far-right anti-Muslim Jewish Defence League (JDL). The man in the initial video, Greg (Zvi) Nisan, is personally seen following the pro-Palestine protesters, brandishing a batton and, later, a knife.
The JDL is considered a right-wing terrorist group by the US government. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) noted, since its foundation in 1968, the organization has carried out beatings against Muslim organizers, left-wing activists and politicians. The ADL notes the JDL has also taken responsibility for several bombing and assassination plots.
Media coverage subject to criticism
Already before the rally, community organizations and some journalists themselves had been critical of Canada’s coverage of the oppression of Palestinians.
Journalists and media workers from the Toronto Star, CBC, the Globe and Mail, Vice and others signed a prominent open letter calling for fairer coverage of the issue.
“Our ask is simple” the open letter reads “That all the tenets of journalism should apply to Canadian coverage of Occupied Palestinian Territories moving forward. Fair and balanced coverage should include historical and social context, reporters with knowledge of the region and, crucially, Palestinian voices.”
Sheridan College Journalism Instructor Andrew Mitrovica noted on May 15, Canada’s media was comparatively slow to cover a prominent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report which deemed the oppression of Palestinians comparable to Apartheid. CBC, he noted, didn’t cover it at all. Derek Stoffel, the CBC’s world news editor and former Middle East correspondent, explained the silence by saying that his newsroom did “not have the reporter resources on this day to devote to it.”
While the Globe did cover the report, it offered space to the right-wing fringe lobby group—NGO Watch—to accuse HRW of spearheading a “demonization” campaign. Past Israeli diplomats have dismissed NGO Watch’s research as a “tendentious” string of “intentional inaccuracies.” The Times of Israel accused the group of itself launching a misleading “campaign” against prominent Arab Israeli human rights groups.
Canada’s media cheerleads for imperialist war
This ongoing media distortion is again a reminder that, although public opinion in Canada is not overwhelmingly right-wing, its media-establishment is.
A near-majority of Canada’s newspapers support the Conservative party, even though that party is not supported by the majority of people in Canada. The hedge-fund that owns the Toronto Star is headed by Liberal and Tory donors with extensive investments in big business. The Toronto Sun has previously set out a mandate to deliberately demonize poor people and left-wing organizers.
Sabre-rattling on behalf of unpopular imperialist interventions, further, is the norm for these media outlets.
In 2010, when polls found most Canadians opposed Canada’s role in the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, the Globe remained insistent that Canada’s military stay to “help the Karzai government” protect “hard won freedoms” even as the NATO-backed government developed a reputation for being “worse than the Taliban.” Well into 2015, the Toronto Star continued to applaud the efforts of Canada’s snipers—its “clinical killers”—during the war. More recently, the Globe has had to acknowledge nothing good has come from the invasion it supported for so long.
Since 2014, the National Post, the Globe and the Star have all supported the Canadian government’s efforts to assist right-wing governments in Ukraine—even as the Post acknowledged some of that support would inevitably aid neo-nazi militias.
Similar support has been drummed up by Canada’s major media almost any time Canada’s government has intervened in Latin America, Asia, Africa, the Carribean, Eastern Europe or the Middle East.
Sadly, the slander levelled against Palestinians is used by some to serve conspiracy theories about “Zionist control” of the media. This is not the case.
The attack on Palestinian rights supported by Canada’s government and Canada’s media is a home-grown phenomenon. Canada’s media, like the Canadian military and the Canadian state more-broadly, serve the interests of Canadian capitalism. Canadian capitalism is dead-set on exploitation at home and murderous plunder abroad—with the help of the capitalists in the United States, Britain, France, Israel and elsewhere. Capitalist media helps shape public opinion in the interests of capitalism.
In the early 1930s, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Telegram, the fore-runner to the Toronto Sun, praised the Nazi regime in Germany for crushing the left. They also sought to downplay its atrocities against Jewish people. The Globe praised Hermann Göring’s “sense of humour” and insisted Hitler merely felt an “aversion to Jewish domination and influence.” And, it went to great lengths in 1934 to insist there was “no satisfactory evidence” the Nazi government persecuted Jews. The Telegram also claimed reports of the persecution of Jews were exaggerated. The Telegram’s inclination no doubt reflected its decades old suspicion that Jewish people were behind Toronto labour unrest, as it claimed: “An influx of Jews puts a worm next to the kernel of every fair city where they get a hold.”
These owners are dedicated to profit and the defence of profit-making. They will endorse whoever and whatever is needed to serve the needs of capital—no matter how many people die domestically or abroad.
Workers’ and community control of the press
These media distortions reflect the urgent need to take the means of communication out of the hands of right-wing billionaires and government bureaucrats. The technical resources and wealth dedicated to promoting hatred and imperialist war could instead be used to educate and empower working class communities. The pro-imperialist billionaires need to be expropriated and each media outlet democratically put in the hands of working-class journalists, print and media workers, and the communities impacted by their reporting. Canada’s radio stations, television studios and printing presses need to be opened to all working class communities—especially communities who find themselves subject to racism and oppression. When there is genuine media democracy the people will have the facts to determine for themselves the correct course of action. We cannot allow these reactionary media oligopolies unfettered power to promote racism, war, and imperialism. It is at times of war and heightened struggle that the capitalist control of the media becomes more and more apparent. Thankfully, it is also during these times that the people learn to see the truth.