Just when it looked like the dust had settled from the debacle of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ill fated appearance at Concordia, a Global TV documentary about campus tensions and that other infamous September day has managed to stoke the fires of controversy once again.
At least three separate complaints have been filed with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) over “Confrontation at Concordia,” which aired May 9 on the Global Television network.
“[It] surpassed the heights of even Iraqi state propaganda in fabrication,” said Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) member Samer Elatrash. “They used malicious editing in order to try and twist events into a scene they wanted to convey.”
The complainants, which include SPHR, the Concordia Student Union (CSU), and the Canadian Muslim Forum, allege that the program deliberately misrepresented the issues at the core of campus tensions. It was claimed that the program portrayed the problem as one of anti-Semitism rather than a political one, and of defaming pro-Palestinian activists as “thugs” intent on “persecuting” Jews at Concordia.
There were also complaints that the program’s producer/reporter, Martin Himel, depicted Concordia University as a “vipers nest of anti-Semitism,” where Jewish students live in constant fear of the “unforgiving fanaticism,” “hatred” and “oppression” of pro-Palestinian activists.
Himel and his interview subjects repeatedly compared the situation at Concordia to that of “Nazi occupied Europe.” To drive the point home, Himel cross cut images of the Sept. 9 demonstrators with black and white footage of fascist mobs from 1930s Germany.
Critics point out that, although a number of the pro-Palestinian activists on campus are Jewish, none of them were featured in the documentary, allowing Himel to portray the conflict as simply a racial one between Arabs and Jews.
Elatrash in particular was singled out as a leader and instigator of campus intolerance. Elatrash asserts that Himel tried hard to lure him into saying something inflammatory and provocative. When he wouldn’t bite, Elatrash says Himel put words distorting his views in his mouth.
“They didn’t really allow me to speak for myself. They kept voicing over, saying ‘Samer believes in this’ and ‘Samer believes in that,'” Elatrash said. “There’s a difference between bias and fabricating statements on my behalf.”
In one instance, after Hillel President Yoni Patel, who was featured prominently in the program, accused Elatrash point blank of being an “anti-Semite,” Himel intoned ominously, “despite what Samer might say, Israel is intimately linked to [Jewish] identity.” The problem is, the program doesn’t quote Elatrash saying any such thing.
In another example, Patel accused Elatrash of “denying thousands of years of Jewish history.” Again, Elatrash isn’t quoted saying anything of the sort.
Looking tense and uncomfortable, Rector Lowy informed Himel that campus tensions over the Middle East are due to the “rich ethnic mix” at Concordia, which, Lowy explained, leads to clashes between students because of their “different values.” Lowy, whose administration has been accused of bias and double standards itself, criticized the former CSU for not being “even handed.”
Global Television’s Director of Media Relations, Christina Amendola, declined to comment, saying it was a “regulatory issue.” She directed queries to Global’s regulatory representatives, who were unavailable for comment by press time.
However, Global news anchor Peter Kent defended Confrontation at Concordia saying, “We stand by the documentary,” adding that it was “a powerful piece.”
This isn’t the first time the CanWest Global media empire has been embroiled in controversy over issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In late October 2002, Asper gave a speech in Montreal in which he denounced virtually every major news organization in the world – including the New York Times, Washington Post, all the major American television networks, the CBC and BBC – for “biased” and “dishonest” reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Accusing these respected news outlets of being “lazy,” “stupid” or “anti-Semitic,” Asper urged those in attendance to be “vigilant and aggressive” in holding journalists accountable for their reporting, pledging to do the same himself.
In an apparent reference to Concordia University, Asper also demanded that university “administrators retake control of the teaching process, to ensure that hate is not taught, propaganda is not preached and that the revered term ‘academic freedom’ is never used as a license to libel, a podium for propaganda and an advocacy of hate.” Asper then urged his listeners to “withhold financial support from institutions that fail this obligation of educational integrity.”
CanWest Global has 20 days from the date the complaint was filed to formally respond to the charges.