Last week, Sarah Jama won the seat for her Canadian provincial riding, as a member of the New Democratic Party (NDP). Leading up to her victory, however, the mainstream news coverage of her was both unfair and anti-Palestinian.
Of note is that the coverage was not simply coming from conservative media, which routinely attacks Palestinian solidarity efforts as “irrational” or “dangerous” leftism. It was also coming from liberal media too, such as The Toronto Star.
Like their conservative counterparts, liberal media sided with Israeli ideologues who were attacking Jama as “antisemitic” for, predictably, supporting Palestinian justice. And, as was clearly the case with The Toronto Star (additional examples may be found here and here), they did so by consistently presenting the views of the ideologues without any substantive critique of them, much less exposing the obvious truth that supporting Palestinian justice does not amount to antisemitism.
Unfortunately, after her victory, Jama effectively apologized for being pro-Palestinian, recalling fellow NDP member Joel Harden who did the same last year. This of course is disappointing to see.
One, if anything, should be proud to be pro-Palestinian. Being so is to say no to Israeli ethnic cleansing, needlessly destroying the lives of countless Palestinians, as well as more generally to oppose the horrors and brutality of settler-colonialism.
It’s by now no surprise that Israeli ideologues often attack individuals, groups, etc. for being “antisemitic” if they engage in anything that’s even remotely considered pro-Palestinian. Mainstream news coverage, in being accountable to the public, should prioritize telling the truth and so by all means reject doing the same. In the case of Jama however, siding with the ideologues, they helped normalize the myth or falsehood that being pro-Palestinian is antisemitic and vice versa.
This was reinforced by mainstream news media’s publishing numerous articles on Jama with an uncritical focus on B’nai Brith’s—a well-known pro-Israeli organization, hostile to Palestinian solidarity efforts—complaint against her, namely that her use of activist language, such as calling for the liberation of Palestine “from the river to the sea”, makes her antisemitic. For B’nai Brith this was reason enough for the Ontario (province of Jama’s riding) leader of the NDP, Marit Stiles, to remove her from the election she eventually won.
As a B’nai Brith’s press release regarding Jama states:
“We realize that, with the byelection imminent and slated for March 16, withdrawing Ms. Jama’s candidacy would mean that the ONDP [Ontario New Democratic Party] would likely lose the seat,” said Michael Mostyn, B’nai Brith Canada’s Chief Executive Officer. “Nonetheless, Ms. Stiles needs to do the principled thing. There should be no room in the [Ontario] Legislature for a member whose demonizing of the Jewish state will only lead to more hate aimed at Jews in Ontario.”
Not a single article within mainstream news coverage challenged or questioned B’nai Brith’s complaint. Indeed it deserved at least that. For the essence of it is this: if you are rightfully critical of Israel for its criminal and inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people, you are somehow hateful of Jews. Responsible media does not allow such a preposterous claim to slide. Doing so grants the claim some “legitimacy” when it deserves absolutely none.
The reason is simple—Israel is a state. It is not a people, Jewish or otherwise. And like all states, especially those like Israel that routinely employ violence against innocent people, should never be exempt from criticism.
Moreover, no mainstream news coverage took issue with the above statement by B’nai Brith. This should be a reason for concern as, in spirit, it resembles extortion. The “principled thing”, according to the statement, is to prevent Jama from running in the election she’d go on to win. Judging from B’nai Brith’s record of routinely smearing pro-Palestinian voices, in addition to the fact that the statement provides no substantive proof of Jama actually being antisemitic, it is reasonable to infer that the “principled thing” is to grant B’nai Brith what it wants, lest it campaigns to undermine Stiles or the ONDP as hateful towards Jews.
It’s repugnant. There’s nothing moral or “principled” at all in threatening to misframe someone as “antisemitic” when the end goal is to advance Israeli interests, not protect or defend Jewish people from real discrimination.
When will mainstream new media, whether in Canada or elsewhere, start to take such dishonestly seriously? For the most part, they have remained silent about it. Likewise and far from being “balanced” in their reporting, which they regularly claim they are, this closely aligns them with Israeli ideologues who—in order to conceal their craftiness—want the silence maintained.
This is a disservice to the public that it should not have to experience. Rather it is entitled to know the truth: Israeli ideologues oppose pro-Palestinian voices not because they are “antisemitic” but because they want justice for Palestine and ultimately all people.
That’s where the real hatred is. And if mainstream media truly cares about making the world a more just place then it will not shy away from addressing it.
Paul Salvatori, thank you for your balanced commentary with regards to Sarah Jama and the use of the antisemitic smear when she makes a legitimate comment about the State of Israel.
Hopefully she will stand by her principles in support of Palestinians and peace in the Middle East.