Haroon Siddiqui Crosses the Line
September 7, 2005
Dear HonestReporting Canada subscriber:
As one of the year’s biggest media events, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and four West Bank settlements provided an opportunity to observe how the Canadian media approach a complicated news story.
The Toronto Star presented an overall balanced view of the “disengagement.” Middle East bureau chief Mitch Potter provided even-handed coverage that brought home to Canadians the sights and sounds of the traumatic episode. News coverage was accompanied by opinion pieces, some of which applauded Israel’s historic withdrawal as a step forward, and others that viewed Israel’s motives and actions with utter skepticism. But any semblance of balance at the Star was destroyed by a succession of one-sided, often rhetorical columns by Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui.
Understanding Israel’s Position
On August 16, analyzing Canadian Jews’ reactions to the withdrawal, Anna Morgan wrote that “for Jews in Canada and elsewhere the real question lies well ahead of the current disengagement. They simply do not know whether the likes of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Iran, etc. will one day live and let live with Israel in return.”
On August 19, the Star published an even-handed staff editorial calling on both Israelis and Palestinians to use the opportunity to promote peace and prevent further violence.
And on August 21, Toronto writer Rondi Adamson suggested that “before Israel gives more away and makes more concessions, they deserve evidence that the Gaza decision will represent improvement.”
Pouring Cold Water on Israel’s Withdrawal
Theo Moudakis, Toronto Star, 08.18.05
An August 17 Star article, picked up from New York Newsday, described a Palestinian mother’s painful memory of her daughter being killed by an Israeli shell in 2001. But while the original Newsday article included a quote from Israel’s prime minister expressing regret and explaining that Israeli soldiers returned fire because mortars were being launched from the area, the Toronto Star version omitted that explanation.
HonestReporting Canada contacted the Star on August 17, complained that the heavy-handed editing deprived readers of context and balance, and asked the newspaper to publish the missing paragraph and a clarification. Yet three weeks later, the Star’s public editor has still not replied.
An August 18 editorial cartoon by Theo Moudakis falsely compared Palestinian refugees — whose losses resulted from Arab-initiated wars — with Israeli evacuees, whose eviction from Gaza was designed to reduce friction between Israelis and Arabs.
An August 18 op-ed by Paul McCann, former spokesman for the controversial “United Nations Relief Works Agency,” savaged Israel’s motives and actions, declaring, “No one should be under the illusion that Gaza will cease to be the world’s largest prison camp.”
And an August 21 column by Star columnist Linda McQuaig blithely asserted, “The withdrawal from Gaza isn’t much of a sacrifice for Israel,” and dismissed the evicted residents’ pain as so much “public relations value.”
Haroon Siddiqui Crosses the Line
But it was Haroon Siddiqui’s columns that tipped the balance of opinion at the Star heavily against Israel. In three successive columns on August 21, August 25 and August 28, Siddiqui relentlessly hammered home the idea that Israel alone was to blame for the Arab-Israeli conflict. He even turned over an entire column to three Arab Canadians who poured forth a litany of anti-Israel charges.
Siddiqui’s columns introduced claims such as, “Keeping the land and getting rid of the people has always been the Israeli way,” and “Today, human life and suffering does not matter if you are Arab, Muslim or from a Third World country.” He criticized Israel for not allowing Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to have “the guns, the ammunition and the armoured vehicles he needs to do the job,” while failing to mention that weapons provided to the Palestinians under previous agreements were turned against Israel, costing a thousand lives. He even seemed to fondly recall the Saddam Hussein regime, arguing that before the U.S. invasion, “Iraq was secular, with women enjoying rights. Now it is controlled by clerics who want to control women.“
(Reader response was so strong that Siddiqui was compelled to publish a special fourth column containing readers’ complaints.)
But Siddiqui’s relentless one-sided criticism of Israel goes beyond his most recent columns. Over the past year, Siddiqui referenced Israel — almost always negatively — in a third of his columns. Of 69 columns Siddiqui authored from Sept 6, 2004 to Sept 5, 2005, 9 columns (13%) were focused primarily on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and another 13 columns (19%), while about other issues, nevertheless referenced Israel.
There is an important line separating legitimate opinion that enhances the public discourse, from ideological rhetoric that interferes with constructive dialogue. It is time for the Star to insist that Siddiqui stick to constructive opinion that contributes positively to the marketplace of ideas. And it is time for the Star to balance Siddiqui’s one-sided content by hiring additional columnists who do not espouse the simplistic idea that Israel is always wrong.
How You Can Make a Difference
Express your concern about Siddiqui’s excessive one-sided criticism of Israel to Toronto Star Editor-in-Chief Giles Gherson. Ask him to bring balance to the Star by introducing new columnists and by insisting that Siddiqui stick to constructive opinion.
Email a brief, polite letter to: email@example.com
Please forward (do not CC) a copy of your correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do NOT send angry, accusatory or abusive letters.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to fair and accurate
media coverage of Israel and the Middle East