CBC journalist Michael Enright’s 30 minute interview on November 10th with Palestinian/American lawyer, author and human rights activist Noura Erakat has incensed the pro-Israel lobby group “Honest Reporting Canada”. They have complained to the CBC and to its ombudsman that the segment was “biased” and full of “anti-Israel and anti-Zionist” invective. Why are they attacking Enright, who defends the idea of a “Jewish State”? What is it that has so upset them? Read more.
Over the last several years, Michael Enright has had many guests on his “Sunday Edition” program discussing Israel and the Palestinians. The Israel/Palestine issue, and the associated issue of anti-Semitism, are subjects Enright is clearly interested in and to which he comes back very frequently. Among his recent guests have figured Israeli authors David Grossman, and Ari Shavit, and US professor Deborah Lipstadt, who discussed her recent book on anti-Semitism.
Based on his editorial comments over the years, Enright appears to fall into the category of a “liberal Zionist” i.e. critical of some of Israel’s more egregious actions, but supportive of the Zionist idea of a Jewish state. Every time he addresses the issue, of course, Enright gets pushback – some of it from those who think he is too supportive of Israel and some from those who think he is too sympathetic to the Palestinians. That should hardly surprise as Canadian opinion on Israel/Palestine is sharply divided.
But his recent 30 minute interview with US/Palestinian academic and author Noura Erakat has drawn howls of indignant anger from Honest Reporting Canada (HRC), a pro-Israel media watchdog group based in Toronto.
Erakat is a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. She has recently completed a speaking tour in Canada organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. (CJPME).
The Sunday Edition interview is interesting – a pretty good give and take between Erakat who has a principled critique of Zionism, and Enright who has travelled to the region extensively and who tries to balance his liberalism with his support for the basic Zionist idea of a Jewish State.
HRC’s first response to the Erakat interview came in a blog post entitled “The Sunday Edition airs 30 minute anti-Israel invective”, followed up by an angry letter to CBC executives, complaining about both Erakat and about Enright himself.
“CBC Anchor Michael Enright did not adequately challenge many false and highly misleading statements that Ms. Erakat made, and didn’t seem informed enough about the issues at hand, or at least willing, to ask hard and informed questions”, argued HRC.
When the response from the CBC was deemed insufficient, HRC went further and launched a formal complaint to the CBC Ombudsperson against Enright himself, accusing him of “lobbing softball questions.”
What was it that Erakat said, or that Enright did not say, that so upset Honest Reporting Canada? Why are they attacking a prominent CBC journalist who is normally a supporter of the State of Israel (even if not all of its actions.)
HRC seems to have been really frustrated by Enright’s inability or unwillingness to put up an effective opposition to Erakat’s critique of Zionism or her support for the right of Palestinian refugees of return.
Zionism – can it be discussed openly?
Enright himself led the conversation onto tricky territory when he challenged Erakat’s repeated use of the word “Zionist” in her book, noting that “Zionism has become a toxic word”.
This incensed HRC. “Mr. Enright even claimed that the term Zionists has become “a toxic word,” HRC said in its submission to the CBC ombudsman.
Notwithstanding HRC anger, few would contest that “Zionism” has become a loaded word, in part because the Israel lobby itself has tried to equate opposition to Zionism to anti-Semitism. (See note below about Monk debate on this very topic.)
But that is not a reason why we should avoid discussing Zionism, Professor Erakat insisted. “Zionism is a political movement that claims the right to establish a “Jewish State” at the expense of Palestinians,” she argued, noting that “Opposition to Zionism is NOT about the removal of Jewish Israelis, but about equality.”
She went on to refer to official Palestinian documents including Yasser Arafat’s 1974 speech at the UN in which he called for “one democratic State where Christian, Jew and Muslim live in justice, equality and fraternity.”
The Palestinian right of return – a “dream” or a “nightmare”?
But what really seems to have exercised HRC was Enright’s apparent reluctance to challenge Erakat’s unflinching and principled support for the Palestinian right of return, a right enshrined in multiple UN resolutions, including UNGA 194.
“You have not offered even one example where you claim that he (i.e. Enright) strongly challenged Ms. Erakat’s arguments,” wrote Mike Fegelman, Executive Director of HRC to the CBC Ombudsman.
“Ms. Erakat advocated for the ‘right of return’ of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants into Israel, akin to a demographic ticking bomb that would see the Jewish character of the state of Israel and Jewish majority, eliminated,” argued Fegelman.
It’s hard to interpret Mr. Fegelman’s “demographic ticking time bomb” as other than as a race based argument which aims to maintain the superiority of one racial/religious/ethnic group over others. Israel could only become a “Jewish majority” state in the first place by the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of non-Jews in 1947/48 and ongoing denial of their right to repatriation.
The “right of return” is a dream and a dear objective for over 5 million Palestinian refugees – many of whom have been living in refugee camps for over 70 years. But at the same time, it is a nightmare for people like Mr. Fegelman who want to maintain the Zionist dream of a state in which Jews dominate over others.
Is anti-Zionism anti-Semitism? – two leading Zionist speakers disagree
Notwithstanding HRC’s desire to keep the discussion of Zionism off the table, other pressures are bringing it forward.
Recently Monk Debates held a discussion on “Be it resolved that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism”, featuring two prominent American Zionists. NYT columnist Bret Stephens (a conservative) argues “yes, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism”, while Atlantic Magazine contributor Peter Beinart (a liberal Zionist) argues the contrary.
The 38 minute Monk Debate podcast is interesting (click here to listen). Unfortunately, Monk Debates thought it appropriate that the debate be held between two people who share the Zionist idea. It might have been a lot more interesting (and informative) if they had invited a non-Zionist or even an anti-Zionist (like Ms. Erakat) to participate.
HRC and the Israel lobby are fighting hard to ensure that scrutiny of these two ideas – Zionism and the Palestinian right of return are “not on the table”. So far, they have been rather successful. It’s not clear how long they will be able to avoid serious public discussion about both issues.
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