Courageous Canadian journalist fired for criticism of Israel

February 14, 2012
Sarah Benton

ACTION ALERT: Demand CFRA respect free speech

Bell Media radio station fires Israel critic
IJV Canada

Bell Media radio station CFRA AM in Ottawa has fired talk show host and commentator Michael Harris, a long-time voice of reason on a range of peace and justice issues.

While Bell Media’s CTV television news network originally reported that he and 15 others were laid off due to ’corporate restructuring,’ the Ottawa Citizen later reported that the 16 employees were actually fired.

None of the others dismissed were outspoken, high profile individuals of Mr. Harris’ calibre. In contrast, two extremely right-wing hosts were retained by CFRA: Lowell Green, who is 75 years old and in poor health; and Nick Vandergragt, a right-wing militarist who comes to the air waves from truck driving. Vandergragt was only recently hired. John Counsell, another right-winger, is also keeping his job in the 10p.m.-to-midnight time slot.

As Bell Media has kept the three right-wing hosts and fired the one balancing progressive voice, it is obvious that Mr. Harris was fired for speaking truth to power.

This very selective firing comes after years of concerted attacks from organizations claiming to represent the Jewish community. The most recent occurred following a recent column in iPolitics that was critical of Harper government policies on Israel and Palestine. That courageous column can be read [below]

Take a moment right now to write to the station manager Steve Winogron at and demand:

a reversal of the decision and Michael Harris’ immediate reinstatement, and
a formal apology to the host and the show’s listeners

Founded in 2008, Independent Jewish Voices – Canada is a national human rights organization whose mandate is to promote a just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.

Independent Jewish Voices


Bell Media, owners of CFRA Radio in Ottawa fired talk show host Michael Harris on Thursday February 9th. Harris is a journalist of the highest integrity, a Woodrow Wilson Scholar and award winning author of numerous books, four of which have sparked Royal Commissions.

His shows – a combination of listener call-in and in-depth interviews covered topics such as the looting of US treasury by the banks in 2008, the 1% that would turn us all into “corporate serfs”, environmental issues such as fisheries and pipelines, Caterpillar’s shutting down of the locomotive plant in London Ontario after receiving millions from the federal and provincial government, Harper’s attack on the OAS and on democracy in general, food sovereignty and safety, Monsanto and much more. The station also fired 15 others citing corporate restructuring but they were not controversial high profile individuals of Mr. Harris’ calibre. Furthermore, 2 extremely right-wing people were retained while Harris was fired; one, Lowell Green is 73 years old and in poor health and the second Nick Vandergragt is a recent hire and right-wing militarist who comes to the air waves with a background in truck driving. Mr. Harris has been under attack many times for his support of Palestinian Human Rights and it seems that this was a factor in his being let go. His firing takes place after a concerted attack from the Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), following a column last week in iPolitics that was critical of Harper government policies on Israel and Palestine.

His voice will be a tremendous loss of important information and debate in the Ottawa market. Michael Harris’ trademark was the variety of voices that he invited to participate on his show and the utmost courtesy he accorded to all participants.

A small sampling of the people he has interviewed in recent months include:

MPs from all political parties on a regular basis including Wayne Easter (LIB), Megan Leslie (NDP) Elizabeth May (Green), Pierre Lemieux (Con) and former Reform leader Preston Manning.

Alex Neve – President of Amnesty International, Eddie Greenspon on the Harper Government’s relaxation of the rules regarding use of evidence obtained through torture. Scott Taylor – Esprit de Corps Magazine, on military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Paul Heinbecker – Canada’s former ambassador to the UN, a regular guest providing informative and neutral commentary on a variety of international issues.

Alan Dershowitz – American professor and unconditional supporter of Israel, Larry Rousseau, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Duff Conacher – Democracy Watch, Alan Cutler – government whistleblower, Lawrence Martin – G&M columnist and author of Harperland, Anita Vandenbeld – observer of the recent elections in Congo, Gerald Celente on US bank bail outs, corporate criminality and the impending collapse of the American economy.

Canada will be on the sidelines in search for Middle East peace

By Michael Harris, ipolitics

John Baird take note: the world’s greatest Holocaust scholar doesn’t have much use for politicians who shamelessly pander to Israel or use that dread event to advance their agendas.

Canada’s Foreign Minister should add Professor Deborah Lipstadt to his reading list. This is what she had to say after watching Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in a debate sponsored by the Republican Jewish Committee, as their appearance degenerated into an obsequious competition to see which candidate could offer the most unequivocal and fact-twisting declaration of support for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel:

“It was unbelievable. It made me cringe. I couldn’t watch it…Israel doesn’t do everything right.”

Her opinion of the candidates hadn’t improved much by the time Newt Gingrich decided at a later debate that the Palestinian people were an illusion. He reached that conclusion after cashing a cheque for $5 million donated to his campaign by an American billionaire who is also a powerful supporter of Israel.

“You listen to Newt Gingrich talking about Palestinians as an invented people – it’s out-Aipeckiing AIPAC, it’s out-Israeling Israel. There’s something about it that’s so discomforting. It’s not healthy. It’s a distortion.”

Lipstadt vaulted to world celebrity in 2000 after she defended herself and her publisher from a libel suit brought by the most infamous Holocaust denier of them all, David Irving. Lipstadt, an American Jew who is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory College in Atlanta, demolished Irving so completely with her courtroom exposition of the facts that the London Times wrote: “History has had its day in court and scored a crushing victory.”

Looking at the dreadful impasse in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, in which 14,500 people have perished over years of war and intifadas, Lipstadt is overwhelmed at the lack of dialogue, diplomacy and fair play by politicians charged with making peace. The calm voice has been replaced by the shriek; good faith by threat; honesty with endless subterfuge. This is how she put it during a recent trip to Israel:

“People go nuts here, they go nuts. There’s no nuance, there’s no middle ground, it’s taking any shade of grey and stomping on it. There are no voices of calm, not in this country, not in Israel.”

That is a good description of the Harper government’s Middle East foreign policy. In Ottawa’s one-sided world, there is no UN Resolution 232; no human catastrophe of millions confined to refugee camps for decades; no international right of return; no excessive force or collective punishment against a civilian population; no such thing as Arab East-Jerusalem; no illegal settlements; no Janine refugee camp atrocity; no brutal assault on Lebanon; no Gaza. And of course there is no such thing as the 1967 borders. There is only unequivocal support from the Harper government to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. The rich potential of Canadian diplomacy has been dumped in favor of a one-sided, fact-shifting, personal statement of undying support, no matter what, for Israel’s right-wing government.

So Deborah Lipstadt would not be terribly surprised to learn that when John Baird went to Israel this week, he kicked off his first day by attending the opening of a new Holocaust education facility in Jerusalem. Would she approve, knowing that the Holocaust has nothing to do with Baird’s face-to-face meetings with the antagonists in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and everything to do with the obligatory photo-op that symbolizes our one-dimensional Middle East policy? Probably not.

“When you take these terrible moments in our history, and you use it for contemporary purposes, you mangle history, you trample on it,” Lipstadt told an Israeli newspaper.

As he always does, John Baird stuck slavishly to the prime minister’s mantra – undying support for Israel, and nothing but blame for the Palestinians. He thereby guaranteed that Canada will be on the sidelines as the world’s longest running human rights tragedy lurches towards resolution or total chaos. It is a very different Canada than the one that played a major role in ending apartheid in South Africa with the help of brilliant diplomatics and a proactive prime minister. Brian Mulroney dared to lead a reluctant Commonwealth away from P.W. Botha and towards Nelson Mandela and guess who turned out to be on the right side of history?

Baird’s lowest moment in his pointless sojourn to the Middle East was his statement that Israel “embodies principles that Canada values and respects. It is a beacon of light in a region that craves freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”

At best, his exuberance is filled with half truths. He seems to have forgotten that Prime Minister Netanyahu openly supported President Mubarak when he was killing his citizens in Tahrir Square. Netanyahu later expressed nostalgia for the dictator when he was finally deposed. How strange it must have been for the Israeli prime minister when his own citizens started demonstrating against their government, carrying signs that read “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

When it comes to “Canadian values” embodied in contemporary Israel, one can only wonder what Mr. Baird is referring to. Could it be those self-proclaimed, watch-dog organizations that make lists of Israeli academics who are suspected of being anti-Zionist? Perhaps our foreign minister could make time during his trip to meet with Professor Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University. Commenting on his making the list of 1000 Israeli authors, journalists and public intellectuals who are seen as not being with the program, this is what Professor Gordon said:

“There is a real concern for the future of Israeli democracy and about McCarthyism against anyone who criticizes the government’s policies in the occupied territories.”

Perhaps Mr. Baird was thinking of the Israeli legal system when he mentioned Canadian values. The Likud-dominated Knesset has passed a law making it illegal to call for boycotts of Israeli settlements, which international law says are illegal. Prime Minister Netanyahu also asked his justice minister how the settlements might be made “retroactively” legal.

Another Israeli law punishes “cultural, academic, and other institutions or municipalities” that commemorate the Nakba, the terrible moment after the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli war when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost everything and became permanent refugees. The law’s aim is to ban another peoples’ remembrance of their history.

Was it Canadian values when the Israeli Defense Force arrested the Speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Dweik, and 23 other Palestinian MPs and threw them in jail for six months without trial? Or when government housing committees refused to sell apartments to Israelis of Ethiopian origin, sparking 5000 Israel citizens to protest in front of the Knesset with signs that read “Our Blood Is Only Good For War”?

Does the Israeli law that prevents the Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens from obtaining citizenship or even permanent residency reflect Canadian values? If Mr. Baird thinks it does, perhaps he should take time on his trip to speak with Dan Yakir of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel and ask him why he had this to say about the law, which was endorsed by Israel’s high court: “It is a dark day for the protection of human rights and for the Israeli Supreme Court.”

Is it really a Canadian value to entrench in law a provision that says a Palestinian married to an Arab Israeli citizen has no right to a family life together, that Palestinian men over 35 and women over 25 who are married to an Israeli face a life of short term residency permits, limited permits to work, and no benefits? And is the legal principle used by the Israeli Supreme Court a Canadian value – that human rights do not override security concerns? Would Mr. Baird endorse a law that said establishing a family with a foreign spouse is grounds for withholding constitutional protection?

Perhaps he could speak with Mohammed Barakeh, an Arab-Israeli MP in the Knesset who has warned of a “wave of racism” sweeping through Israeli institutions, accelerated by each fresh court ruling that differentiates between people in Israeli society on the basis of race.

And how about Israel’s new Anti-Infiltration Law and its bearing on Canadian values. Passed by a 37-8 vote in the Knesset, it empowers the military to take workers from Africa deemed to have entered Israel illegally and throw them into prison for three years – without trial – a measure the government’s critics have called undemocratic and inhuman.

And maybe if Mr. Baird wants to see another example of Canadian values in Israel he should speak to Koji Yamashiro. He got his BA and MA from Hebrew University and won a presidential scholarship to carry on with his PHD. Despite the full support of the university and hundreds of scholars and fellow students, Koji was rejected. The Immigration Authority decided to deport the Japanese student. Why? It was decided that the budding scholar on monotheistic religions “might sink roots in Israel.” Would we do that in Canada?

Israel has no civil marriage. Rabbis rule on weddings and divorces and control the personal status of every Israeli citizen. Ultra-orthodox males have been involved in a spate of attacks on women, who have been punched, sexually harassed and ordered to the back of public buses.

The youngest victim was Na’ama Margolese, age 8, who was spat on for “immodest” dress, even though she herself came from a religious family. Most recently, Natali Mashiah was beset by a mob of ultra-orthodox men who smashed the windows out of her car and poured bleach inside. When she tried to flee the scene, Natali was hit in the head with a rock. A crowd surrounded Mashiah’s car during the attack, but no one came to her rescue. Her screams of “I am Jewish” did not deter her attackers.

Here is a Canadian value John Baird understands very well, since he recently accused African and Caribbean countries of having regressive and punitive laws on the books against homosexuality. The Population Administration of Israel’s Interior Ministry prevents the spouses of gay Israeli citizens from obtaining citizenship. The government can, however, collect taxes and national insurance payments from same-sex couples as though they were married. And should the Israeli spouse die, and there are children, the remaining spouse may lose custody. Could that happen in Canada where the law says that all discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegitimate and violates foundational liberties?

The Harper government’s policy on the Middle East is uninformed and crassly political. Perhaps that is why the prime minister and his cabinet, including John Baird, advance the notion that criticism of the Israeli government is the new anti-semitism, an absurdity with the handy benefit of killing all debate about this vitally important issue.

They seem not to understand that turning a blind eye to obvious injustice imperils Israel far more than the usual list of enemies. If there is no true, two-state solution, Israel will become a bi-national state with a large and growing Palestinian population. Under those circumstances, the country will be unable to retain either its democracy or its Jewish identity.

Even Stephen Harper is not exempt from the law of unintended consequences.

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