The complainant, Laura Finsten, was appalled – as were many others – at a question put to a senior Israeli political figure regarding the number of Palestinians killed by the IDF during protests at the Gaza-Israel border. She also thought there was no regard for Israel’s perspective. While the phrasing was harsh, it is legitimate to hold public officials accountable and to ask hard questions. That is what journalism is.
You were upset by an interview conducted by Carol Off, host of As It Happens, with Michael Oren, Deputy Minister in the office of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, regarding the violence at the Israel-Gaza border. Israeli troops had killed 60 Palestinians and thousands were injured in days of skirmishes at the fence that separates Gaza and Israel. You cited the opening question as particularly upsetting. Ms. Off started the interview by saying “Deputy Minister Oren, is there any limit to the number of Palestinians that Israel is willing to shoot and kill?” You labelled this “the 21st century blood libel”:
I have come to the conclusion that it the 21st century blood libel. It is premised on the idea that Israelis are bloodthirsty and have no regard for human life. It reflects a bias against Israel, an anti-Israel animus, so deep that I must ask that Ms. Off and her entire production team be fired. They are all bigots.
You said the interview did not allow the Israeli perspective nor was the perspective of the Israeli government presented in all the coverage on the programme that day. You contrasted the treatment of Mr. Oren with other interviews that day which were not as challenging. You felt Israel was singled out when, in fact, Israel was acting in self-defence. You stated that there might be other conflicts in the region, but it is only Gaza that has “a terror group” which has “weaponized its civilian population.” You said Mr. Oren was used as a “whipping boy” for the programme’s own agenda. You thought the programmers should reassess and consider “that perhaps the IDF were doing exactly what Michael Oren said they were – targeting terrorists. Imperfectly, as these things always go, but targeting terrorists sworn to destroy their country and kill their citizens.”
Others wrote to complain about this interview, and Marjorie Gann also asked for a review. Ms. Gann also thought the interview was biased, that the IDF were operating in self-defence and had to shoot before protesters could breach the fence. She concluded:
I would argue that Carol Off’s line of questioning on May 15 and May 17 was naïve and her background on the story was incomplete, leading to an anti-Israel bias.
The Executive Producer of As It Happens, Robin Smythe, responded to your complaint. She addressed your objection to the phrasing of the first question, acknowledging it might have been better put. She explained the issue that the programmers really wanted to examine was the fact that there was a sense that because of the disproportionate death toll, while Israel had “beaten back the Palestinians,” in the eyes of many they had lost the public relations war. It is in that context the question was asked. Ms. Off was probing to see if there was a point at which Israeli officials would consider that the cost of defending the border against the demonstrators with live ammunition was exacting too high a price for Israel in terms of international disapproval:
The question cuts to the intersection of reality and perception. It suggests a dilemma seen repeatedly in conflicts in the Middle East and around the world: Can the cost of winning be too high? It was the essence of Ms. Off’s question. At what point would Israel find the cost here too high.