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March 31, 2010

How to read Asper's Ottawa Citizen

Reuel S. Amdur

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When Jamal Zahalka came to Ottawa to speak at Carleton University during Israeli Apartheid Week, I went to hear him.

He is a Balad member of the Israeli Knesset and leads his party’s caucus. 

No one showed up from the Ottawa Citizen.  In fact, the Citizen was nowhere to be seen at events during the whole week. 

Yet, it did produce an opinion piece by Leonard Stern attacking the week.

The article managed the neat trick of attacking Israeli Apartheid Week without even indicating what the week is about and without using the word Palestinian.  No surprise, business as usual at the Citizen.

Gideon Levy, a journalist with Haaretz who specializes in the plight of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories came to Ottawa. 

A press conference was arranged for him.  The Citizen was a no-show. 

Two lawyers with Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, spoke at Carleton University.  Not of interest to the Citizen, it appears.

World Vision brought to Ottawa an Israeli woman whose son, a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces, was killed by a Palestinian and a Palestinian whose brother was killed by Israeli forces.  The two are working to build communications between the two sides at the grass roots level and are together in an organization of bereaved families on both sides of the Green Line.  Not newsworthy for the Citizen, it appears.

Potlucks for Peace, a Muslim-Jewish dialog organization in Ottawa, brought General John de Chastelain to town.  He is the Canadian who played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace settlement.  He talked about lessons learned from that experience that might have implications for the Middle East.  No one from the Citizen was there.

Marc Ellis was invited to speak by Independent Jewish Voices.  He is a professor of Jewish studies at Baylor University.  His message: the prophetic challenge to Jews today is how Jews treat the Palestinians.  The

Citizen was not there. 

Tariq Ramadan was invited by Carleton University to speak.  The Ottawa Citizen greeted him with a long article by Robert Sibley, charging that he is masquerading as a liberal and a humanitarian while all the time slyly trying to infiltrate radical Islamism into the Western world.  Sibley made a case, but there are other ways of interpreting the evidence he presented. 

Yes, Ramadan identifies with a conservative strain of Muslim thought, but he is also a Swiss, and he is trying to balance Western and conservative Islamic values.  How successful he is will of course be a matter of dispute, but the notion of deliberate trickery on his part remains to be demonstrated. 

On one occasion, I approached Ramadan at a Muslim conference and asked him about use of interest, which is condemned in the Qur’an.  His response: “In the West, we use interest.”  The purveyors of Islamic financial instruments in Canada and the West generally would not be pleased.

So the Citizen threw down the challenge.  Did they follow up by interviewing him to get his side?  No.  Did they even send someone to cover his talk?  Why would one even ask? 

Asper’s Ottawa Citizen has a very skewed idea of what journalism is about.  Do they want their paper to be useful for anything other than wrapping fresh fish?

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