A statement from the group Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) that called on Canada to condemn Israel for the shooting deaths of Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border continues to roil.
The April 2 statement, titled “Good Friday massacre in Gaza sees journalists, protesters treated as military targets,” was removed from the CJFE’s website, after several well-known writers and reporters condemned it for breaching journalistic standards of neutrality by openly advocating a position on the Middle East conflict.
The original statement said Canada “must condemn the one-sided use of military force against civilian demonstrators and media in Gaza, must immediately call for a cessation of these brutal practices and must use all available diplomatic, political and economic channels to pressure Israel to initiate a fulsome [sic] and transparent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the massacre.”
Tom Henheffer, a CJFE board member, told The CJN on April 9 that the group’s board “achieved consensus” that the statement should be pulled down.
He said the board was not consulted about the statement, which was issued by the organization’s executive director, Duncan Pike. “When it comes to issuing statements, technically, the executive director at CJFE has always had the ability to issue a statement,” Henheffer said.
He said the CJFE is “in financial trouble” and that its executive will meet in an “emergency” session on the evening of April 10 to explore whether the statement was within the group’s mandate, whether an apology for it should be issued and how the vetting of statements should be handled in the future, Henheffer added.
Over the weekend, Kevin Metcalf, the CJFE’s promotions and communications co-ordinator, said he “expects to be terminated” at the April 10 meeting and that he has been “preemptively” removed from his social media and website duties.
“The cause for this termination, I have been informed, will most likely be the official cessation of the organization’s operations and its semi-permanent closure,” Metcalf wrote in a Facebook post on April 8.
Henheffer said no decision has been made yet on Metcalf’s future.
Am I the only one disturbed that an organization called Canadian Journalists for Free expression is lobbying the Canadian government to take a specific position on Israel? Does @CJFE realize how such politicking can damage our reputation, and thus freedom? pic.twitter.com/1R3ISG9ZtM
— Doug Saunders (@DougSaunders) April 2, 2018
First out of the gate to slam the CJFE statement was Globe and Mail writer Doug Saunders, who wondered in a tweet whether he was “the only one disturbed that an organization called Canadian Journalists for Free expression is lobbying the Canadian government to take a specific position on Israel? Does (the CJFE) realize how such politicking can damage our reputation, and thus freedom?”
Saunders added that he was speaking as someone who had written a piece for the Globe that was critical of Israel’s actions on the Gaza border. “I don’t want a press-freedom group pushing for anti-Israel policy,” he tweeted. “I want them defending any colleagues who take the opposite view. How can they do that now?”
The CJFE’s “obsession with Israel does not make us look good,” Saunders later tweeted. “If they take the phrase ‘Canadian journalists’ out of their name I’ll be fine with it.”
Other prominent media personalities who roundly slammed the statement included Robyn Urback, Jonathan Kay, Ezra Levant, David Akin and Ken Whyte, who said the CJFE “needs to be disbanded or totally restaffed. It’s no longer about journalism. It just uses journalism to raise money to pursue its political causes.”
Prior to the statement’s disappearance, Pike told The CJN that his group’s stance on Israel is “consistent” with its mandate to “monitor, defend and report on free expression and access to information in Canada and abroad,” and to “champion the free expression rights of all people, and encourage and support individuals and groups in the protection of their own and others’ free expression rights.”
Pike provided examples of other instances in which the CJFE has asked Canada to condemn foreign actions related to human rights, digital security and the right to protest, in countries such as Iran, Russia, China and the United States.
I don’t want a press-freedom group pushing for anti-Israel policy.
– Doug Saunders
B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said “the only legitimate position for a group representing journalists to take is to ensure that freedom of the press is upheld by all sides.”
Earlier this year, the CJFE was in the news when it withdrew a petition it had launched that called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to revoke U.S. President Donald Trump’s invitation to the G7 Summit in June, after the appeal raised the ire of several journalists.