The ‘Netanyahu Riot’ II – Media Analysis

For Part I of this analysis, click here

The protest and subsequent violence which took place at Concordia University made headlines in 2002. While the demonstration might have been intended to be non-violent, the tension and animosity surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reached a fever pitch. Several people attending the planned speech of (then) former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu were assaulted. Several windows of the building which was holding the event were also broken. The scale of the disorder led to the event being cancelled and police eventually used pepper spray and tear gas to break up the crowd (Peritz, 2002; Gordon et al., 2002).

In the wake of the massive amounts of attention from the media, a distinct narrative became evident among news sources. In reviewing how this was framed, It’s important to keep in mind that this was not the first time that political issues have boiled over at Concordia University. The campus has a history of student activism and acts of violence (CBC,2002). For this reason, the media was quick to jump on this incident and exploit any developments available.

A major topic that was repeatedly brought up in the media was the issue of free speech. The dominant way in which this was framed was that the protesters against Netanyahu were stifling free speech by creating a hostile environment. Given that the scheduled speech was eventually cancelled, this was taken as a disturbing sign that radical forces have the ability to censor opposing viewpoints (Gordon et al., 2002; Cutler, 2002; Shankar, 2002; Goldberg, 2002). Netanyahu also commented on this, saying that the actions of the protestors are against the fundamental freedoms which Canada stands for. He even went as far as to warn the Canadian Prime Minister at the time, Jean Chretien, to stamp out the hatred that seems rampant amongst anti-Israeli protestors. In an article for The National Post, Netanyahu was quoted from an editorial board saying that he believes the cause of this hatred has been Palestinian propaganda and misinformation (Peritz, 2002; Rowe & Trickey, 2002).

The former Prime Minister was far from the only person to call Canadian values into question. Many editorials were written that each had a common theme of our rights and freedoms being under attack. The idea that our freedoms are being trampled or denied is one of the key messages and topics that were stressed in several articles (Cutler, 2002; Goldberg, 2002; Shankar, 2002). In an editorial for the Ottawa Citizen, it is even stated that protesters wish to turn Canada “into a hell-hole such as the Middle East has become” (Shankar, 2002).

This leads to another significant way which the Netanyahu Riot was framed. Many sources continually mentioned the idea that dangerous radicalization is being bred within Canada (Shankar, 2002; Goldberg, 2002; Rowe & Trickey, 2002). This was a narrative that was also heavily pushed by Netanyahu, and subsequently reported among several media outlets. One way this was established was by linking the protestors at Concordia University with Palestinian radicals from the Middle East (Rowe & Trickey, 2002; Peritz, 2002; Gordon et al., 2002). The prevailing justification for this seemed to be in the vein of ‘they’re cut from the same cloth’ and that the same hatred which leads to violence in the Middle East is driving riots and radical demonstrations in Canada. This underlying fear seems to be present in many news sources – though it is at times more subtle. The aforementioned editorial in the Ottawa Citizen, for example, refers to the rioters as foreigners and demands they be deported. In keeping with the theme that the protesters are of the same disposition as the Palestinians, the author exclaims “These demonstrators are obviously intent on converting Canada into a hell-hole such as the Middle East has become” (Shankar, 2002). Media reports of Netanyahu’s views also give off this impression, with the former Prime Minister saying that the eyes of hate in the student protesters were the same as the ones he saw from Palestinians (Rowe & Trickey, 2002).

Whether the rioters were pro-Palestine as much as they were anti-Israeli seems to be a question largely ignored, and it is assumed by the media and important figures involved that these factions are one and the same. Some don’t just compare the rioters to Islamic extremists, but even to Nazi brownshirts (Rowe & Trickey, 2002). These generalizations and comparisons speak to the larger context in which this incident is being framed to the public. Namely, that an anti-democratic force is pushing their views on the wider public and any dissenting views are being suppressed. This is in addition to the media sources that draw a direct comparison between the abuse of Israeli supporters attending the speech with the Israeli people living in the Middle East (Peritz, 2002; Goldberg, 2002).

Canadian tolerance is shown to be a weakness for certain interest groups to push propaganda and misinform. An editorial in the Canadian Jewish News illustrates this clearly. As is made obvious by the name, this publication strongly supports Israel. The article makes the point that extremists have manipulated the public into believing that Palestinians are the victims in the current occupation in the Middle East. The environment of political correctness is shown to be causing people to be fooled into opposing Israel, and any resistance or opposition is silenced (Goldberg, 2002). These sentiments are echoed louder in many news reports of statements made by Netanyahu; who used his influence over the media as a former head of state to push his political positions. He claimed that while Canada is a good friend to Israel, the people have been targeted by vilification and public relation campaigns by the Palestinian leadership (Rowe & Tricky, 2002).

It is worth noting that this portrayal of events does not encompass every media source. Editorials were made which are more sympathetic to the people who attended the demonstration. A professor at Concordia University wrote an editorial for The Gazette outlining his disproval with the outrage shown over the incident. He states that the University was in a no win situation, and that the outrage caused by the riot is extremely politically charged (Hayes, 2002).

Regardless of what political interests are at play, it does seem as though the intentions of protestors were largely in vain. Despite organizing to spread opposition against Netanyahu, their message appears to have been drowned out by the chaos which took place. Very little of what they stood for was actually outlined in the media – and the bulk of the focus was on the themes presented earlier in this analysis – as well as how the violent events unfolded. News sources which covered the events invariably focussed mainly on the actions of the rioter and the police response, leaving very little room to provide sufficient context for what the major controversy is (CBC, 2002; Rowe & Trickey, 2002; Peritz, 2002; Gordon et al., 2002). When CBC’s The National aired their report on the riot at Concordia University, the position of the protestors was condensed into a single line of dialogue. All that was mentioned was that Israel should end the occupation of Palestine. From there, the focus moved towards displays of anger by people on site, followed up by a response from Netanyahu to the riot (CBC, 2002). This lack of context opens the door for sweeping generalizations and poor representation, which all work to undermine any message that was trying to be pushed by the demonstrators.

Of course, many of the reasons behind the way this event was covered by the media are due to Concordia’s history. As mentioned at the beginning, there have been past cases of extreme student protests and activism (CBC, 2002). As a result, the news media is likely to pay less attention to the actual issues that are causing such activism in favor of focusing on whatever the most recent case of violence is. The problem is that without much attention paid towards advancing the debate, the information that does reach the public is in danger of being seized by activists with their own political agendas. Through this method, a complex situation is framed in a superficial light while opponents are generalized and are smeared. There is little doubt that the message that protesters were trying to push would have been translated through the news media much better had none of the acts of violence taken place.

To be concluded in Part 3

Reference List

CBC (2002) “Protest over speech by Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia University”. Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/190717740?accountid=15182

Cutler, A. (2002, Sep 11) “Free Speech Trampled in Montreal”. National Post Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/329965747?accountid=15182

Goldberg, S. (2002, Sep 19) “Sitting on the front line at Concordia University”. Canadian Jewish News Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/351389624?accountid=15182

Gordon, S. et al. (2002, Sep 10) “Protest halts Netanyahu: Violence derails speech”. The Gazette Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/433862686?accountid=15182

Hayes, J. (2002, Sep 13) “Outrage at protest is disingenuous”. The Gazette Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/433865858?accountid=15182

Peritz, I. (2002, Sep 10) “Israel’s Netanyahu greeted with Violence in Montreal”. The Globe and Mail (1936-Current) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/1400760590?accountid=15182

Rowe, D. & Trickey, M. (2002, Sep 11) “’Glint of hate’ in protesters: Netanyahu: Chretien apologizes”. National Post Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/330154606?accountid=15182

Shankar, R. A. (2002, Sep 13) “Concordia riot was an affront to our values”. The Ottawa Citizen Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/240570816?accountid=15182

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