Neil Macdonald's tenure as CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) Television's Middle East correspondent from 1998 to 2003 was nothing if not controversial. His caustic style and overt fondness for the Palestinian narrative triggered complaints of anti-Israel bias. So many viewers were relieved when he was removed from the Middle East and installed as CBC's Washington correspondent.
Alas, Macdonald's new posting has become just another platform from which to indulge his apparent preoccupation with the Jewish state. He continues his gratuitous attacks, marring the credibility of the taxpayer-funded broadcaster's news operations.
Macdonald has never made a secret of his opinions about Israel. In 2000, he referred to "the ferocious appetite of Jewish settlers for Arab land." In 2002, he asked rhetorically whether the terror group Hezbollah is "a national liberation movement or, as Israel and its supporters maintain, a murderous global menace?"
Soon after his move to Washington, Macdonald was embroiled in controversy over Israel. On May 4, 2004, Macdonald filed a report from Washington about reaction to the Abu Ghraib abuses in Iraq. Midway through, he introduced a former U.S. diplomat who declared: "Israeli intelligence was operating in Baghdad after the war ... The question should be: Were there any foreign interrogators among those ... recommending very, very bad treatment?"
That former U.S. diplomat was a pro-Palestinian propagandist named Eugene Bird, and his claim of Israeli involvement in Abu Ghraib was absurd. CBC ombudsman David Bazay later admitted that "the May 4 report did expose The National to the appearance of bias." CBC apologized on-air and CBC News editor-in-chief Tony Burman reassured viewers that CBC had "modified our editorial processes and procedures to ensure that this situation is never repeated."
But seven months later, Macdonald did it again. In a Dec. 6 report about the deadly al-Qaeda attack on the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Macdonald apparently went out of his way to find someone who would blame the U.S. relationship with Israel for the attack. He found a willing partner in Allen Keiswetter -- the only person interviewed in Macdonald's entire report.
Macdonald: "But some experts say other American policies provoke violence too. Allen Keiswetter has advised the administration here on foreign policy."
Keiswetter: "I think the principal reason [for violence against America] is our policies on the Arab-Israeli issues. This is extremely important. We're now regarded as being very much in the pockets of [Israeli Prime Minister] Sharon. And the second reason of course is Iraq."
Defending the report, CBC's director of programming for English television news contended that "Mr. Keiswetter was fully contexted in the piece. We explained who he is and where his expertise comes from."
But the CBC's "context" -- that Keiswetter works for the Middle East Institute and "has advised the administration here on foreign policy" -- does not inform viewers that the Middle East Institute's biggest financial supporters include Saudi corporations and a handful of oil companies with major Saudi interests. More importantly, CBC hasn't explained why a Canadian reporter in Washington, covering an attack in Saudi Arabia, would conclude his report with the image of America "in the pockets of Sharon."
There is more. Commenting on the CBC Web site on Dec. 3, Macdonald offered his analysis of a UN reform committee's proposal to declare that "there is nothing in the fact of [Israel's] occupation [of the West Bank and Gaza] that justifies the targeting and killing of civilians." While this seems like a reasonable proposition, Macdonald felt it important to point out that "Israeli soldiers who enforce the occupation kill a great many Palestinian civilians. If Palestinians have committed terror, the Israelis have certainly committed war crimes."
Macdonald then made the bizarre assertion that "there is also the question of whether the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, thousands of whom are well armed and overtly bellicose, constitute civilians or combatants." Mr. Macdonald appears to be suggesting that the killing of Israeli settlers may not be "terrorism." One wonders if Macdonald includes in this category settler children, many of whom have been killed by Palestinians in the past four years.
What is clear by now is that Macdonald, wherever he is posted, will continue to denigrate Israel using handpicked "experts" whose opinions corroborate his own. If CBC news executives are interested in maintaining the national broadcaster's credibility, they will recognize that Macdonald's reporting is no longer consistent with their mandate of pursuing accuracy and fairness. It is time for him to go.
This article originally appeared in the National Post.