Journalism professor violates hate speech rules in comparing Israeli Defense Force to the Mafia

A Sheridan College journalism instructor penned an article in Al Jazeera claiming a similarity between the criminal enterprise known as the Mafia and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

Sheridan College, located in Oakeville, Ontario, has a free-speech policy that does not allow for hate speech. That's nice. It also requires that critical remarks be delivered "thoughtfully and respectfully." That's also very nice. But was this policy respected in a recent controversial article written by Sheridan faculty member Andrew Mitrovica, published in Al Jazeera? Mitrovica is a journalism instructor in the Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design who penned an article claiming similarity between the criminal enterprise known as the Mafia and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

The title of the article, "The Mafia and Israel's child killers," gives a relatively mild hint of the vituperative content within. The Mafia is a ruthless criminal organization that commits murder indiscriminately and without qualms toward advancing its interests and punishing its enemies. The IDF is the armed forces of a legitimate nation.

Even by Al Jazeera's rock-bottom standards for objectivity on Israel—and when I say "standards," I mean only Al Jazeera English; in their Arab-language version, hard-core antisemitism is given free expressive range—Mitrovica's piece fairly trumpets misinformation and hatred of Israel. That's nothing new in progressive circles, but he goes much further than most Israel haters, who confine their (publicly expressed) hatred to the Israeli government or the IDF as an institution. Mitrovica calls out all Jewish Israeli citizens as evil.

I say "all" advisedly.

Mitrovica's point of departure for his screed was the report that on August 21, an IDF sniper had killed a 12-year old Palestinian boy during violent clashes on the border between Hamas-controlled Gaza and Israel, where rioters were throwing explosives and attempting to breach the barrier.

Mitrovica did not mention the context of the boy's death, nor did he comment on the fact that Hamas routinely allows—and even encourages—children to take part in demonstrations and riots that are aggressive enough to warrant IDF pushback with live fire.

He described the boy as shot "while standing on what remains of Palestinian soil in Gaza," which gives no sense of the actual circumstances surrounding the incident,  the first job of a journalist. Mitrovica implies that the boy—"a small, thin figure with a radiant smile"—a known anti-Israel activist imbued with the romance of jihadist martyrdom, was quietly minding his own business rather than being close enough to rioters throwing explosives at soldiers to risk becoming collateral damage. The precise details of the killing are not yet clear.

But according to Mitrovica, the Mafia and the IDF have in common that "life—including the budding lives of lives of children—is considered cheap and disposable." A risible accusation, given that Israel's children have bomb shelters for protection in times of conflict, while Gazan children do not, as Hamas uses concrete that could have gone for bomb shelters to make terror tunnels. And there are no Israeli children on the front lines of battle, but there are plenty of Gaza's children. Why?

Many of them have, unfortunately, been trained since early childhood in Jew hatred and in the tactics of guerilla warfare. They were robbed of their innocence—that's on Hamas—but their youth does not render them harmless. In fact, many teenage Palestinians, acting on directions from adults, have embarked on reckless killing sprees, ending in tragedy for innocent Jewish civilians and often for themselves when they are killed by those charged with protecting civilian lives.

Mitrovica claims that public outrage greets any killing of children by the Mafia, but when the IDF injures Palestinian kids, "the response, if any, among Western capitals and editors is usually of understanding, acceptance, and overt, if sometimes grudging, approval." No examples offered, but I invite readers to search "Israeli soldier kills Palestinian teenager." I got over eight million hits regarding several different incidents: Virtually all of the first hundred references shared Mitrovica's disgust with the IDF. I found no acceptance, let alone approval, in several minutes of scrolling.

For the record, the IDF formally reviews problematic collateral damage whenever it arises, not to mention in-depth assessments of IDF performance in all significant military engagements. Here for example is one such fact-finding review of the 2014 Hamas-Israel conflict. Mitrovica sneers at these "investigations" (his own mockery quotation marks), describing them as a "pathetic pantomime designed to exonerate its stable of hitmen in fatigues by fixing blame on the boys and girls it murders." Again, no reference to any actual example of a "pantomime" to back up his claim. I invite readers to examine the review I linked to so you can judge for yourself if it matches Mitrovica's description.

More concerning is his use of the word "murders" to describe children the IDF has killed. The word is inflammatory and defamatory, implying both special malice against children and intent to single child soldiers out for death. Teenagers are sometimes killed while participating in hostile incidents, but this is entirely preventable by keeping them away from military action. The IDF does not "fix blame" on the children; it blames the adults who use the children as human shields, which is a war crime.

Additionally, Palestinian sources regarding child deaths are often questionable. Even the New York Times was forced to concede they had not done their own homework during last year's conflict, and made multiple corrections to a May 21 article, "They were only children," in which they ascribed to Israeli airstrikes many "child" deaths that were in fact adult Hamas militants.

Mitrovica describes Israeli soldiers in general as "unrepentant thugs," who are like "ugly Mafioso brethren-in-spirit." He writes that an Israeli soldier protecting Israel's border against violent penetration has "forfeited the privilege of being called a human being." Along the same lines, he rather chillingly alludes to "Israel's diseased, irredeemable army of military and political 'godfathers.'"

This is a blood libel. This is the language we associate with pre-Holocaust Germany. The Nazis couched their hatred of the Jews as a hygiene issue. They taught school children that Jews were like vermin, bringing disease into a healthy Aryan environment. Seen in that light, of course they had to be exterminated. The smell rising from Mitrovica's malediction of the IDF is acrid with human ash.

Mitrovica implies that he is only vilifying the IDF. But the military in Israel is not self-selecting. It is not an association of professional soldiers, as our Armed Forces are. In Israel, everyone who can is expected to serve, and most do, so Mitrovica is in fact indicting all Israeli citizens as literally criminal beings, altogether lacking in morality, decency or respect for human life.

Mitrovica has the hutzpah to declare as an "obscene" myth the often-cited observation that the Israeli military is "the most moral army in the world." He failed to cite the author of the statement. The author is not some nameless Zionist shill. He is Colonel Richard Kemp, who has commanded British troops on the front line of some of the world's toughest conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland, someone well placed to compare the ethical standards of armies in hot combat zones.

Here are some further observations from Col Kemp, which will demonstrate exactly why Mitrovica preferred not to draw attention to him:

"Based on my experience and on my observations: the Israel Defense Force, the IDF, does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare."

"Firstly, Israel is a decent country with Western values, run on democratic principles. Israel has no more interest in war than Belgium does. In fact, Israel has never started a war. The only reason it ever goes to war is to defend itself. And it has to defend itself because, unlike Belgium, it is surrounded by countries and armed groups that want to destroy it."

"Nowhere was the essential morality and decency of the IDF more evident than in the Gaza War of 2014. If ever there was a purely defensive war, this was it."

"The Israelis called Gazans on their cell phones and told them to leave their residences and move to safety. Never in the history of warfare has an army phoned its enemy and told them where they are going to drop their bombs."

"Hamas deliberately positioned its military assets among the civilian population, hiding weapons in schools and hospitals, and placing rocket launchers alongside apartment buildings, then forced those civilians to stay in areas they knew would be attacked. They also instructed their people to report the lie that every Gazan killed was a civilian, even if they were actually fighters."

Most important, Kemp said:

"Judaism, with its unsurpassed moral standards, remains a major influence on the citizens of Israel. I say this as a non-Jew."

Armies are a product of their culture. In denouncing all who serve in the IDF as no better than vicious criminals—that is, all Jewish citizens of Israel—Mitrovica is denouncing Judaism itself as a gutter culture. A brief tour of the region that surrounds Israel would yield any objective observer ample evidence, in terms of how women, sexual minorities and children are treated—excellent litmus tests for enlightenment and ethics— that Israel needs no lessons from the likes of Andrew Mitrovica on what constitutes an ethical culture.

Kemp is not the only unbiased military man to praise the IDF. In 2014, Army General Martin Dempsey, then-chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded to a question about Israeli ethics during the 2014 Gaza-Israel conflict in a talk at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

This highest-ranking military officer told the group: "I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties." He added, "In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you're going to be criticized for civilian casualties."

Dempsey nailed the general problem with criticism of Israel in the words "a standard that your enemy is not held to." In the case of the Mitrovica hit job, Israel is held to an impossible standard, while Hamas, a terrorist group and so designated in Canada, the US and most European nations, is not held to any standard whatsoever. Not that Mitrovica concedes this point at all.

By ignoring Hamas's terror-group status, he suggests that Hamas is the perennial victim, never the aggressor, and never motivated by the Judeophobia that permeates its culture and Charter, which calls for the eradication of Israel and for a Judenrein Palestine.

Honest Reporting has also filed a complaint with University of Toronto President Meric Gertler as Mitrovica teaches two courses there, one of them being "Journalism essentials."

I've never attended a school of journalism, but I did learn in university how to make an evidence-based case for my opinions. I've now been practising journalism for over 20 years. So I know what "journalism essentials" are.

One journalism essential is the necessity for context. If you portray one country's military as evil because children occasionally become collateral damage in their hot zones, you had better be prepared to present an example of another country, similarly embroiled in serial asymmetrical conflicts where child soldiers are brought into the fray, whose military history is free of civilian tragedy.

Since Mitrovica could never adduce such an example, he encourages the reader to believe that the IDF is not only unethical in its attitude to children, but uniquely so. Ironically, his piece is a perfect example of unethical journalism.

Let readers judge for themselves who is the more reliable authority on the IDF's ethical standards.

On the one hand we have a journalist with no expertise in Middle Eastern or military affairs, who proudly bruits his hatred of all adult Jewish citizens of Israel; a journalist whose polemically pithless rodomontade can only find a home in a publication where credibility regarding Israel ranks just millimetres north of what you'd ascribe to a neo-nazi blog run by some gormless Holocaust-denying pyjama'd loser out of his mother's basement.

On the other hand, we have the judgment of high-ranking, long-time professional soldiers from democratic countries whose own militaries set a high bar for honorable behaviour, military experts who have no ideological axe to grind, and who speak from a wealth of experience facing enemies in every imaginable kind of war theatre involving a variety of cultures.

It's totally up to you whom you should trust.

Circling back to Sheridan College's hate speech policy: I call upon Sheridan College president Janet Morrison to answer a question put to her on Twitter by Honest Reporting: "Does Sheridan consider that Professor Mitrovica's comments were delivered 'thoughtfully and respectfully' according to Sheridan's hate-speech policy guidelines?"

I know that Dr. Morrison has received scores of complaints from community leaders and from Jewish students. One deeply offended Jewish student wrote a heartfelt letter of concern to Morrison, writing, "I am horrified by [Mitrovica's] suggestion that Israeli soldiers believe 'life — including the budding lives of children — is considered cheap and disposable in the pursuit of their base, parochial instincts and interests.' It is a dangerous and misleading statement that has zero credibility."

"But who's to say that one of Mitrovica's students, after reading this article, would not come to the same conclusion about a country they know little about that's thousands of kilometres away?" she wrote.

Indeed, in which case, it seems to me, Mitrovica would have "incited" hatred of Jews. Over to you, Dr. Morrison.