it looks like the toronto starwill no longer print any criticism of Israeli human rights abuses, even if you try to buy the space. That's what one human rights group found last week when it tried to spend $14,000 at the Star for a quarter-page ad to coincide with United Nations Human Rights Day on December 10.A pro-Palestinian group called the Canadian Coalition for Peace and Justice tried to place the ad, which appealed to readers to "Stop aggression. End Occupation. Say no to human rights violations in Palestine."
The same ad ran as submitted in the Globe and Mail on December 8. But in the Star, which of late has been the target of complaints from some readers about alleged anti-Israel bias in its Mideast reportage, a list of changes were ordered by the advertising department.
A memo from Marla Vaughan in the Star's advertising department to the coalition's Mohamed Elmasry says the changes were "requested by the Toronto Star's omsbud (sic)."
The memo asks the group to change a number of passages in the ad. For example, it asks the group to "change the sentence (beginning) "Peace will be achieved for ALL when Israel...' so that it reads as an opinion of the Canadian Coalition for Peace and Justice instead of as a fact."
The Star also requests that the next part of that sentence -- "...upholds International Law, Implements UN Resolutions -- including 242, Stops human rights violations" -- be deleted.
As well, the Star asks that the words "and end the Israeli occupation" be deleted from a sentence that begins, "Please support the Global Peace Campaign to stop human rights violations in Palestine...."
The daily also requests that the group "delete entirely" the last part of the ad, which states that "more than 300 Palestinians dead (a quarter of them under the age of 16). More than 10,000 wounded (hundreds permanently disabled). Shelling of churches in Beit Jala (near Bethlehem) and mosques in Hebron, Tulkarm, Nablus, Ramallah and Beit Sahur."
Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, says he provided published media reports to back up the claims in the ad.
He also says he agreed to identify his organization at the bottom, as requested.
Elmasry can only speculate as to the reason why the Star wanted to censor the message.
"To a third-party observer, it looks like the Star is taking a pro-Israeli-government attitude," says Elmasry. "They're saying, "Don't criticize Israel, don't ask her to withdraw from the Occupied Territories, don't ask her to implement 242, any of these things,' which is really shocking because (our statement is) paid advertising."
Marla Vaughan refused to answer questions from NOW. And although her memo states that the changes were requested by the Star's ombud, the woman who holds that position at the Star, Robin Harvey, says she had nothing to do with the memo.
"At this point, I'm trying to figure out how all this got put together and got sent out to a group of people with my position named in it," says Harvey.
As long as advocacy ads "don't state all sorts of things that are untrue and inflammatory, are libellous or hate literature," there shouldn't be a problem, she says.
So was there a problem with this ad?
"Aside from confirming the sources and aside from requesting that it be sourced at the bottom of the ad, which initially it wasn't, no (there shouldn't have been a problem with it)," says Harvey.
Lately, the Star has been getting heat from both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As NOW recently reported, Jewish readers were urged to boycott the paper because of perceived pro-Palestinian coverage. The Canadian Jewish Congress was also hoping to set up a meeting with the Star's editorial board to discuss some of the community's concerns around the coverage.
The CJC's public policy director, Simon Rosenblum, says the tenor of the Coalition's ad is "totally predictable," and while the numbers may not necessarily be inaccurate, he says they are not put in context.
"There's been some shelling, but... because (the Palestinians) shoot on the Jerusalem suburbs and the Israelis shoot back," says Rosenblum. "It's outrageous. They suggest that the Israelis just decided to pick them out as a target, as opposed to that's where Israelis are being shot at from."