Worth A Look: 5.13%
Pretty Bad: 5.13%
Total Crap: 76.92%
1 review, 33 user ratings
by Chris Parry
People in the USA often hear Canadians crowing about how life is better north of the border. And, credit where it's due, a lot of the time the canucks are right. It's cheaper, safer, there's less drugs, better schools, and guns are a little harder to come by. But one area where Canadians could not possibly claim they have things better is in the world of media. While the American media seems populated with yes-men and blow-dried press release readers, at least they don't all work for the one company. In Canada, every newspaper but one is owned by Israel Asper, the chief of CanWest. He also has a TV network, Global TV. And Mr Asper has certain political beliefs that he likes to be trumpeted by his media outlets... beliefs that take a side in the long-standing Arab-Israeli conflict. If you wonder what side Israel Asper takes, you only need look as far as his name, and if you wonder how that side manifests itself in the CanWest dominated Canadian media, look no further than Confrontation@Concordia, a documentary about a student protest at Concordia University where a window got broken and a Jewish kid got his hair mussed. If you take this shabby, tabloid-esque, inherently biased production as gospel, you believe that this broken window is the dawning of a second holocaust. And this opinion was funded, encouraged and shown by none other than CanWest's GlobalTV.Martin Himel produced, wrote and directed this documentary, though I use the word 'documentary' very loosely. What this production tries to be is an honest look at anti-semitism in Canadian universities. What it ends up being, for all but the dimmest person watching, is a blatant exercise in presenting one side of the argument in the most villainous, accusatory way possible.
"The single most biased, heinous, one-sided 'documentary' I've ever seen."
I'm not going to get into the whole Arab-Israeli debate here, because that's for another time and place. The politics are for you to decide upon - all I care about is whether this documentary is put together as an honest study of both sides, allowing people to make up their own mind, or an attempt to tell viewers that one side is evil and the other side is hard done by.
The incident at Concordia involved a Jewish student-arranged lecture at the Canadian school by Benjamin Netanyahu, former Israeli leader and at the time a member of the Israeli cabinet. The Concordia student union backed a protest against the lecture, citing support of the Palestinian people occupied (now, as then) by Netanyahu's brethren.
To borrow from Jerry Maguire, they lost me at 'hello'. Protests, especially protests where two sides believe themselves to be very much right, have a tendency to get rowdy. One might even expect a tustle or two. Maybe, if the police are a little too skittish or the protesters want to make their point a little louder, you could even get someone who decides to get themselves arrested. Heck, a broken window might even happen.
And all of these things did happen at Concordia. Some Jewish students were shoved by non-Jewish students. A window was broken, and the leader of the pro-Palestinian group ran headlong into the cops so as to cause a scene and have the speech cancelled. His trick worked, because cancelled it was.
Incidentally, nobody else ran at the cops. Nobody was injured, nobody was killed. But a window was broken. And a student was shoved. And some signs held by the protesters featured the unfortunately chosen phrase "Israel=Nazi".
To most of us, this is a stock standard student protest. To Martin Himel, this is a precursor to the second coming of the Holocaust. And what follows, as he tries to justify this theory and paint any student who dares protest as Anti-Semetic and intimidatory and supporting terrorism, is one of the most unintentionally hilarious hours of TV I've ever had the misfortune of watching.
Himel is to the documentary genre what Himmel was to race relations. He tries SO hard to sway viewers to his obvious opinion that you're continually left rolling your eyes, laughing out loud, and even loudly objecting to what you're seeing on screen. As he paints video footage of non-violent, non-threatening, clearly non-Anti-Semetic protest as the exact opposite, he takes such great pains to make his long series of damning points that, no matter what your personal belief, you'll laugh at him.
Imagine you and I are having a political debate and I'm telling you Bush is an asshole, and you're saying "no man, he's a great guy", and I call you an idiot and you call me a moron. In Himel's eyes, this is intimidation by me. In his unbelievable perspective, I'm the bad guy, I'm a supporter of terrorism, I'm infringing on the other guy's freedom of speech, and I'm Anti-Semetic. Oh, and my statements are an indicator that we're heading towards a second Holocaust. I say it again, because he says it over and over and over again.
To be sure, both 'sides' in the Arab-Israeli debate are in the wrong. The Israeli government has an agenda of repaying every violent act with ten more violent acts, while the Palestinians are clearly rife with elements that misguidedly think that blowing up a cafe is going to somehow win western support or scare the Israelis away. Somewhere in the middle of these extreme perspectives lies the majority of people seen in this documentary. They want the violence on both sides to stop, but believe that running down stone-throwers with tanks isn't exactly a way to inspire peaceful relations.
They have a point, and if you delve into it, you'll find many Jewish students taking that same point of view, even in this very one-sided documentary. But to hear Himel spin it, this is a campus that is ROCKED by violence, opression, Anti-Semitism and hatred.
Fortunately, Himel is such a poor spin doctor that his point is neither proved, nor supported with anything close to hard evidence. Himel will show a placard featuring a woman dressed in a US flag masturbating a man in Jewish attire, as oil comes out of the Jewish man's penis, while claiming "this is the sort of propaganda and Anti-Semetic hatred that was evident in Germany prior to 1939. That led to the Holocaust. What will this hatred lead to?"
For God's sake, man, it's some 18-year-old French Canadian hippy girl's idea of a protest against the war in Iraq, not a vilification of the Jew and support for the destruction of Israel! It's a cartoon! She's wanking the guy and oil's coming out. What on earth makes this an Anti-Semetic sign?
But Himel continues, showing footage of an Israeli student and Arab student engaging in a hallway debate, as the voiceover claims "this kind of intimidation of Jewish students is all too common..." while the Jewish student is SMILING and LAUGHING and clearly enjoying what is an every day student war of words. Honestly, it's like Himel's been using comedy reports from The Daily Show as the basis of his view of journalistic integrity.
And before anyone claims I'm supporting the Palestinian side here, you can forget that noise, because in my opinion these protesters did themselves, their cause and the PR campaign surrounding both a terrible disservice through their window-breaking. Protest all you like, but why not let Netanyahu speak? What harm could it do, when he's essentially only talking to the Jewish student union anyway? Freedom of speech goes both ways, a point Himel's documentary takes great pains to point out, but as he does so, he labels the opinions of any and all protesters as "Anti-Semetic", "inspiring racial hatred", and "in league with terrorists".
When the Jewish student union was banned from Concordia for encouraging students to enlist in the Israeli army, Himel points out again and again that it's the first Jewish body to be banned from a school since before WWII, only once making a cursory admission as to the actual reason why the group was banned. After that little bit of legalese is out of the way, he continually refers to the move as Anti-Semetism and paints the students that don't follow his side as being "out for the destruction of Israel."
Ominously absent, however, is one single quote from one of these people that the destruction of Israel is what they're after. In fact, many times you can hear these people saying that both sides should be living together in harmony, and that they're not anti-Israel but 'anti' the Israeli policy of punishment of an entire population for the crimes of a few. They make it very clear, over and over, but Himel continually dismisses this and continues on with his 'they're out to get us' spin.
It's clear from the first few minutes of this propaganda piece that Himel just can't help himself, and as he keeps referring to 'that day of violence' you can't help but observe that there's generally worse violence than the Concordia protest seen every morning at rush hour when people cram onto a subway train. For all this 'violence', there's not one mention of blood spilled. Nobody went to hospital. Nobody went to jail. A window was broken and someone was jostled. Oh yeah, a guy had his cap taken off by someone who then tossed it into a crowd. That was pretty mean. I mean, it was a nice cap, you know?
But what none of Himel's hysteria shows is anything even remotely close to Anti-Semetism. Sure, he takes video of someone holding up an Iraqi flag at the demonstration (shock, horror, there happens to be an invasion of Iraq going on), while he tells us that Saddam Hussein pays the family of every suicide bomber $20,000, and the student union may well have financial irregularities of their own.
Himel takes great pleasure in noting that the Concordia Students Union is anti-war and anti-Bush, while pointing out that they were elected, in his words, "out of apathy, with only 20% of students bothering to vote." Himel fails to point out that the American President was also elected "out of apathy", with only 35% of Americans having voted, and not even half of those having voted for Bush. As far as I'm aware, nobody outside of the White House got a chance to vote either for or against the war.
So why paint one side as apathetic by saying only 20% voted? Why does Himel not point out that the other side were clearly MORE apathetic in their voting, since they lost the apathetic election?
But the allegations go on, and on, and on. Himel talks of how the Pro-Palestinian website had "links to terrorist group websites", without acknowledging that Yahoo and Google do too. Of course, the allegation comes from a Jewish student, but Himel never bothers to ask the other side about this. The way I see it, either he asked and they denied it, or he never bothered asking because his point is better proved with an unfounded allegation.
In essence, Himel's method of 'proving' his points throught this film is to make an allegation, but never actually show evidence to back up his claim - ever. If Saddam Hussein sent checks to the families of terrorists (and he may well have), show us the evidence. If the student union does have missing money on the books, show us the proof, don't just make 'may have' allegations that you can't be sued for.
And let's explain this one: If the Jewish kids are afraid for their lives, why are they sitting there at a card table right next to the pro-Palestinian kids, laughing and joking? Why do they drink ten feet away from each other at the student pub? Why are there Jewish students who call themselves friends of the Arab students being villified on screen? If there's intimidation going on, show us some evidence, don't just tell us about this one time when "someone put a swastika on a bathroom wall" and label it as the oncoming fall of Tel Aviv.
Himel even interviews Daniel Pipes, a radical right-wing professor who has been roundly condemned in academic circles for his inflammatory anti-Muslim writing (this guy makes Pat Robertson seem liberal-minded), as well as the creation of his 'Profs Who Hate America' blacklist, containing the names of every professor in North America who takes anything but a negative stance towards the Muslim religion. An unbiased commentator might have pointed this out to his audience, you know, to give both sides of the story. But unfortunately Himel is not an unbiased commentator, instead painting Pipes as one fine American who only wants to help the unfortunate Jewish kids but has to deal with pesky protesters wherever he goes, the poor dear.
Well, there's a reason Pipes has protesters following him around wherever he goes - that's because his writings are used in multiple colleges around the world as the most bold-faced example of a hideously biased and reactionary academic perspective, not to mention an individual who uses McCarthy-esque methods to try to drown out all opposition to his theories.
In a topic like the Israeli-Arab conflict, there's usually some kind of small lean of bias towards one side or the other, depending on who's doing the talking. That's expected - it's genuinely hard to look at an emotional issue without putting your own personal tilt on things, at least a little. But Martin Himel has turned in a production here that is so obviously biased, so clearly trying to paint one side as villains, and so clearly out to promote the point of view of his boss, that it can not be discounted as a simple error of judgement. This is clearly an intentional skewing of the facts, and the amazing thing is that you don't have to have 'a side' to see the bias. It's so blatant that you'd have to be mentally defunct to not pick up on it in the first few minutes of the film.
So is Himel's boss really dictating Global TV's perspective on this issue? Would the boss of a media empire put his own spin on a story and ensure all of his outlets take that position? Well, I present the following as evidence, written by the Daily Star's Lina Badih.
"The Aspers, owners of CanWest Global Communications, have 'clamped down on news, criticism, or commentary that is anything but 100 percent pro-Israeli.' Canada’s largest media corporation, CanWest Global Communications, is headed by pro-Israeli ideologue Israel 'Izzy' Asper. After purchasing the Southam newspaper chain in 2000, CanWest’s Canadian portfolio has come to include 126 community newspapers, one of three national television networks and a major internet portal as well as 14 major metropolitan daily newspapers including the nationally distributed National Post. In most Canadian large cities, CanWest runs the only daily newspaper."
I can vouch for that. In Vancouver, CanWest owns the only two daily newspapers. So we know Asper's reach is widespread in this country and he's got a particular passion for one side of the debate, but how could he ensure that side is heard in all of those outlets? According to Reza Baraheni of PEN Canada, Asper found a way - a regular editorial column written by him that all of his newspapers MUST run: "The decision by CanWest Global to place one identical editorial on its newspapers' editorial pages across the country, without allowing contradictions to this "core position"... is a violation of established principles of free media and an invitation to self-censorship."
But surely if that were happening, the readers would react negatively... right? According to Aaron Moore of the Canadian Journalism Review, Asper's found a way around that too: "Even more intrusive was a no-rebuttal order after a national editorial last August, following an attack on Israel by Palestinians, arguing that Canada should back Israel no matter how it responds, "without the usual hand-wringing criticism about 'excessive force.'" Papers in the Southam chain were told to carry neither columns nor letters to the editor taking issue with that editorial, according to journalists at two Southam papers, who said the order came via a conference call."
And now we get Confrontation@Concordia, this same perspective being pushed as a legitimate documentary on Asper's TV network. Martin Himel and his Global TV bosses have created a piece of television that should be pilloried as one of the lowest ebbs in the history of Canadian media. There just isn't possibly a way for any independent commentator to defend what has been put together here as fair and balanced. No matter what side you personally support, this clearly was a case of a broken window at a student protest being portrayed as a movement of students designed to destroy Israel and all Jews worldwide, and there could not be a less responsible means of broaching this sensitive issue.
If you want to say the Pro-Palestinian agenda is too loud and inflammatory for it's own good, and that they should damn any and all acts of violence, I'm with you. If you want to say that the Jewish students should be trying to work with the Pro-Palestinian students to say 'hey, we recognize your right to be heard, let's ensure we too have the same right', rather than simply brand all opponents as Anti-Semites, I'm with you. But If you're looking for an honest, unbiased documentary that tackles a sensitive topic with an even look at the issues, you could not possibly be looking in a worse place than this reprehensible abuse of the medium.
To label any and all dissent as some sort of evil, violent beginning of the Holocaust Mk II is nothing short of vile mainpulation of the airwaves to suit one person's agenda. Martin Himel should be run out of the journalist's union on a rail, and Israel Asper should be tapped on the shoulder and told that he's not allowed to own the entire Canadian media industry any more. Freedom of speech is one thing, but freedom of slander is protected in no constitution that I know of. And as far as I'm concerned, Canada's day of shame was not when Concordia's window got broken; on the contrary, it was when Global TV ran this hysterical piece of propaganda and painted it as honest information.UPDATE: If you recently looked at this page and wondered why it now looks so different, that'd be because we deleted the multiple 5-star ratings that we tracked as all coming from the same IP address. There were 115 of them all told, all saying the same thing, all rating this drek 5-stars. Remember kids, if you can't make your case without lying, you paint your cause in a very VERY bad light. Oh, and don't worry - we managed to track down the name, email address and even personal information about the guy who did the multiple ratings based on the information he posted with his ratings. Clever boy...
link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7659&reviewer=1
originally posted: 05/12/03 15:00:16