CJPME submits complaint about the use of harmful "terrorism" language

"As documented below, over a roughly 28-hour time period last week, CBC's coverage of Israel’s military invasion of the Jenin refugee camp consistently referred to Palestinians in the camp as "terrorists" or to Jenin itself as a “terror hub.” This language, directly adopted from the Israeli military, was presented to Canadian audiences without sufficient skepticism or counter-claims by journalists or others. This terminology was imprecise, misleading, defamatory and dehumanizing."


July 10, 2023


Catherine Tait, President and CEO, CBC

Brodie Fenlon, News Editor-in-Chief, CBC News

George Achi, Director of Journalistic Standards and Public Trust, CBC News

Jack Nagler, Ombudsman, CBC News


Dear Ms. Tait, Mr. Fenlon, Mr. Achi, and Mr. Nagler,

I’m writing on behalf of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME, https://www.cjpme.org) to express serious concerns about CBC’s coverage of the attack on the Jenin refugee camp by Israeli military forces. Specifically, we are asking for a formal review of the CBC’s editorial policy around the use of the terminology of “terrorism” in its coverage of Palestine-Israel.

As documented below, over a roughly 28-hour time period last week, CBC's coverage of Israel’s military invasion of the Jenin refugee camp consistently referred to Palestinians in the camp as "terrorists" or to Jenin itself as a “terror hub.” This language, directly adopted from the Israeli military, was presented to Canadian audiences without sufficient skepticism or counter-claims by journalists or others. This terminology was imprecise, misleading, defamatory and dehumanizing.

In the short term, we expect an immediate apology and action to address this situation, and for a change in CBC’s policy going forward.  In terms of strengthening its editorial policy moving forward, we expect CBC 1) to cease referring to Palestinian resistance as terrorism, unless specifically referring to acts of violence against civilians; and 2) to provide a public explanation of the concrete measures it will employ to prevent such misleading coverage in the future.

The CBC’s unstudied use of the term “terrorism” in Jenin reporting

Failure to use the terminology of terrorism in a way which is consistent with the public’s understanding.

There’s a substantive difference between “terrorists” and armed militants who are resisting military occupation. The widely accepted definition of terrorism is that it applies to acts of violence against civilians in order to advance political goals. Unfortunately, the term is often casually extended to many different activities or groups that do not meet this definition. Given how inflammatory, serious, and politically fraught the charge of terrorism can be, the International Press Institute (IPI)’s guidelines on “loaded language in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” recommend that the term should be used very sparingly and precisely:

“Journalists should describe incidents specifically, using phrases such as suicide bombing, firing rockets at civilians, or air strikes that killed civilians and specify what actions were committed by a specific person or group. Terrorism and terrorist should be used only in instances that meet the widely accepted definition of acts of violence against civilians carried out in order to advance political goals.”[1]

With few exceptions, the militant groups in the Jenin refugee camp are involved in acts of armed resistance against military targets, including Israeli soldiers, military checkpoints and vehicles, and these cannot be considered acts of terrorism.

For this reason, the repetition of the claim that Jenin is a “terror hub” or that Israel’s invasion was a “counter-terrorism operation” is misleading to readers who will naturally assume that these militant groups are regularly engaging in violence against civilians.

Failure to explain how Israel obfuscates the terminology of terrorism.

Relatedly, journalists cannot rely on Israel’s own claims about terrorism, as Israel does not make a distinction between legitimate armed resistance to occupation and acts of violence against civilians. A quick look at Israel’s own breakdown of alleged “terrorist” incidents from 2015-2023 shows that a huge proportion of the “terror attacks” it documents are in fact attacks on Israeli soldiers and security forces while they are on duty. Israel, in other words, does not make any distinction between attacks on soldiers in battle and attacks on civilians, making their claims and statistics about “terrorism” virtually meaningless.[2] Israeli government leaders also routinely stretch the meaning of the term “terrorism” into absurd territory, using it to describe activities such as boycotts, UN votes, and the work of human rights NGOs.

This makes the repetition of Israel’s claims in CBC’s reporting highly questionable, even when the terminology of terrorism is directly attributed to Israeli sources. Without providing context about how Israel defines terrorism in a way that contradicts the widely accepted definition of the term, any inclusion of the term will be misleading.

Failure to address the misconceptions generated through unstudied repetition of the terminology of terrorism.

The charge of “terrorism” carries significant implications which cannot be understated. Once someone is accused of terrorism, this often serves to excuse or justify any kind of violence against them. One consequence of using this terminology is that it drastically influences how a news consumer would interpret the story and evaluate the legitimacy of Israel's actions.

Systematic propagation of anti-Palestinian racism language.

By perpetuating the narrative that Palestinians in Jenin are "terrorists" or that Jenin is a "terror hub," CBC is engaging in defamatory language that aligns with the Arab Canadian Lawyer's Association (ACLA)’s definition of anti-Palestinian racism, which includes “defaming Palestinians and their allies with slander such as being inherently antisemitic, a terrorist threat/sympathizer or opposed to democratic values.”


Naturally, we do not challenge the CBC's use of the word "terrorism" in the context of an event like the Tel Aviv attack on July 4th, in which civilians were targeted for violence. As made clear above, our objection stems from the way the CBC includes the terminology of terrorism in an imprecise manner in a way that defames and dehumanizes a refugee population under military occupation.

Examples of CBC coverage using the term terrorism

In support of our concerns, we have compiled a list of nine examples, identified within the timeframe of 8:00 am on July 3 to 12:30 pm on July 4, which demonstrate the repeated use of inaccurate and defamatory language by CBC correspondents and hosts. While additional examples exist beyond this window, we have limited our focus to this specific period for brevity.

  1. CBC News Network - CBNT - 12:30pm, July 4
    • “This incident appears to be linked to that Israeli military operation that is described as anti-terror in the West Bank Palestinian territory.”[3]
  2. Radio One - CBLA - 9:00am, July 4
    • “The Israeli military says it's a large-scale operation in Jenin is now almost complete. Palestinian officials say at least 10 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in the occupied West Bank city which Israel calls a safe haven for terrorists.”
    • “Palestinian leaders label the operation an invasion, the Israeli army says it's only targeting terrorist elements in the area.”
  3. CBC Morning Live with Heather Hiscox - 8:01am, July 4
    • “Israel says it's a counter terrorist operation and the aim was to find weapons and infrastructure used by militant groups.”
  4. The Morning Edition - CBKT - 6:00am, July 4
    • “Israel launched an attack in the occupied west bank yesterday. Its goal is to eliminate a safe haven for terrorists.”
    • “The Israeli army says it's only targeting terrorist elements in the area.”
  5. Radio One - CBHA - 6:00am, July 4
    • “The Israeli military say the operation is aimed at eliminating what it calls a terrorist infrastructure.”
  6. CBC The National - 21:00, July 3
    • “Israel says its aim is to eliminate a refuge for terrorism.”
    • During interview with military official: “We’re focused on destabilizing and stopping the infrastructure of terrorism inside the camp.”
  7. Radio One - CBT - 16:30, July 3
    • “Israeli officials say their operation targets terror organizations and their infrastructure.”
  8. CBC News Network with Hannah Thibedeau - 13:05, July 3
    • “Israels a launched the biggest military operations in the Palestinian territories in years. Targeting a refugee camp in the best bank that it says is a terror hub.”
  9. Radio One - CBME - 8:00am, July 3
    • “Israel defense forces says it is aimed at what it calls terrorist infrastructure.”
    • Israel says this is a counterterrorism operation involving a whole brigade.”

The above demonstrates that CBC coverage consistently repeats Israel’s terminology of terrorism, without challenging this characterization.  In doing this, the CBC casts all Palestinian resistance in Jenin in an extremely pejorative light, and presents Israel – the actual military occupant – as the necessary purveyor of order and security. 

This is extremely harmful since, as described above, Israel makes no distinction between violence against Israeli civilians and soldiers. As an analogy, this would be like, when talking about the 2020 US presidential election, repeatedly citing Trump’s claim that the election was stolen, while failing to cite any of the obvious contradictory evidence.

Unfortunately, the CBC’s use of the terminology of terrorism also seems to suffer from a concerning double standard.  Broadcast 6 (CBC The National, 21:00, July 3) included a quote from Palestinian President Abbas who called Israel’s acts of violence in Jenin “terrorist aggressions.” In clear contrast to the way Israeli assertions about Palestinian terrorism were handled, this quote was only aired once during our window of study, and never repeated or paraphrased by the CBC. 

CBC policy and balance over time

The CBC may argue that, over time, its coverage has been – on balance – fair to the two sides of the conflict.  As described above, our concerns relate not only to balance, but also to journalism which grossly misrepresents the day-to-day realities in a way which casts Palestinians in a more negative light, and casts the Israelis in a more positive light.  On the question of balance, in 2015 CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin published a review entitled “Breaking the Silence: A controversial report and the question of balance” regarding a controversial interview that occurred during the 2014 conflict in Gaza. In it, he wrote that “CBC policy calls for balance over time. When the subject is highly contentious, it’s better to make that a short time.”

We believe this standard and urgency apply to our concerns.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this issue we have raised.  If you would like to discuss this matter further, please contact me at 438-380-5410.


Jason Toney

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

Director of Media Advocacy

[1] International Press Institute, “Use with Care: Glossary of Loaded Language in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” October 23, 2013, https://ipi.media/use-with-care-reporters-glossary-of-loaded-language-in-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict/.

[2] https://www.gov.il/en/departments/general/wave-of-terror-october-2015

[3] Note: During Broadcast 1 (CBC News Network, CBNT, 12:30pm, July 4), there are also descriptions of the Tel-Aviv attacker as being a terrorist. This appears to be a reasonable use-case given what we appear to know of his motives at this point.