The current destruction in Gaza and the violence against Palestinian and Israeli civilians are happening on a horrific scale. On October 7, Hamas’ attacks in Israel killed approximately 1,200 people. Since then, the Israeli Defense Forces’ strikes in Gaza have killed over 13,000 Palestinians, including over 5,500 children. In the West Bank, Israeli security forces have killed dozens of Palestinians. Many of the people killed in both Palestine and Israel were civilians.
These casualties don’t even account for the over 29,000 injured in Palestine and at least 5,600 injured in Israel. The violence has displaced over two-thirds of Gazans in the last month, and the Israeli government’s blockade of Gaza has caused a humanitarian crisis with catastrophic shortages of food, water, and power. The last month has also been the deadliest first month of conflict for journalists on record, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ): so far, Israeli air strikes, as-yet-unidentified air strikes, Hamas attacks, and on-the-ground confrontations have killed over 48 journalists and media workers, including 43 Palestinians and four Israelis. The CPJ estimated on October 25 that at least 48 media facilities in Gaza “have been hit or destroyed.”
The Varsity is a student newspaper, written by students and for students, which means that we don’t have reporters on the ground in Gaza, Israel, or the West Bank. Although we try to provide some context in our articles about what’s happening, our news isn’t a substitute for reporting from the area, and shouldn’t be treated as one.
Still, we’re trying to report responsibly how the attacks affect the U of T community. Violence has ripple effects, and we cover that: students, staff, and faculty here at U of T are all affected by the ongoing violence, and some members of our community have direct ties to the region. We’re seeing these ripple effects locally as Toronto police report increases in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes. We’re seeing these ripple effects directly on our campuses as students protest, mourn, raise funds for humanitarian aid, express fears about coming to campus, and clash with university administration about how to speak publicly on Israel and Palestine.
This won’t be the last time we talk at The Varsity about how we cover Israel and Palestine. We on management have participated in many conversations about this in our newsroom in the past few years. But over the past month and a half, as we’ve watched violence in the region grow in scale and immediacy, we’ve been talking about how to adapt our practices. We decided it was about time that we explained the decisions we’ve been making on how we cover stories about Palestine and Israel: how we choose stories, how we contextualize them, what language we’re using in our coverage, and what speech we platform.
Our own news & reporting conventions
We’re covering the effects of the violence in Israel and Gaza just like how we cover the effects of ongoing violence all over the world: we’re focusing on how it’s affecting students and community members at U of T.
In line with that, we’ve made some specific choices on how we describe the violence in Israel and Gaza. As always, we’re trying to make our language as direct as it can be, and to identify, where possible, who did what. Much of the violence in the last month and a half has consisted of distinct attacks that often end up targeting civilians, and much of our coverage focuses specifically on how students are responding to the human cost of these attacks. Terms like ‘war’ and ‘conflict’ focus on the actions of large political entities, and they presuppose those entities are adhering to internationally agreed upon laws of war; because of this, we prefer using wording like ‘violence’ and ‘attacks’ in our news coverage instead.
In line with outlets like CBC, we avoid using the word ‘terrorism’ because of the extremely varied and weighty connotations it can hold. If you see it in our coverage, we’ll be clear about who it’s coming from. Similarly, legal terms like ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide’ have clear definitions under international law, and where we use them in our news coverage, we’ll be clear about who they’re coming from. Writers are free to use any of these words in our Comment section, but we’ll ask them to explain in their articles why they’re using those terms.
We also want to emphasize that every article we publish — news or opinion — goes through several rounds of editing and a rigorous copy editing and fact-checking process. All writers submit a list of sources along with their articles, which our copy editors independently fact-check to ensure that our articles are clear and accurate. When it comes to more personal or opinionated pieces — and especially for trauma-informed articles — we strive for collaboration with the writer as we edit.
Comment & comments at The Varsity
U of T has a long history of controversy over speech on Israel and Palestine. In previous years, students have criticized the university for failing to protect free speech and academic freedom on Palestine and have gone back and forth about how U of T should characterize antisemitism in discussions about Israel.
In a 2021 editorial, The Varsity committed to publishing speech about Palestine and from Palestinian community members, who’ve often felt silenced at U of T. In the same year, we signed an open letter committing to more nuanced and better coverage of Israel and Palestine. As editors, we’ve been trying to maintain the commitments we made in 2021: now more than ever, in the face of unimaginable violence and destruction, it’s important that students at our university can sit down and talk about what’s going on. That requires a space where all students can write safely and speak freely; we will do our best to provide one.
Our Comment section will remain open for U of T students who want to make their voices heard to their peers, on this topic as much as any other. Our criteria remain the same as ever: any comment article has to make a specific, clear argument; writers have to back up everything they say with verifiable facts; and we won’t publish hate speech, speech that incites violence, or discrimination or generalizations based on religion, place of birth, or nationality, among other things. We’ve required that standard for everything we’ve published on the violence so far, and we’ll continue to require it going forward with our rigorous fact-checking process.
We recently introduced an option for readers to leave comments under articles on our site. With that change, we released a set of community guidelines we’ll enforce for commenters. However, we don’t fact-check comments independently as we do for our articles, and so we ask people to keep that in mind when they read and write comments.
Comments are also not The Varsity’s primary mechanism for readers to respond to our coverage. We mention in our community guidelines that we may close the comment section on specific articles if we believe they could potentially harm stakeholders in the story. That includes writers — and if they request we close comments on their articles, we will do so.
Still, we want you, as readers, to continue to engage with what we publish — we’re a community paper, and we’re directly accountable to you. Students and community members are always welcome to submit Letters to the Editor in response to any articles we publish, to criticize or raise further thoughts about our editorial decisions.
This isn’t our last word on how we’re doing coverage related to Israel and Palestine. We’re going to keep talking about this in our newsroom, and we’re going to keep evaluating and revisiting our editorial decisions about it. But we’re committed to making a forum where students can safely and productively discuss what’s happening in the world. We’ll need your continued engagement and feedback to do it.
If you or someone you know has experienced harassment or discrimination based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship and/or creed at U of T, report the incident to the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity office: https://antiracism.utoronto.ca/help/.
You can report incidents of anti-Muslim racism through the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ Hate Crime Reporting form at https://www.nccm.ca/programs/incident-report-form/, and antisemitic incidents at U of T to Hillel U of T at https://hillelontario.org/uoft/report-incident/.
If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
- Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
- Connex Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
- Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
- U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030
If you or someone you know has experienced anti-Muslim racism or is in distress, you can contact:
- Canadian Muslim Counselling at 437-886-6309 or [email protected]
- Islamophobia Support Line at 416-613-8729
- Nisa Helpline at 1-888-315-6472 or [email protected]
- Naseeha Mental Health at 1-866-627-3342
- Khalil Center at 1-855-554-2545 or [email protected]
- Muslim Women Support Line at 647-622-2221 or [email protected]
If you or someone you know has experienced antisemitism or is in distress, you can contact: