The Press Council’s deportment of SA Jewish Report

AT the face of it, a cartoon caricature of a ‘greedy capitalist’ isn’t anti-Semitic. Taken within the context of a boycott and disinvestment campaign against Israeli goods? Well, there are some who may be offended. Personally I don’t find such images, which are redolent of similar Nazi propaganda, in particular the earlier Dreyfus Affair, terribly problematic.

Distasteful yes, and often accompanying conspiracy theories of Jews controlling the world, or bizarre plots to murder Christ and Christian babies, the images are well-known and documented. The illustration in question is a stock ‘man eating money’ image, symbolising greed, similar in many ways to earlier NP-inspired ‘Hoggenheimer‘ images from the 1930s and also deserving of comparison with ‘watermelon men‘ images, from the 1950s symbolising, indolence.

Although the picture in question has appeared in the context of such mischief, and is often used by anti-Semites, it is not one of the truly abysmal images depicting Ashkenazi Jews, with over-sized facial features deserving of our opprobrium. Judge Bernard Ngoepe is right to some extent, and on this account alone, to attempt to discount the controversy, since the image could just as well have found its home on the cover of Noseweek.

Unfortunately the logical analysis provided by Ngoepe is absolutely flawed. The least of which is its resort to an a priori finding — reasoning which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience.

The argument goes: Somebody who is Jewish says the cartoon used in this context is not Anti-Semitic, therefore it must follow that the author Tali Feinberg cannot impute any Anti-Semitism to BDS on the basis and must apologise.

The finding is wrong for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is clear that Feinberg quotes the opinion of an esteemed academic and expert on the subject, Prof Milton Shain, whose conclusions are thus immediately at odds with the a priori finding. (Frankly, the result does pose the question, why similar union campaigns are devoid of caricature? The subject of the use of cartoons in politics is especially touchy when compounded by religion.)

Secondly, Ngoepe essentially quotes only one opinion, provided by the complainant, that of David Saks, a member of the SAJBD in order to substantiate his own opinion in the matter.

Thirdly, Ngoepe is correct in averring a lack of balance and fairness, thus an impact upon journalistic standards of their member, insomuch as the report in question failed to solicit either the opinion of GIWUSA or BDS, the two affected parties.

Lastly, the sanctions imposed do not fit the nature of the offense. (SEE: Sanef Urges JR to reconsider its position).

In upholding the complaint in its entirety, instead of making an objective ruling upholding the rights of both parties, and thus the complainants right to respond to the article (right of reply) — to thus have their views published by the Jewish Report, as too the publisher’s right to publish, Ngoepe chose to side with the complainant. It is thus a highly politicised stance and outcome, one which immediately calls into question the Press Council’s standing and capacity to act.

The Press Council’s opinion in this regard really runs counter to the idea that a publisher may publish an authors opinion, based as it is on an academic’s opinion, however problematic and contrary to mainstream politics, it may be, and is contradicted by its own previous findings — rulings made when similar complaints are lodged by Jews regarding anti-Semitism in the press, (see my own complaint against Cape Times).

Does this make me biased when it comes to pointing out the resulting hypocrisy? It certainly should and please mark my words — the result is now an exile of the party concerned, an outcome which does not bode well for the council since BDS via its advocacy of far-ranging sanctions, which often translate into cultural sanctions against anyone vaguely Jewish, has long since gained a reputation for Anti-Semitism, in other words, hostility to secular Jewish identity.

I have merely to refer readers to death threats issued against the runner up to last year’s Miss Universe.

In seeking to close down the debate on what constitutes anti-Semitism, (rather than interpretation of the cartoon per se), and instead of reaching out to issues of fairness, the result rubs salt in the wound as it were. Surely it is not up to non-Jewish members of the council to determine such definitions, same way as whites don’t get to define racism, and an apartheid media company doesn’t get to decide who is a member of the anti-apartheid movement or not?

The result thus erroneously attempts to limit discourse, to force an apology on the substance of the unproven allegations, instead of a sanction on the merits, and with the unfortunate effect, a professional excommunication from the council. Which leads one to conclude Ngoepe is really entertaining a presumption in seeking to set BDS up as a movement whose reputation is beyond question at the same time that he denies the right of SA Jewish Report to call out Anti-Semitism, however and whenever they see it (surely all a matter of opinion?).

I also note there appears to be some debate as to whether the Clover boycott effects the so-called occupied territories or not. For the record, both sides in the tragic case of injustice vs injustice need to be heard.

If anyone wishes to engage with Medialternatives on creating a press code of conduct that would include internationally accepted definitions of anti-Semitism that include the right to criticise the policies of the state of Israel, please comment below. Surely time for a South African code?

SEE Press Council Expels SA Jewish Report.

SEE: Furore over SA Jewish Report, BDS Clover cartoon and the Press Council — let the ConCourt decide

Appeal Decision: David R Lewis vs. Independent Newspapers

[1]     Mr David Robert Lewis (“applicant”) seeks leave to appeal the Ruling of the Ombudsman dated 5 February 2016 dismissing applicant’s complaints against Independent Newspapers (“respondent”).

[2]     The complaints followed two articles, the second being a follow-up or a continuation, of the first.  The stories were reporting the views of one Plum who had been in Hitler’s army during the Second World War.  The applicant saw the articles as a “serialisation of a self-confessed member of the Hitler Youth”.  The applicant is a member of the Jewish Community living in the country.  He says the serialisation of Plum’s own experiences reduces the Jews and Jewish Community to mere “objects of history”, thereby infringing their dignity.  He also says that Plum is cast as “a mere accessory, an innocent victim caught up in historical events … beyond his control”, even though he had not objected to the events (the Holocaust and torture of Jews).

[3]     The applicant’s complaints were accurately captured in the Ombudsman’s Ruling:

“He says that these stories discriminated against him, since they represented:

·               an extraordinary serialisation of a self-confessed member of the Hitler Youth …;

·               a reiteration of the philosophy of Nazidom and its antecedents in German philosophy…..

·               a failure to moderate, publish, consult and include the narrative of Jews, … …

·               inappropriate content considering world events and especially the events of 13 November 2015; and

·               incitement of hatred against the Jewish community and other cultural, linguistic and religious communities … …

Lewis adds that the journalist did not get comment from the Jewish community.”

[4]    The respondent contended that the articles were not written to portray Plum in a positive light but to present a different view of the events of the war; from the perspective of a 11 year old, to 17; did not seek to romanticise or justify the Holocaust but to vent out the view of those German people forced to be part of the Nazi regime. Plum’s views were critical of the Nazi regime; his views were put in inverted commas as his own and that the interview with him was set up 5 days before the Paris massacre (an event applicant referred to apparently to show lack of sensitivity).  Applicant, who submitted two lengthy affidavits, also complained that Plum denigrated the Jewish Community by saying that “God is not on the side of the Jews, because Hitler killed them all” (more about this later) and by insinuating that they are not God’s chosen people.  Respondent argued that the above phrase is commonly used in both Jewish and Christian publications.

[5]     In his application for leave to appeal, the applicant argues that the Ombudsman has been wrong in his analysis of the matter; he attacks the Ruling in many respects.  On the other hand, the respondent supports the Ruling and the reasons behind it.  I have read the Ruling and its analysis of the complaints carefully.  I do not find fault with it.  I need not repeat what the Ombudsman has said. Here lies the fundamental difference between the applicant on the one hand, and the respondent and the Ombudsman on the other: applicant’s complaints are based on his own interpretation of the articles as well as his own apparently good knowledge of the history about the Second World War and the Holocaust.  They are not based on what actually appears in the articles.  For example, he says his“objection is in reference to the sentiment and nostalgic manner in which the subject of the articles (Mr Plum) views his training, education and interaction (as a teenager soldier).” The applicant infers nostalgia, whereas what Mr Plum said could equally be interpreted as a demonstration of genuinely inspired desire to reveal to all how the Nazi’s went so far as to use children like him.  One would therefore need a huge jump to come to the kind of inference the applicant makes from the articles.  There is therefore much to be said for respondent’s argument that the applicant “has thus exaggerated the effect of the articles on the ordinary reader”.  Only a reader like the applicant with a deep knowledge of the relevant history can place onto the articles the kind of interpretation he does; but not an average reader, for whom the articles were meant.  The interpretation applicant places on Plum’s statement that God does not like Jews because He let Hitler kill them, does not amount to denigration of the Jews; it is the kind of lament a bereaved parent would make, to ask God, “if you loved me, why did you let my child die!” The things applicant is complaining about, are really not in the articles, but are a product of his own interpretation, based on his special knowledge of the relevant history. As the Ombudsman says, there is for example no reference in the articles to Baerenfaenger, or other issues alluded to by the applicant.  The articles were a presentation of Mr Plum’s views, which were unique; moreover, they were presented as his own and not of the respondent. I too do not agree with applicant’s interpretation of the texts and his conclusions.

[6]     For the above reasons as well as those given by the Ombudsman, I am of the view that the applicant has no reasonable prospects of success before the Appeals Committee of the Press Council.  The application is therefore turned down.

Dated this 28th day of March 2016

Judge B M Ngoepe, Chair, Appeals Panel

ED NOTE: The actual complaint makes a distinction between those Jews who believe in the Covenant and those who do not. Although the complainant, a non-Zionist, does not himself accept the central narrative surrounding the Burning Bush, he supports the rights of those who do. Ngoepe’s decision unfortunately redacts the submission and does not record this important distinction.

ED NOTE: The second article on Plum clearly refers to Baerenfaenger and also close ties to Adolf Hitler alongside a narrative demonstrating Plum’s prowess or lack thereof with a rifle. The statement is inaccurate to say the least and grounds for inferring bias.

The complainants submissions to the Ombudsman and Judge Ngoepe are available below.

Appeal Petition

Rebuttal of INM Appeal Submission

Affidavit Press Ombud 1

Affidavit Press Ombud 2