Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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22 Adar 5766 - March 22, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Muslim Radio Station in South Africa Brought To Court For Antisemitic Broadcast

By Yated South African Correspondent

After nearly eight years of voluminous correspondence and multiple court applications, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) was at last allowed a hearing into its complaint against Radio 786, a Muslim community radio station in Cape Town under the auspices of the Islamic Unity Convention (IUC). An eleventh hour appeal to the Johannesburg High Court followed by almost a full day of procedural arguments before the Tribunal of the Broadcasting Monitoring and Complaints Committee (BMCC) came to nothing for the IUC, when it was ruled that a hearing into the SAJBD's complaint against Radio 786 should go ahead as scheduled.

Once it was informed that the hearing would be taking place, the IUC withdrew from the proceedings altogether, advising the Tribunal of its intention of taking the decision on review.

During the next two days (14-15 March), the SAJBD presented its case as to why it believed that an interview broadcast on 8 May 1998 that purported to be an in-depth look at Zionism but in fact featured extensive anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, including denial of the Holocaust, had contravened Section 2(a) of the Broadcasting Code of Conduct. The relevant section proscribes the broadcasting of material that constitutes "advocacy of hatred" and is inter alia "likely to prejudice relations between sections of the South African population" and constitutes "incitement to cause harm."

On the second day of the hearing, evidence was given by Mervyn Smith, a leading Cape Town attorney who was President of the SAJBD at the time when the original broadcast was made, and by Professor Milton Shain, head of the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town. Smith explained why the SAJBD had refused Radio 786's invitation to appear on its program to debate what the interviewee, Yakoob Zaki, had said.

"The Holocaust is one of the most well-documented events in history and hundreds of thousands of survivors remain alive to testify to it. To debate the proposition that these events never happened would be to fall into the trap of giving credence to the proposition that there are two sides to the story. There are not two sides. We will not debate the undebatable," he said.

Shain described the Zaki interview as "a conspiratorial symphony," in which "the Jews" (a term used 95 times in the interview) were depicted as inherently malevolent, dangerous and scheming. Jews were accused of being secretly behind a long series of historical upheavals, including the French Revolution, Anglo-Boer war, World War I (in which they were said to have sabotaged both the German and the Russian war effort), the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the takeover and undermining of Weimar Germany. These antisemitic canards, Shain explained, represented "a cumulative construction of the Jew as a nameless, faceless, sinister force, a hidden hand" behind many of history's greatest upheavals. It culminated in Zaki's denial of the Holocaust, in which he said that only a million Jews had died, and not as a result of a deliberate policy of extermination but through infectious diseases such as typhus.

Shain said that this fitted into the overall portrayal of Jews as being so "inherently evil and scheming as being capable of falsifying the story of their own destruction for their own nefarious purposes." This was not legitimate historical revisionism but a repugnant form of antisemitism that impugned the dignity of survivors and desecrated the memory of the dead.

Advocate Johan de Waal, in presenting the Board's Heads of Argument, referred to both international and local case law, including the Zundel and Keegstra cases in Canada in which Holocaust denial had been central. He contended that Holocaust deniers were well aware of the fact that they were lying but knowingly fabricated a counter-history for political purposes. Given the outrageousness of their claims, and especially when presented in the broader context of anti- Jewish conspiratorialism (as was the case with the broadcast in question), there could be no doubt as to their having ulterior motives. De Waal also pointed out that the Radio 786 presenter had been complicit in the statements made because he had actively led and encouraged the guest throughout.

The complex and often tedious proceedings on the opening Monday were enlivened by a brief flurry of controversy when Radio 786 was found to be secretly broadcasting the hearing live without first obtaining the BMCC's permission. Those responsible were unceremoniously ordered from the room by Advocate Modise Khoza, BMCC chairman.

The SAJBD's legal team throughout the saga has been headed by Mr. Smith. Its attorneys were provided by Feinsteins, a Johannesburg firm headed by former SAJBD vice-chairman Ivan Levy. Advocates Anton Katz, Michael Kuper SC, Peter Hodes SC and Milton Seligson SC have represented the Board at various times during the past eight years. All the Jewish lawyers involved in the case have given their services pro bono.

The BMCC's decision is expected within the next few weeks.


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