CAPE TOWN, Nov. 10 (JTA) — South African TV viewers were subjected to a prime-time Israel bashing session last week. Despite strenuous objections from groups including the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the two-and-a-half hour program was broadcast Nov. 6 by e.tv, an independent television network. The broadcast was timed to coincide with the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan that same evening. The broadcast included the anti-Israel documentary, “Palestine Is Still the Issue,” by British filmmaker John Pilger. The documentary caused an outcry when it was broadcast in Britain on Yom Kippur. Pilger has been an outspoken opponent of Israel stance for almost 30 years. Russell Gaddin, national chairman of the Board of Deputies, said e.tv went ahead with the broadcast even though it knew the documentary “had been discredited abroad and in South Africa.” The decision to air the documentary “flies in the face of even-handed and objective reporting,” he added. Yehuda Kay, national director of the Jewish Board of Deputies, criticized the Pilger film. “No effort is made to provide context, Israeli perspective or explanation. It is in no way representative of the true situation,’ he said. The board said the documentary “dehumanized, delegitimized and debased” Israel and Israelis. In the documentary, Pilger launched a series of accusations against Israel, including that it was guilty of “ethnic cleansing” in 1948 to make room for the Jewish state; that it maintained a brutal and illegal occupation of Palestinian lands; and that it tried to stop all criticism with accusations of anti-Semitism. Pilger also drew analogies between Israel and both apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany. The e.tv broadcast went further than simply airing the documentary. It began with an interview with Pilger by journalist Debra Patter, who never alluded to any of the charges of inaccuracy and bias voiced by critics of the film. The broadcast also included a 30-minute debate between Ronnie Kasrils — a Jew who serves as South Africa’s Minister of Water Affairs and who founded a pro-Palestinian activist group last year — and Hagai Segal, a British academic and Middle East commentator. Kasrils, who referred disparagingly to “Zionists,” criticized what he termed the plight of the “Palestinians under the jackboot of the Israeli state.” Israel’s only defender during the broadcast, Segal blasted the “hysteria history and propaganda history” that had been presented. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, brought the program to a close with an interview he gave Patter. Tutu, whose recent criticism of Israel was quoted in Pilger’s film, said he had a “sense of revulsion and distress that we as human beings can still treat one another with so much brutality.” Referring not only to the Middle East, he pointed out “how easy it is to be afflicted by amnesia when people who were yesterday’s oppressed so easily become today’s oppressors.” Tutu, who is a board member of the Peres Peace Center in Tel Aviv, said he felt “deeply saddened by how quickly the charge of anti-Semitism is leveled against those who want to point up injustices.” He added: “In order to assuage the guilt of Europe (for the Holocaust), the people who are being made to pay are the Palestinians.” Following the broadcast, Segal told JTA that the danger of such a show was that, by trying to blame only one side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it made the lines of division deeper. Segal also voiced the opinion that anti-Semitism is increasing throughout the world and that Arab anti-Semitism is at its highest point “since the Crusades.” “That is why this is so dangerous and inflammatory. The documentary plays into that,” Segal said. One local Jewish source felt e.tv intended to reinforce fundamental misunderstandings and bias regarding the Middle East among large sections of South African society. The source also noted that e.tv broadcasts from Cape Town, which has a population of some 500,000 Muslims and 15,000 Jews.
SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING