Muslim station wins Shoah-denial case

CAPE TOWN, Nov. 18 (JTA) — Jewish leaders here are reacting with dismay after their complaint charging a Muslim radio station with trivializing the Holocaust was rejected. In an acrimonious case, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies had filed the complaint with the nation’s Broadcasting Complaints Commission about a 1998 broadcast on Radio 786, a Muslim station in Cape Town. Appearing on the program was Yacoub Zaki, a historian at the Muslim Institute in London. During the broadcast, Zaki said, “I accept that 1 million-plus Jews died during the Second World War, but I dispute the fact that they were murdered, that they were killed by gassing. “These people died, like other people in the camps, from infectious diseases, particularly typhus,” he said. The interview prompted a series of legal actions, including one brought before the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest court. In that case, the radio station sought to overturn a section of the broadcasters’ code of conduct that prohibits hate speech. Radio 786 brought the case after the Board of Deputies had lodged a complaint against the station for airing the program, which dealt with the ideology of Zionism and how it resulted in the creation of the Jewish state. Earlier this year, the Constitutional Court sided with the radio station and struck down several provisions of the Broadcasting Code of Conduct as unconstitutional infringements on the right of free speech. After that ruling, the Jewish Board of Deputies turned to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, as it had done previously, in hopes of obtaining a ruling against the radio station. Now those hopes have been dashed. In his ruling dismissing the complaint, commission official Roland Sutherland wrote that “the trivializing of the extent of the suffering” of Jews during World War II is “doubtless perceived by many who accept the accuracy of Holocaust evidence as churlish and insulting.” “Nevertheless, in my view, it is not the stuff of which reasonable people take offence to the degree it warrants the proscription of the expression of such views.” Hate speech is not protected under the free speech provisions of the South African constitution, but Sutherland ruled that the broadcast did not fall under the category of hate speech. Sutherland found there was “no attack in the broadcast on the Jewish religion or Jews as such.” He also ruled that the broadcast had included “no exhortation to hatred of any particular religious group or group of individuals.” The Board of Deputies subsequently issued a statement saying the ruling evoked “a deep sense of shock.” Denying or trivializing the Holocaust is “an attack on the dignity of the Jewish people and not just ‘churlish’ behavior,” the statement said. Jewish leaders are vowing to keep the case alive. “We will pursue every avenue open to us to take this matter further,” Russell Gaddin, the Board of Deputies’ national chairman, told JTA. “We believe we have a case they have to answer.”

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