Article Heralds Age-old Problem

January 17, 2012 by Emily Gian
Read on for article

The Melbourne Age today carries a front page article by Leesha McKenny entitled ‘Jewish outcry on SBS series’ about a complaint to the SBS Ombudsman lodged by The Executive Council of Australian Jewry about the screening of the BBC drama series The Promise which aired at the end of last year…writes Emily Gian.

Emily Gian

The essence of the complaint is that the series is anti-Semitic and in direct violation of the SBS code covering prejudice, racism and discrimination.
A similar article also appears in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The full text of the complaint made by ECAJ executive director, Peter Wertheim can be found here. It is a comprehensive document which thoroughly outlines how and why the series “promotes, endorses and reinforces demeaning stereotypes about Jews as a group.” 

I can only recommend that you read the text in full in order to appreciated why criticism of the report in the above Age article by the Palestine lobby (represented by The General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, which represents the Palestinian Authority) as ”an attempt to silence legitimate historical investigation, recollection and representation” is so problematical.

In the first instance, I must disclose that I began working for the Zionist Council of Victoria at the height of the Hanan Ashrawi controversy in 2003. The awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Ashrawi sparked much debate and protest and those opposing the award were labelled by some as seeking to stifle debate about the conflict. As a result of the controversy about stifling debate, the media ignored some very substantial material uncovered about Ashrawi including direct quotes which my research indicated made the awarding of a “peace prize” to such a person totally inimical. The focus instead was on the actions of those who opposed Ashrawi rather than on the real issue of the recipient’s worthiness for the award and hence, Israel’s detractors managed to divert attention away from that issue.  

This disingenuous tactic is now inherent in almost every propaganda campaign applied by the Palestine lobby and its supporters and it is nowhere more evident than in the reaction to the ECAJ report. Witness the tweeting of the usual anti Zionist crowd on the Twitter link to today’s Age on line article. 

To my mind however, those who are attacking Peter Wertheim’s report in this way are the ones who are stifling debate and diverting attention away from the nature of the anti Semitism that abounds in the series. That is what the real issue is about and the ECAJ report raises some crucial points on the subject that must be seriously addressed by the SBS Ombudsman rather than the dismissive approach that was taken by UK’s Office of Communications when the series was aired there last year.

I do not believe that justice can be done by my summarising the ECAJ submission and I therefore quote directly from the author as to the reasons why the series violates SBS Code 1.3 by promoting, endorsing and reinforcing demeaning stereotypes about Jews as a group:-
“All of the principal Jewish characters (and thus by implication Jews generally) are portrayed negatively and, ultimately, without any redeeming virtues. They are cast as variously cruel, violent, hateful, ruthless, unfeeling, amoral, treacherous, racist and/or hypocritical. The ancient libel that holds all Jews throughout history to be collectively guilty of killing Jesus has been segued into the equally ludicrous proposition that all Jews are collectively guilty of the wanton shedding of innocent blood, a staple of contemporary Palestinian propaganda. The series also panders to stereotypes about Jews being immoderately wealthy and having acquired their wealth unfairly. The cumulative effect of these consistently negative portrayals of all of the principal Jewish characters and of the series’ numerous misrepresentations of the relevant historical background in a way that consistently casts Jews in a negative light is to demean Jews as a group.
“We assume SBS would never contemplate screening a series in which all the principal characters who are identifiably Muslim are either ruthless, murderous terrorists or morally coarse people who condone terrorism or sympathise or co-operate with terrorists. Yet this is precisely the way all of the principal characters who are identifiably Jewish are portrayed in The Promise.

“To be clear, the series does not simply convey demeaning imputations about Jews in the way, for example, that dramatizations about the events of World War II have often portrayed German and Japanese characters in an unflattering light. In the latter cases, the negative stereotypes have been used as a way of highlighting the character of major figures in the story. There is never a suggestion that the Germans and Japanese as a people are forever marked by collective guilt and beyond redemption.

“The Promise is far more insidious. The relevant historical events (and their misrepresentation) and the principal Jewish characters are vehicles for attributing negative traits to Jews generally across time and space. The Promise utilizes and reinforces racist tropes about Jews that, but for a brief post-WWII respite, have been embedded in western civilization since pre-Christian times and are not in any way comparable to negative portrayals of other groups.”
But, as I remarked earlier, one needs to read the complaint in full to understand how this fictional account promotes a very nasty lie about the Jewish people and the Zionist movement over the past century. 

The most compelling argument apart from the need to represent history in a truthful way is that if the plot was reversed and stereotyped all Arabs or Muslims as violent murderers, then there would rightfully be an outcry – not just from the “other side” but I believe the Jewish community would join in those concerns. I strongly doubt however,  that such a version would ever see the light of day because The Promise is truly a nasty piece of work.
To understand this, I want to add one other dimension about the debate between Israel and the Arabs and the tactics of the Palestine lobby that seeks to whitewash the ECAJ complaint.
The Promise presents a narrative which is so one sided and biased in its distortion of history that it can only achieve one result for both sides in the conflict and that is to harden the hearts of both people against each other.
When the bulk of those on one side or the other are sold on such twisted tales of historical events, it can leave no doors open to promote peace between them.

The entire premise behind The Promise is damaging to the cause of peace in the region. Just as the awarding of a so called “peace prize” to a person whose record in terms of promoting peace was highly questionable all those years ago, The Promise harms that cause and makes the work of those who seek peace all the more difficult. In that respect this disgraceful series is not only anti-Jewish and anti-Israel but also anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian.

Emily Gian is the Israel Advocacy Analyst at the Zionist Council of Victoria and a PhD Candidate in Israeli Literature at the University of Melbourne


4 Responses to “Article Heralds Age-old Problem”
  1. Rita says:

    Perhaps the complaints should go to our government who still finance this Judenhass-promoting organisation. SBS, apart from their blatantly agenda laden programming (they broadcast among other things a daily Aljezeera “News” bulletin) do receive commercial advertising.

    So, why should the tax-payer still finance what is nothing more than yet another propagandist anti-jewish organisation?

    I want SBS privatised, immediately, because I do not want to pay for an outfit such as this.

  2. Liat Nagar says:

    The SBS Ombudsman has written to me, after a meeting and consideration of my written complaint on ‘the Promise’ by the SBS Complaints Committee, basically dismissing my assertions. I received a 7 page response, dated 18th January, from the Ombudsman, Sally Begbie, to the effect that my complaint was not upheld. My complaint was similar to Peter Wertheim’s in the area it covered and the specifics it referred to. I’ve related this information on another J-Wire site article which refers to the letter sent to SB S by Glenn Searle.
    The Ombudsman summed up my complaint and concerns as follows:
    ‘The Promise’ is:
    . unrelenting in its negative portrayal of Israelis and Jews;
    . favours the Palestinian people unequivocally and demonises the Israelis;
    . discriminates and is racist; and
    . vilifies a people.

    None of these assertions, which I backed up with specific content as reasoning, were considered relevant. The Ombudsman mentioned that my complaint was investigated, among a number of other complaints, and determined by the SBS Complaints Committee.
    Amongst other details, the Ombudsman stated (in regard to assessing ‘The Promise’ against Code 1.3) that the Complaints Committee had regard to the Australian Communication Media Authority’s test of the ordinary, reasonable viewer, as defined by the ACMA’s Investigation Report No. 2537 of 2 March, 2011. It states: ‘In assessing the content against the Codes, the delegate considers the meaning conveyed by the relevant broadcast material. This is assessed according to the understanding of an ‘ordinary’, reasonable viewer. Australian Courts have considered an ‘ordinary, reasonable’ viewer to be:
    A person of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. That person does not live in an ivory tower but can and does read between the lines and, in so doing, the natural, ordinary meaning of the language, context, tenor, tone and inferences that may be drawn.
    Once this has been ascertained, it is for the delegate to determine whether the material has breached the Codes.’

    The Complaints Committee noted that ‘The Promise’ is a high quality drama series and a four part work of fiction. It quotes writer/director Peter Kosminsky with his description and intent. The Committee considers the characters portrayed as complex in interwoven storylines which show a range of political and personal positions. “As Mr. Kosminsky says, the film did not claim to be historically accurate, nor to be a documentary.” They also say that ‘it is fair to conclude that by the end of the series the sympathy of the audience is more likely to be with the Palestinians than with the Israelis’. (Well, that’s the understatement of the year! – LN).
    The Complaints Committee considered the complaints specifically referred to in regard to stereotyping of Jews, including allegations that Jews are stereotyped as liars, untrustworthy, wealthy, conspiratorial, cruel, hateful and violent, were an incorrect reading of complex characters, which ignored their individual and collective positive characteristics.

    I could go on … however perhaps this enough for a reader to get the gist. Part of the Conclusion of the SBS Ombudsman letter is: “The Complaints Committee is satisfied that the ordinary reasonable viewer fully appreciated that ‘The Promise’ was a fictional drama and nothing more than that.”

    Well, that conclusion is very interesting when one bears in mind that I had already given them an example in my letter how this was manifestly not the case and therefore the series was damaging.
    My example was as follows:

    ‘The fact that ‘The Promise’ might be deemed to be fiction is of no moment. Viewers are influenced by it as if it were purely factual, as evidenced by a Preview in ‘The Age’s’ Green Guide to television viewing, inciting viewers to watch the last episode on SBS1 on Sunday, December 18 – see below:

    “As a comment on modern Israel, it’s hard to look past the wire mesh installed above the Palestinian markets in Hebron’s Old City to catch rubbish hurled down by the Jewish settlers from the apartments above – dirty nappies, broken glass, rocks. Try to talk to the Palestinians who live there, as Erin Matthews (Claire Foy) does tonight, and there’s every chance you’ll wear a bag of warm urine; Mazel tov! This excellent four-part series sees young Erin travel to Israel to explore the role of her soldier grandfather, Len, in the postwar British Mandate of Palestine. The Len-Erin dynamic is highly effective, establishing a parallel narrative that allows director Peter Kosminsky to explore Len’s conflicted experience while opening a window into contemporary Israel. Tonight, in the loaded final episode, Erin commandeers former Israeli soldier and part-time lover Paul to help find the family of Mohamed, a Palestinian Arab whom Len befriended 60 years ago.”

    I went on to comment in my letter that ‘looking at this Preview closely you can see the ‘previewer’, Tim Elliott, is confusing fiction and fact. His comments embrace both the fictional narrative of the film and facts ‘assumed’ to be there that somehow in his mind transfer to truth. Consider the written reaction to ‘a bag of warm urine’ being thrown on anyone trying to talk to Palestinians: Mazel tov! (Hebrew for ‘good wishes/congratulations’), the previewer’s sarcastic innate response. Is this, and perhaps more virulent responses, something that SBS wants to incite with its programming?’

    The SBS Ombudsman reply to this was as follows:
    ‘Your complaint also referred SBS to a preview of the program in ‘The Age’s’ Green Guide. That complaint was investigated and reviewed specifically.
    I fail to see how all this stands up against their finding based on the response of ‘a person of fair average intelligence’, etc. It’s quite obvious in the case I’ve described that the fiction was being used in relation to what the previewer considered ‘a comment on modern Israel’, thereby politicising it.

    The SBS Ombudsman letter states that if I consider this response inadequate I’m entitled to take it further to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for external review, which I shall do.

    Incidentally, the SBS correspondence also mentioned that the making of this film was ‘in association with SBS”, but did not elaborate on what this actually meant.

    Under the circumstances, I am assuming that Peter Wertheim’s comprehensive, well-researched and most succinct letter to SBS will meet with the same fate as mine.

  3. Betty says:

    Congratulations on your articulate and comprehensive defends of our cause. There are far too few of you and you have far too few resources to assist . As Isi Leibler has so clearly articulated unless the Israeli government and agencies take the anti Semitic propaganda seriously and devotes more resources we will. Onto he to be on the back foot in this insidious war

  4. Michael Burd says:

    SBS, The al’ Age and the Jewish left/Israel can do no right brigade [ see today’s al’ age letters] not so so strange bedfellows……

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