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The Plot Thickens

In my previous post I praised, rather extravagantly, the editor of the Cape Times for actually publishing my article (in the form of an Open Letter) with the minimum of pruning or other editorial tricks to lessen its impact. To read my article see below.

But the story has become more ambiguous. As I informed you, my article was accompanied by a standard-issue BDS screed from Terry Crawford-Browne (TCB) chock full of the usual slogans, lies and distortions which constitute the  MO of the movement. For those of you not exposed to such material on a regular basis I would have liked to include it in this post. But when I go to the on-line version of the Cape Times here, I can only find my article under the title “sheltering behind free speech”. TCB’s rant is nowhere to be found.

Now what gives? Could it mean that for the local Cape Town audience, such trash as TCB’s contribution is acceptable fodder but not considered suitable fare for a more diverse international/national audience? If not, then I invite the editor of the Cape Times to clarify this apparent anomaly.

There is more. Mr Abarder quotes the Press Code as a guide to the Cape Times and suggests it is appropriate for all media as a guide to ethical and professional journalism. Here is the relevant section “We are guided by the South African Press Code, which advocates freedom of speech and freedom of expression that is tempered with responsibilities that include limiting harm and providing comment, opinion and analysis that is accurate, unbiased, fair and balanced.

“It also binds us to steer away from giving a platform to hate speech, discrimination, bigotry and prejudice and to, in turn, place a premium on values like tolerance of religious and ideological beliefs

But in the following edition of the Cape Times included in the Letters section is one from that arch self-publicist and notable ignoramus, Beezy Bailey, who starts promisingly by calling me a “nebbish” and a “hypocrite” before continuing to regurgitate the standard rant. I would have liked to bring you his letter in full but it cannot be found on the Cape Times on-line site which does not include letters. BB’s letter makes a mockery of the Press Code to which Mr Abarder has just pledged his allegiance. My reply (submitted but not “yet” published) is in similar vein I must admit, but probably is the only language the Beezy Baileys of this world understand.

So perhaps my praise was over-the-top and premature and I will be left looking stupid. I hope not and I have invited Mr Abarder to clear up precisely where his newspaper stands.

But my more general problem remains. It is difficult for me to bring to the readership of SOLAR PLEXUS the content and tone of the attack on Israel in our media. I will be looking into ways of overcoming this.

There is one way you can become part of this immunisation campaign. Please distribute the link to SOLAR PLEXUS on your distribution lists and “insist” they subscribe. And of course the same applies to you.

many thanks

Mike Berger

Open letter to the Cape Times

Dear Mr Abarder

This is an open letter to you, and to all the other journalists who determine on the basis of their day-to-day decisions, what view of the world is presented to the public. You opened the door to that debate in your heartwarming article “Leaders of a different struggle” in the Cape Times, 7 Feb.

In it you recounted the story of the open-minded home in which you were raised and enthusiastically endorsed the interfaith stance against corruption under the umbrella of the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum. You promised that the Cape Times would be guided by the same code.

In a telling quote you wrote (and note, especially, your second paragraph)

It is important for this newspaper and for the media at large to not only reflect the news of the day but to enrich the debate with different, but also diverse and dissident opinion. We are guided by the South African Press Code, which advocates freedom of speech and freedom of expression that is tempered with responsibilities that include limiting harm and providing comment, opinion and analysis that is accurate, unbiased, fair and balanced.

“It also binds us to steer away from giving a platform to hate speech, discrimination, bigotry and prejudice and to, in turn, place a premium on values like tolerance of religious and ideological beliefs

I would like to provide some context to your important article. Firstly, I like you was also brought up in a tolerant, essentially liberal home, with the difference that mine was Jewish, not Muslim. That cosmopolitan orientation has always remained with me. For example, in my alter ego as an enthusiastic photographer I recently spent a fascinating morning in the community of the Bo Kaap, recording not only some of the colourful architecture but the people who live there. I have included some photographs, each of which has a story worth recording.

But there is another dimension as you imply elsewhere in your article: the impact of politics on our ability to live together in peace and harmony. Despite the best intentions of individuals, the harsh dynamics of political conflict can force people into mutually hostile, irreconcilable camps. And the even more painful reality is that the media, including the pages of newspapers, have become the new theatre of such conflicts. Propaganda, the calculated demonising and delegitimisation of one’s perceived enemy, is the precondition to virtually all physical conflict and to the mass murder and genocides which constitute the horrifying backdrop to the past few supposedly enlightened centuries.

In fact, Mr Abarder, before you had published your article with its plea for tolerance and humanity I had written to you personally to challenge you, as the new editor of the Cape Times, to break with its recent history of complicity in the demonisation of Israel. You were sufficiently disturbed by my letter to respond and to arrange to meet with me so as to open a space for discussion. But that never materialised despite my best efforts. (Omitted in published article).

Any scrutiny of South African newspapers over the past months and years (perhaps decades) shows a incessant drumbeat of anti-Israel propaganda in the Comment and Analysis section, in the Letters pages and even in the selection and presentation of supposedly factual news reports. At the apex of this systematic demonisation and delegimisation of Israel, is the BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) movement, aided and abetted by ideologically inclined journalists and individuals – and by simple conformity with the dominant narrative. If it’s Jews it’s news – especially bad news.

Some of the more amateurish contributions amount simply to rants, others are much more subtle and implicit. But in the absence of personal experience or alternate sources of information, even the most outrageous lies and distortions can be taken as the truth. How much more effective, especially with the more literate elite, is the creative writing of individuals like Marthie  Momberg in Die Burger 21 Feb? (Omitted in published article).

Of course, the BDS Movement does not present itself as an expert and lavishly funded propaganda project with a specific political agenda, which all sober, well-informed people understand to be the elimination of Israel as the Jewish homeland.

On the contrary, the propaganda is presented, as all propaganda inevitably is, as a simple call for justice, for humanity, for the liberation of the oppressed Palestinians from the Israeli yoke. All this goes on against the backdrop of over a 100 000 deaths in Syria alone and the steady sound of suicide bombs exploding in Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other places in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa; each bomb exacting its toll in the death and mutilation of innocents and the further unravelling of the fabric of such societies.

I have neither the space nor the desire to analyse the BDS movement in this article, but need to say just this. There is absolutely no wish within the Jewish community, even the most pro-Zionist members, to import the Middle East conflict into the pages of our newspapers. It is not through shame; on the contrary most take great pride in the remarkable accomplishments of the Jewish State – as I do. And not merely in its economic success or technological innovation or cultural vitality, and possibly even least of all in its military prowess which is seen as necessary to its survival. But our pride is in the little known or understood achievement of creating a stable democracy in the midst of threat and uncertainty and despite its own contentious and extraordinarily diverse population.

We don’t wish to import the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here since it can only stoke intercommunity tensions and division. To pretend that anti-Zionism does not shade into and promote anti-Semitism is simply a denial of reality. But that is what is going, and the increasing alliance of the BDS movement with powerful elements within the ANC menaces the foundations of our democracy.

I have been in correspondence with respected and senior members of the journalist community regarding this issue. Almost to a person they shelter behind claims of free speech and the liberal tolerance of differing views, as do you Mr Abarder. But when pushed a little harder their own prejudices and ignorance emerges with a stark clarity.

So although this is addressed as an open letter to you, it is in reality a challenge to all editors and journalists. When are you going to pay attention to voices like mine and stop promoting bigotry and prejudice under the guise of freedom of expression? And when, if you rate freedom of expression so highly, are you going to give equal space and prominence to those who see the world through very different spectacles to your own? And not only as replies after the mud has been thrown!

Mike Berger


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