Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Now You See It...

Now you don't.

One can only imagine the ructions over at SBS Television at the brave decision to screen Peter Kosminsky's insightful and historically accurate recreation of modern Palestinian history, The Promise, the final episode of which is to be screened this Sunday. Alas, absent a whistleblower, we cannot, of course, be privy to the gory details.

We are lucky, however, to have been afforded a tiny glimpse into what happens behind the scenes when a mainstream media outlet such as SBS throws caution to the winds and gives the Palestine problem the attention it deserves.

The glimpse I refer to is the fact that, while SBS's website hosted a forum for viewers' comments following the first two episodes of the 4-part series, this was abruptly terminated a mere 4 days after episode 2 and has not resurfaced since.


Well, the short and winding road which led to the termination of same seems to have begun with a comment from a certain 'surferbob' which appeared on the thread following episode one. From memory, I found it a model of rational and informed discourse on the subject at hand. And yet, without explanation, it was soon removed by the SBS moderator. Its disappearance prompted another commenter, 'Emile', to ask why. As it happens, it was at this point that I began printing off some of the comments, which enables me to quote verbatim the conversation that ensued:

SBSMegan: Hi Emile, surferbob's comment was removed because it contained racist expressions that were deemed inappropriate for this forum.

Emile: These were not apparent to me, I'm afraid. I really think the alleged 'racist expressions' you took exception to should be discussed in the interests of fairness and openness. Could you kindly list them for us, Megan?

Emile's response went answered, but the forum, with contributions from sundry commenters, including Emile, continued on - until, on Thursday 8, 'surferbob' resurfaced and addressed SBSMegan thus:

"Well, Megan, if you diagree with my comment that Israel has taken a seismic shift towards the right - sliding into fascism - read respected Israeli commentators such as Uri Avnery for their opinion. Better still, go there and see the living proof. I have witnessed protesters blinded, disfigured and killed at peaceful, non-violent protests against the ongoing theft of Palestinian lands. I myself, at 70 years of age, have been tear-gassed and shot. Welcome to the real Israel - or would you rather just censor comments you find unpalatable and label them racist?"

As I said earlier, a model of rational and informed comment. The above comment remained on the thread and was joined 3 hours later by this from 'Emile':

"With respect, Megan, I really do think you've had long enough on this. What precisely was your problem with surferbob's previous comment? What are your/SBS's criteria for alleging that his earlier comment contained 'racist expressions'? In the absence of any clear statement on this, commenters can only conclude that your decision to delete his comment was based on nothing more than your own, not necessarily informed (How would we know?), individual opinion."

Not only was there no response to this comment from 'SBSMegan', but the entire forum was closed, without notice or explanation, the very same day, and has not reappeared since. What - and this is, of course, an entirely rhetorical question - is SBS afraid of?

But there's more: In addition to the moderator's unilateral, and, on the face of it, contemptuous pulling of the plug on SBS's rightly questioning audience, a disclaimer of sorts - "This is a drama inspired by the accounts of British soldiers who served in Palestine" - appeared as an appendage to the precis of episode 3.

It would seem that SBS is reacting here to complaints from Israel lobbyists contesting the drama's historical veracity, the absurd and insulting (to both Kosminsky and to the historical record) insinuation being that The Promise is really little more than a dramatisation of the anti-Semitic attitudes of British troops serving in Palestine at the time.*

The following salutary letter in this week's Australian Jewish News by Arje Singer of Castle Cove only serves to highlight the crackling hysteria coming from Israel lobbyists on the one hand - "Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy... is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged ('You of all people') with failing to live up to it."** - and the evident cowardice of certain quarters at SBS on the other:

"As an Israeli citizen, I couldn't find any anti-Israeli parts in The Promise. Every person has the right to bring his views to the general public. Not every picture or book must be Zionist. The TV series has historic background. It is completely ridiculous to write: 'Viewers unfamiliar with the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may come to view Israel more negatively'."

[* Maybe I'm reading a bit too much into this. In an interview with Kosminsky in The Guardian of 23/1/11, Britain's humiliation in Palestine, Rachel Cooke writes: "Between 1945 and 1948, some 100,000 soldiers served in the British-controlled Mandate of Palestine. Kosminsky's team spoke to around 80; he found the men's stories to be both gripping and moving, so he carried on, wading next through letters, diaries, memoirs and history books. Slowly, a theme began to emerge. 'The thing that came out most strongly', he says, 'was that the men all arrived in Palestine feeling incredibly pro-Jewish. A few of them had helped to liberate the [concentration] camps, so they had seen what had happened [to the Jews] with their own eyes... Over time, though, the soldiers' attitudes changed. Some of this was just the usual British support for the underdog; there's no question that by 1948 [when Israel declared itself an independent state] the Arabs were perceived as that. But also, if you're being attacked on a daily basis [by the Jewish resistance], if you're under constant threat of kidnap, if you're confined to barracks behind a lot of razor wire, your feelings are bound to change'."; **Howard Jacobson, Ludicrous, brainwashed prejudice, The Independent/AJN, 2/12/11]

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