Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ashrawi Redux?

Remember how, back in 2003, Australia's Zionist lobby did its block over the Sydney Peace Foundation's award of its Peace Price to Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi, and how the resulting furore embroiled a host of prominent figures, including the Premier of NSW, Bob Carr, the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Lucy Turnbull, and Sydney City Councillor, Kathryn Greiner?

Unfortunately for the lobby, which naturally prefers night to day, the Ashrawi affair (if I may call it so) gained wide media coverage, including a remarkable full-page feature (in The Australian of all places) by journalist Elisabeth Wynhausen. Wynhausen's expose began thus:

"The 2003 Sydney Peace Prize fracas reveals how a powerful minority of Jews stifle debate." (Take the free out of speech, 4/11/03)

It ended with the clearly fed-up director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, Stuart Rees, saying:

"[However many times] I try to explain why we made the award to Ashrawi, our critics come back with the same questions: Am I an apologist for Palestine? Am I against the Jewish community? I've taken stands on issues before and got some static, but not this onslaught, bullying and intimidation."

That the firestorm whipped up by lobby bullying ended up singing the firebugs who started it was as good as admitted at the time by the then editor of The Australian Jewish News, Vic Alhadeff, who was quoted by Wynhausen as complaining that:

"The whole thing 'has spun out of contol. The Jewish community has become the focus of this issue rather than whether or not Dr Ashrawi is a worthy recipient. It looks like the Jewish community is anti-free speech when the reverse is true."

I recall here the Ashrawi affair because the latest outbreak of Zionist bullying and intimidation, centring on SBS's screening of The Promise, has today finally surfaced in the Fairfax press:

"Australia's peak Jewish body is seeking to halt promotion and DVD sales of the SBS series, The Promise, a dramatic portrayal set in Israel it has likened to Nazi propaganda. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) said the British-made drama, inspired by accounts of British soldiers who served in Palestine during the 1940s, was anti-Semitic and in direct violation of of the SBS code covering prejudice, racism and discrimination... In its 31-page complaint to the SBS ombudsman, the ECAJ said historical inaccuracies and 'consistently negative portrayals' of The Promise's central Jewish characters 'without any redeeming virtues' compared to the 1940 Nazi film Jud Suss, as well as Palestinian propaganda that 'all Jews are collectively guilty of the wanton shedding of innocent blood'. It contended that identifiably Muslim characters would not be similarly portrayed by SBS. In a letter to the broadcaster, ECAJ executive director, Peter Wertheim, said the complaint also related to any marketing, promotion or sale of the DVD, which would be 'inappropriate' while the determination was pending. 'Nothing should be done by SBS or SBS Shops which pre-empts or presumes the outcome of your final decision', he wrote." (SBS fields complaints over series set in Israel, Leesha McKenny, 17/1/12)

It will be interesting to see where this leads. Will it receive the media attention it deserves? Will it click with those who understand the vital importance in a free society of vigorously resisting attempts to undermine the right to freedom of speech? Or will McKenny's welcome report be it? A lot, of course, depends on whether or not SBS continues to show the kind of spine which led to the screening of The Promise in the first place. For the nonce, SBS appears to be playing a straight bat:

"An SBS spokeswoman said the broadcaster had received a high level of positive and negative viewer feedback to the series. She said that it was expected the ECAJ's complaint would be resolved well in advance of the February 8 DVD release, 'it is unnecessary to provide any undertaking regarding the DVD release. SBS will assess its position in relation to the sale of the DVDs once the complaint has been resolved', she said." (ibid)

Whatever the upshot, it is to be hoped that the ECAJ intervention will result in increased publicity and sales (even if online) for this most worthy DVD.

PS (18/1/12): Three letters in support of The Promise were published in today's Age. Curiously, no such letters appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.
PPS (19/1/12): One letter appeared in today's SMH.

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