The questioning of SBS's managing director Michael Ebeid on February 14 by elements of the Senate Environment & Communications Legislation Committee over the broadcaster's decision to screen The Promise is revealing of the Israel lobby's ability to deploy its federal parliamentary assets (in this instance, Senators Ryan, Kroger and Fifield) to intimidate SBS or ABC personnel for any expression of opinion or perspective that deviates from the party line of unconditional and uncritical support for the state Israel.
Here are the relevant extracts from the proceedings with accompanying commentary:
Chairperson, Labor senator Doug Cameron:
"As you are probably aware [Mr Ebeid], there has been a lot of controversy around the drama The Promise. Obviously there is a fair bit of interest here but I do not want to have the whole of estimates dealing with The Promise, so can you just give the committee your view on the controversy arising over that drama?"
The very fact that Senator Cameron, one of the rare few in federal parliament capable of independent, critical thought on the issue of Palestine/Israel, feels compelled to say that he doesn't want the whole of estimates dealing with The Promise is an important indication that, as far as the lobby's parliamentary assets are concerned, the protection from criticism of Israel's image takes precedence over any other issue, a quite incredible state of affairs, and one that passes wholly unremarked by the ms media.
Equally noteworthy is the opening sentence of Ebeid's reply, in which he reveals that, whenever SBS dares to run an item on the issue of Palestine/Israel, a ruckus is sure to follow:
"We are certainly aware that any program that we have, whether a documentary or a drama, as this was, that concerns Israel and Palestine certainly has the potential to cause a lot of controversy, as this program did."
In the case of The Promise, a ruckus sufficient, it seems, to compel the broadcaster into taking the following, quite unecessary, evasive action:
"As anticipated, the program did cause some controversy here in Australia, as it did in the UK. In a response to that controversy, after the first episode we had several discussions with some of the Jewish community affairs groups in both Sydney and Melbourne. In response to that, we tried to make sure that all of our audience members were well aware that it was a drama and so we placed a statement at the beginning of the following 3 episodes... to remind audiences that this was a work of fiction and a drama."
To Cameron's great credit, no doubt aware that Ryan, Kroger and Fifield were straining on the leash for a go at Ebeid, he injected the following welcome note of common sense and proportion into the dismal proceedings:
"I enjoyed the program. I thank SBS for sending copies of the program. Because of parliamentary committments I had not seen it. I have now managed to see it. I knew there was going to be a controversy. I enjoyed it. It has had some critical acclaim, hasn't it?"
Cameron's sweetness and light, however, gave way to Liberal senator Scott Ryan's (rambammed 2009 & 2010) assertion that the film "negatively stereotyped" Jews and Israelis:
"[S]ome of the biggest slanders in history have been works of fiction. The overwhelming majority of depictions of Jewish people in this... were of Jewish children throwing rocks at Arab children and soldiers standing by and doing nothing... You have scenes of Jewish women settlers in Hebron... calling Arab women 'whores'... In the historical part you have the clearing of Arab civilians, portraying Jews as the aggressors... I put it to you that [those scenes] represent a negative portrayal of Jewish Israelis."
Note how, in typical Zionist fashion, Ryan simply can't bring himself to refer to Palestinians as Palestinians, and makes no attempt to distinguish between Jews and Israelis. He also seems to be suggesting here that rock-throwing settler children and their foul-mouthed mothers are entirely fictional. Not so. They are, unfortunately, as real as the senator's appalling ignorance of what is going on in Hebron. (See my posts Two Uneasy Pieces (29/3/11) and The Muslim Brotherhood are Just Pussies! (15/11/11) Furthermore, in relation to the events of 1948, Ryan is ludicrously suggesting that by accurately dramatising some of the incidents of Zionist ethnic cleansing that took place at that time, such as the Deir Yassin massacre and the driving out of the Palestinian population of Haifa, the film is negatively portraying the Israelis who perpetrated those crimes. Would he, I wonder, complain with regard to any other dramatisations of war crimes that they unfairly show the perpetrators in a negative light? The mind boggles.
"The letter from SBS to Mr Wertheim does concede that people are more likely to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than the Israeli cause at the end. If the overwhelming majority of the portrayals of events is of instances like that, which are the subject of news reports and other complaints to your news service and other news services at intermittent times, if that is not reinforcing a negative stereotype, what is?"
The possibility that Israeli behaviour has for decades now been generating and reinforcing its own negative stereotypes, would obviously be lost on Senator Ryan.
Ryan's nonsense was followed by Liberal senator Helen Kroger (rambammed 2007), who wanted to know - seriously - why SBS doesn't run programs by the Israel lobby before broadcasting them:
"You can see why there is the number of people who wish to ask questions on the level of concern about this production. I will follow up with just a couple more comments, then. Firstly, when you are assessing the quality of content and quality of script that you were referring to and it is a subject based on a particular take on history, do you engage historical experts to give you input into assessing that quality?"
Ebeid: "Certainly not for a drama, but for a documentary we might consult some. I would say, on average, probably not."
"Given the controversial nature of the content of this, did you consider consulting any of the community group stakeholders and getting their feedback on it before it went to air?"
Ebeid: No. We would not normally do that.
Finally, Senator Mitch Fifield (rambammed 2010) revealed the extent of his mastery of the film and the issue it dramatised by suggesting that it was really all about religion!:
"Section 1.6 [of the SBS Code of Practice] says that SBS will not support any particular religion over any other... As this is a drama, I guess it could be construed that it was a dramatic depiction of one religion denigrating another."
Although the committee eventually moved on to lesser matters, the balm of chairperson Doug Cameron's parting words to Ebeid - "I hope tonight has helped the DVD sales for The Promise" - may well have been responsible for restoring the poor man's sanity following the hearing.
PS: Why not help fulfill Cameron's hope by buying a few copies of The Promise and distributing them among your friends. You can pick them up at any JB HiFi or Dymocks outlet.