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Update – 17 January 2012

Posted by Emily Gian on 17 January 2012 at 3:34pm:

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. 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.

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