Jewish Weekly slaps ban on Kasrils

South African Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils has been refused a right of reply to criticism of his anti-Israel stance by a local Jewish paper.

In defence of its decision to slap a ban on Kasrils’ response to an attack on his well known position of solidarity with Palestinian victims of Israeli policies, the Jewish Report editorial claims that “some of his statements were so offensive to the sensibilities of the majority of our readers that they would not contribute to constructive debate, but would simply give deep offence”.

The so-called “offensive” statements refer to “comparing Israel with the Nazis” and “other comments in that vein”, according to the editor.

Censorship of this type –” reminiscent of apartheid era bannings –” is in direct violation of South Africa’s constitutional protection of free speech and the hard-fought for media liberties, central to freedom of expression.

Paradoxically, the right to criticize and abuse a senior Cabinet Minister such as Kasrils in the columns of the Jewish Report seems perfectly acceptable, while his legitimate right of reply is denied.

Indeed, in an earlier column, [Jewish Report, October 20] Judge Dennis Davis questioned such inconsistencies when he lambasted those who prevented one of the most distinguished Jewish intellectuals in this country, Steven Friedman “from publishing a column in this newspaper….”

“Freedom of speech and adherence to listening to the other side are principles that cut both ways” is the view of Davis who went on to ask whether those who protested against the SABC decision not to use Paula Slier, would also defend Robert Fisk’s right to broadcast if he was similarly excluded?

Well, thus far indications are that Fisk has not been barred by the public broadcaster. But Kasrils’ opinions have been banned in the Jewish Report whose Board of directors includes Issie Kirsh, Stan Kaplan, Bertie Lubner and Marlene Bethlehem.

One wonders how this illustrious group, whose editorial committee is chaired by Judge Meyer Joffe, would respond to the earlier remarks by Davis regarding the SABC: “….to silence a voice is a disgraceful breach of standards of speech…..”

This latest controversy follows an op-ed by Anthony Posner titled “Some pertinent questions to Kasrils”, in which he challenged the Minister of Intelligence to respond to a number of questions.

However, despite an assurance by the editor of Jewish Report that Kasrils will be accorded an opportunity to have his response published in the form of an op-ed, he obviously got cold feet and refused to honour his undertaking.

Instead of allowing Kasrils to explain himself, the paper’s editorial sought to justify its decision to ban the Minister’s response by unfairly distorting it. It appears that silencing Kasrils was not enough. It was necessary to malign him as well. Implying that Kasrils is a “Holocaust denier” and therefore incapable of “rational debate”, is insulting and way off the mark.

The most outrageous charge leveled against Kasrils is that his response to Posner may constitute “hate speech”!

By withholding his text from the pages of the Jewish Report, the editor has unfairly abused his own column to smear Kasrils, thus lending undue credence to the vitriol associated with a flurry of angry anti-Kasrils letter writers.

This strange media practice not only belongs to the era of apartheid censorship; it also entrenches a perception that the Jewish Report’s espousal of press freedom is hollow and inconsistent.

The victimization of Kasrils, first by the Goethe Institute at the behest of the Jewish Board of Deputies and now by the Jewish Report, is a glaring reminder of the urgent need by journalists and media practitioners to assess their commitment to press freedom especially if the subject is Israel.