I had hoped that the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) had moved on from Jew bashing to actually defending freedom of speech in South Africa. But old habits die hard.
Over the last few days the FXI has launched a propaganda blitz against the South African Jewish Board of Deputies' (SAJBD's) agreement with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) for more balanced coverage of Israel. Although I have also been critical of the SAJBD-SABC agreement, the FXI's response has been so dramatic and disproportionate that it once again calls into question their objectivity when it comes to the South African Jewish community.
- FXI's dramatic fear mongering criticism of SAJBD-SABC meeting
- SABC response (use this link if SABC link is broken)
- FXI responds to SABC's clarification of the SAJBD deal
As part of the SAJBD-SABC deal, the two parties agreed to meet on a quarterly basis to discuss the national broadcaster's coverage of the Middle East. The FXI has charged that this could result in 'a pernicious form of censorship that does violence to the notion of free expression and freedom of the media.' Talk about hyperbole!
I don't know how a regular forum to voice concerns and engage in constructive debate could possibly be 'pernicious' or 'do violence' to free speech in South Africa. If anything it would do the opposite: promote a diversity of views in SABC Middle East coverage (the SABC has admitted to a pro-Palestinian bias). In fact this is something that one would expect a freedom of expression institute to be championing not condemning. Is the FXI trying to deny the Jewish community a chance to discuss their views with the SABC? Just who is guilty of attempting censorship!
So what could possibly account for the FXI's belligerent response? The answer lies in its not-so-covert anti-Zionist agenda. FXI executive director Jane Duncan for example has publicly accused the Jewish state of employing 'policies of forced colonial occupation of Palestinian land' and described the South African Jewish Report as 'a mere extension of Zionism's repressive project.'
But Ms Duncan is not the only member of the FXI with an anti-Israel agenda. Na'eem Jeenah is the head of the FXI's access to information programme but also plays a major role in the pro-Palestinian lobby in South Africa as spokesperson for the Palestine Solidarity Committee. His radical views on the conflict are well known. Some examples…
- In an article on Zionism, for example, Jeenah likens Israel's behaviour to that of the Nazis.
- He has called on the South African government to (1) end diplomatic ties with Israel and (2) to boycott "apartheid" Israel and impose sanctions.
- In an article on his blog entitled "Viva Wits-PSC Viva" he ridiculed Jewish students as well as the Jewish Board of Deputies for performing poorly in a debate with the PSC. Is this the sort of childishly partisan attitude we expect from a director of South Africa's prime freedom of expression watchdog?
So it's not surprising that the FXI has made such a fuss about the possibility of more balanced coverage of Israel at the SABC. Even in its statement condemning the SABC-SAJBD agreement, the FXI overtly reveals it real agenda. It denounces the SABC for considering giving coverage to the South African co-existence tour of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists Benjamin Pogrund and Bassem Eid. Both are referred to as 'pro-Israeli propagandists'. Thus the FXI defends the right of extremists to be heard in the South African media, but seeks to censor moderates.
This hypocrisy must be exposed at every opportunity. So committed is the FXI to furthering its radical Palestinian agenda that it is willing to betray its own mandate. The FXI do some valuable work for the freedom of expression in South Africa but until they correct their partisan biases on important political issues they should no longer be allowed to continue masquerading as a free speech watchdog.
Previously at IAS
IAS Search: FXI