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Cliff under fire for hosting Icke-y antisemite



Controversial broadcaster Gareth Cliff has come under fire for hosting a notorious antisemite and conspiracy theorist on his current-affairs television show, resulting in a heated online debate about freedom of speech.

Cliff faced a barrage of criticism last week, when he announced that David Icke would appear on his primetime television show titled So What Now? on eNCA.

Icke is an alleged Holocaust denier and a conspiracy theorist who claims that coronavirus doesn’t exist. The former TV presenter and professional footballer has allegedly suggested that a Jewish group was behind the virus. He has been banned from YouTube and Facebook for repeatedly posting misleading information about coronavirus suggesting that 5G mobile phone networks are linked to its spread.

Icke has been called all sorts of derisive names for his oft repeated claims that an inter-dimensional race of lizards called the Archons have hijacked the earth to manipulate global events and keep humans in constant fear.

Shock-jock Cliff, no stranger to controversy, told the SA Jewish Report, “I’m a proponent of freedom of expression, even if I don’t buy it. I’m fully aware he’s a crackpot, and felt it necessary to interrogate him. If you ban these people, you push them underground, which is far more dangerous.”

A promotion for the show on Twitter resulted in an ugly argument about freedom of expression.

Shevek tweeted, “Of all the experts this show could be promoting, you’ve instead chosen to platform conspiracy theorists and antisemite @davidicke to spew dangerous disinformation to the public during a pandemic. Completely on-brand for @GarethCliff, but repugnant coming from your network, @eNCA”.

Vanessa Fisher said, “When so many South Africans are already misinformed about the pandemic, you throw reptilian shape shifters into the mix. When clickbait content is more important than actual information.”

Guests appearing on the show before Icke included Financial Mail Money Editor Giulietta Talevi, commentator Phumlani Majozi, and comedian John Vlismas, all of whom faced criticism for appearing on the same night as Icke, albeit in a different segment.

Responding to the criticism, Talevi said,“Though I don’t agree with the man at all, I totally agree with a platform that airs all voices, however abhorrent. And @GarethCliff is doing his job by interrogating them/us.”

To which veteran journalist Max du Preez responded, “All voices, however abhorrent? No exceptions? We actually know for certain there are no lizard people, as Icke says. We know COVID-19 isn’t a Jewish conspiracy. There’s no ‘other side of the story’. Why amplify these views and give a dangerous, raving lunatic respectability?”

Talevi argued further by saying, “Guys, just for the record, David Icke is clearly as mad as a balloon. And repugnant to boot. But you know what, it’s @GarethCliff’s show, and he can have who the fuck he pleases on it.”

Journalist, author, and academic, Nechama Brodie, was appalled. “As a Jewish mom of two Jewish children, I just want you to know @GTalevi that when you decide being Icke-adjacent is a-ok, and that Gareth can ‘have who the fuck he pleases’ on his show, this increases the threat to me, my family & my community thanks (not).”

Earlier Brodie wrote, “Guys, it’s not bold or brave or ‘yay free speech’ to platform David Icky in 2020. I interviewed him 25 years ago on 702 (ironically around the time Gareth was my producer) and challenged him as a Jewish journalist. Gareth et al are literally just doing this for trolling now.

“And while I still find the lizard people jokes quite funny in one way, I think it’s obscene people use a free-speech argument to justify why they platform Holocaust deniers and racists. Just go ahead and say you hate blacks and Jews don’t fucking abuse free speech for your cause.

“Almost every Jewish house of worship and school in the world has to have security because of real & continued threats to our communities. You think it’s trite to broadcast views of antisemites on your show? You think there are no real consequences?” she asked.

Cliff told the SA Jewish Report that the show had received attention before it went on air by those who were worried Icke was “going to say something revolting”.

“I didn’t get him on for the ratings. I believe we need to hear what people are thinking and saying so we can make up our own minds,” he said.

Milton Shain, emeritus professor of historical studies at the University of Cape Town, said it was a fundamental issue of freedom of speech. “If Icke has not advocated or incited violence towards anyone, it would be difficult to stop his ruminations, which are bizarre and of consequence in the murky world of conspiracy theorists.

“Ideas such as he expounds can be dangerous, but that concern has to be weighed against the concern of closing down speech. However, it does seem to me that South Africans are inclined to oppose infringing on the dignity of individuals or communities. Icke certainly does this, hence his notoriety over decades. I’m sorry Gareth Cliff has given time to a such a dangerous individual.”

Johannesburg advocate Mark Oppenheimer said the nature of Cliff’s show was that he featured a variety of different views, “and part of it is the weird and wonderful”.

“There is some value in having someone like Icke express his views so that you can interrogate them,” said Oppenheimer. “To have someone on a platform isn’t to endorse them, it’s not to say you share their views. Often you have someone precisely because you disagree with them, and because you want to show they are mistaken.

“Cliff’s claims about free speech are important. I think there’s a lot to be said for having a variety of views publicly available so that people can interrogate them. You have to have some level of trust that bad views will be shown for what they are in the public discourse.”

David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies said the fact that people had expressed offensive views on certain subjects didn’t necessarily mean that they should be denied a platform when commenting on others.

“In this case, COVID-19 was the topic under discussion. That being said, one should be circumspect about giving platforms to people who peddle ludicrous conspiracy theories. In hosting Icke, Cliff at least arguably gave him a degree of credibility, which is a pity.”

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