Times’ handling of Hamas ad under fire

The attached piece ran in the printed edition of SA Jewish Report as a sidebar to GRUZD's main article: "ANC still supports two states… for now"
by STEVEN GRUZD | Nov 11, 2015


The manner in which the Sunday Times has handled an anti-Hamas advert has raised eyebrows and temperatures.

The Hamas trip to South Africa -  at the invitation of the ANC - alarmed and enraged many people. Money was raised from private donors in the Jewish community to place a hard-hitting full-page advert exposing Hamas in the Sunday Times.

Despite being booked and paid for, the paper did not run the advert. An e-mail saying “this is the advert that the Sunday Times refused to publish” was circulated widely in the Jewish community and gained traction on social media. It was the lead story in last week’s SA Jewish Report. Then the Sunday Times decided to run the advert last week after all.

But there were a few key modifications. The Sunday Times elected to put a note under the advert stating -incorrectly - that it had been paid for by the South African Zionist Federation. It removed the graphic of a masked Hamas fighter. It also solicited opinion pieces from the ANC and the SAZF on the implications of the Hamas visit, giving prominence to the ANC article and placing its own photo of a young boy among Hamas soldiers next to the SAZF story.

SAZF Chairman Ben Swartz said that there was wide consultation before placing the advert, and that the Jewish community has every right to air its views and opinions. He said, “Hamas poses a massive danger to the community and that’s all we are trying to say. These are Islamic jihadists that the ANC has brought in as their official guests.”

He added: “This is not an attack on the ANC. It’s about a radical organisation setting up an office in South Africa.”

Howard Sackstein, chairman of the board of Jewish Report, says this is a freedom of expression issue and he felt that the Sunday Times responded very poorly to questions about why it had pulled the ad originally, and then why it backtracked.

He questioned what right the paper had to censor adverts, given that it published one placed by Jews opposing the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. “What was offensive about the photo? Why was it necessary to say the SAZF funded the advert?” he asked. “Their failure to respond in any meaningful way is effectively a gag on the Jewish community.”

Perhaps the Sunday Times was worried that the advert would upset the government, one of its biggest advertisers, which may explain its strategy to request the two opinion pieces. This will remain speculation in the absence of an honest and satisfactory response from the Sunday Times.


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