What’s okay to speak about?

  • Howard Feldman 2018
As Jews, we are governed by the strict laws of lashon hara (evil tongue), but are also given clear instructions about when we are not only authorised to – but are in fact obligated to – speak out.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | May 30, 2019

Examples include warning someone against doing business with a dishonest person, and/or marrying someone who is problematic.

We also love to gossip.

Add to this the complexities of anti-Semitism, and the potential damage that speaking out might cause. Further still, add the discomfort of the fact that Jewish media personalities live in the very communities that they are sometimes obligated to write or speak about, and who understandably have strong reactions to what they publish. It is understandable that it is very difficult – if not impossible – to plot the way forward.

It also explains why we are rarely invited out for Shabbat lunch.

I debated this issue with Jewish author and journalist, Mandy Wiener. She has engaged closely on the Martin Levick, Genesis Capital situation that has been thrust into the public arena over the past few weeks. A number of publications have dealt with the case, one of which is News24, for which she writes.

She asked me why I had not spoken about this story on my morning show on ChaiFM. I had reasons of course, but as I verbalised them, I realised that they didn’t sound nearly as good as they had sounded in my head. They included the questions of whether it was in the public interest, rather than just interesting to the public; whether the matter was sub-judice (under judicial consideration and therefore prohibited from public discussion); and what had happened to “innocent until proven guilty?”

Although they might have sounded solid, my excuses fell short. Levick is well known to the community, many members of the same community work for various Genesis Capital companies, and an alarming number of litigants and lawyers are Jewish. This is a big story, and the potential fall-out will have a significant impact on the community – be it individuals, charities, schools, etc. To suggest that it is not in the interest of the community is not to understand the story.

The “innocent until proven guilty” argument is also precarious. First, the matter has been heard by a court, and a provisional sequestration has been granted. Papers have been filed, and are available for all to see. To suggest that no one should engage on this matter would mean that we could hardly speak of any matter including state corruption, Jacob Zuma, and alleged offences. We all know where South Africa would be if that were the case.

It became clear to me that I was making excuses because I simply didn’t want to speak about it. The thought made me uncomfortable, so it was easier to avoid it.

Which is why I invited Mandy on to my show, and had a robust, fair, and balanced discussion. I gave the parties a heads up that I would be doing so, and invited them on to the show at a later stage to clarify anything that they thought was not accurately portrayed. It turned out that they were comfortable with the discussion, and that no clarification was needed.

There is an assumption that “the media” cares only about the story and not about the people involved. Whereas I am certain that there are those cases, my experience over the past week has shown me how far from reality this is – certainly in the case of the Jewish media.

And that makes me proud.

I don’t represent the SA Jewish Report, and I don’t represent ChaiFM even though I contribute to them both. But there are two things that I can say with certainty. First, when events like this take place, it is enormously painful to those who are responsible for reporting on it, and second, no article is written or discussed on radio without agonising over it.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Lesley Flavell 20 Jul
    I believe you made the right call. Definitely a matter pertinent to the interest of the community. Thank you for keeping us informed .


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