The apology we could never make
The SA Jewish Report is in the news this week for supposedly having been “expelled” from the Press Council for not obeying an order it gave us to apologise to the SA BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) Coalition for calling it antisemitic.
This is something we could never do.
Though it may be difficult for those outside the community to understand, there’s no way we can in good faith apologise to this organisation, known throughout the Jewish world for being antisemitic.
Almost every week, we publish stories in this newspaper that give evidence of just how far the Israel haters (either as the SA BDS Coalition, Africa4Palestine, or other iterations of the anti-Israel lobby), will push the bounds of antisemitism.
There are often clear jibes at Jews, but more often than not, it’s blatant hatred for the Jewish State, which can do no right and only evil in their eyes. Now, Israel may not be an angelic country, but no country is. Nor is it all bad, but according to these folk, it is.
So, this week, all those who hate us and the Jewish State are celebrating a so-called victory over us for getting our come-uppance.
But this isn’t a victory for anyone. It’s a sad day when what I always believed was an unbiased organisation couldn’t see that it was being used by the Israel-hating lobby in a political battle against us.
When I first started as editor of this newspaper, I requested that we become members of the Press Council because I believed – and still do – that it’s important to have a body to ensure that we’re 100% journalistically sound.
And had the Press Council ever come to us with a complaint about defamation or not getting two sides to a story, or other issues pertaining to our professionalism, we would have apologised on the front page without a problem. We believe people make mistakes, and we own up to ours. More than that, I believe we don’t make mistakes, they make us, because we learn and grow from them.
However, in this case, we weren’t being asked to own up to journalistic errors that the Press Council found us guilty of. No, we were effectively ordered to make a political statement that goes against everything we stand for.
We tried our best to explain this, and asked for a hearing so we could bring in experts. We asked to meet with the council’s chairperson. Unfortunately, we were never given the opportunity.
So, after much consultation and discussion on the part of the SA Jewish Report board, lawyers, and our team, we did the only thing we believed we could do, and that was to resign. This was done at least six months ago.
However, apparently, there’s a clause in the Constitution of the Press Council that I hadn’t read when we signed up that said we had to give at least three year’s notice of our intention to resign from this voluntary organisation. How voluntary is it if you’re locked in for at least three years when you don’t feel you can trust its judgement?
If you read just a few of our haters’ comments and their gloating over their “win” this week, it doesn’t take much to recognise that this is all about politics, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the nitty gritty of journalism.
But somehow, this seems to have passed the Press Council by, and that makes me very sad. Deciding to leave wasn’t an easy decision to make. It wasn’t something we did lightly or took pride in, but we had no choice.
Let me take you through how we got to this point.
In October 2020, the SA Jewish Report ran a story inside the newspaper (as opposed to on the front page as the Press Council and the complainant insisted) about a cartoon that for us and at least one world expert was clearly antisemitic. It depicted a fat, greedy man shovelling money into his month. It was much like so many other traditional antisemitic tropes used by the Nazis.
The caption that went with it was, “Greedy bosses connected to apartheid Israel. Blood curdling milk (and cheese, yoghurt, etc.) Every reason to boycott Clover! Change your brand.”
The cartoon was used to turn people against Clover, which had been bought out by a predominantly Israeli-owned consortium.
The Press Council complaint was brought by Hassan Lorgat, a unionist who was a member of BDS South Africa, not an office bearer.
His complaint was voluminous, trying every trick he could to try and get us to apologise for calling BDS antisemitic.
The next complaint was much the same, from the same man and the same organisation that gave its stamp of approval for him to fight their fight.
I’m summarising this a great deal because our interactions over these two issues went on for a year and a half.
In the end, we would gladly have apologised for not putting inverted commas in a quote in the head or addressing something incorrectly, but we wouldn’t be forced to apologise to the SA BDS Coalition for calling it antisemitic. Not now, not ever.
Unfortunately what fell into the Press Council’s lap was a political fight and had nothing to do with journalism as such. Had we had the opportunity to stand before it and bring our own experts, we would at least have had a chance of explaining our perspective. But we weren’t given this courtesy, in spite of requesting it.
Many people out there may see BDS as an organisation that defends the rights of the Palestinians. If that were the case, I would have more sympathy, but as I see it, its main goal is to make sure that anything Israel does is demonised. That’s not human rights activism, that’s hatred for the Jewish State.
You just have to listen to some of utterances that come out of the mouth of Mandla Mandela, who speaks on its behalf, to know how it feels about us and the Jewish State.
We despise all forms or racism, and antisemitism is just that. Anti-Israel hatred is just a form of antisemitism and racism. Instead of openly hating Jews, these organisations hate the Jewish State and anyone who supports it.
Do I think the Press Council is biased? I cannot unequivocally say I do, but I do believe it was used by Lorgat and the BDS Coalition to fight their fight against us. This is extraordinarily disappointing as I believe in the need for an independent ombud who wouldn’t be swayed by politics and racial hatred. Unfortunately, we realised six months ago that this wasn’t to be for us.
However, as a newspaper for this community, we will continue to bring you the best possible news that’s relevant to our community … no matter what!