What do controversial stories say about us?
Another is the case of lawyer Ronald Bobroff and his son Darren who fled to Australia a day before they were scheduled to appear before the High Court on fraud and money laundering charges, relating to suspected infringements in their handling of Road Accident Fund (RAF) claims. They are alleged to have defrauded RAF claimants by overcharging for their services.
Some of our readers commented, however, that we should not be exposing the difficulties of our fellow Jews in this way as it is “lashon hara”. Others said that by focusing on a few “bad eggs”, it made our whole community look bad. And one writer brought up our earlier coverage of the Sydney Frankel paedophile charges as an example of scandal that we should not have covered.
These are interesting questions for us as a community newspaper to consider. Is our role to just write about the splendid deeds of SA Jewry and pleasant community gatherings while other newspapers expose Jewish wrongdoers? Is it not an ethical imperative for a community newspaper to expose corruption and abuse from within? By not covering them, are we not then colluding with the abuse or misdeeds?
Our rabbis have generally given the message that we should not deal with scandal publicly and would prefer our own Beth Din to adjudicate over cases of abuse, fraud or divorce battles, out of the public eye.
But it is well known that human transgressions thrive in an atmosphere of silence. The Catholic Church is a case in point. It kept quiet about priests’ abuse of youth in their parishes for decades until the press took it on, exposed it and now finally it is being dealt with.
Ironically, the week before last, I could not help but cringe when I picked up The Star’s front page to see a splash about Rabbi Berland’s legal battle to prevent his extradition, accompanied by a large photograph of him bedecked with tallis and tefillin in court.
The very next day’s front page in The Times daily edition was filled with the legal battle between the Cape Council of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and the group suing them for not allowing women to sing at secular communal events (which the Jewish Report has covered in-depth too). In addition, the Bobroff case has also received a lot of media exposure.
Why did it feel alarming? After all our national newspapers have every right to run these stories. Was it the fact that it was showing our own small minority in a negative way? Was I concerned that it would encourage anti-Semitism because Jews were making national headlines for all the wrong reasons: trying to evade the justice system, sexual offences, fraud and infighting?
What would other groups say about us, I worried. Would it have been better if it had only surfaced in our own community paper or if it had been suppressed completely? Do readers really care about the religion of perpetrators? Was I being oversensitive? …I’m still not sure…
One thing I am sure of though is that we, as a community paper, have a duty to be brave and ethical; to confront difficult and embarrassing transgressions when it is in the community’s interest to do so. Sure, juicy stories and headlines encourage people to pick up the paper or click on our news site but that is not our primary reason for this focus. In fact, when news is unfounded or considered gratuitous gossip, we don’t touch it.
It is much more about keeping the bar for our behaviour as high as possible. We owe it to our community to help hold itself to the highest moral standards and not let individuals in powerful positions hide their misdeeds.
There is no room for silence. Perhaps the Latin proverb “Qui tacet consentire videtur” is applicable: “Silence gives consent”. Yes, we have to speak up.