Â B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission presidentÂ John Searle … criticised remarks by theÂ chairman of the Australian Arabic Council.
Photo: AJN file
THE chairman of the Australian Arabic Council (AAC) has been accused of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act with comments he made about the Hezbollah-run television station al-Manar, which continues to be broadcast in Australia.
Roland Jabbour told The AJN last week that he stands by the comments he made to The Age (21/08), that in the context of Israel’s “crimes”, it was acceptable for al-Manar to call Jewish people “the offspring of apes and pigs” and to resurrect the ancient myth of blood libel.
“I said you need to see those comments in the context of the State of Israel and the ongoing conflict in the region. I thought it was reasonable,” Jabbour told The AJN.
He said that while he would never speak about Jewish people like that, “we need to see [the comments] as directed to the State of Israel, not directed to Jews”.
He said that in broadcasting anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views into Australia, the network was exercising its right to free speech.
“By supporting a station to be aired in Australia, we are not supporting the things that it says, we are simply saying that if somebody says something that we are not happy with, then that is the whole issue with freedom of expression,” Jabbour argued.
The broadcaster, he said, was not supporting terrorism, but he concurred that Hezbollah, a proscribed terrorist group in Australia, operated the station.
Peta Jones Pellach, an expert in interfaith relations, said that Judaism does not believe free speech is an “overriding right”.
“Speech is described as a powerful force that must be exercised with restraint and sensitivity,” she said.
Pellach said that if Jabbour believed in free speech, he should use it for good, rather than evil.
“The freedom of speech he enjoys here could much better be used to inform citizens of the Arab world, who do not have access to such information, that this is a scandalous libel and spreading it does not further the cause of the Arab people or Islam.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) acted in the strongest possible way last week, calling for an urgent meeting with Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy to discuss al-Manar’s broadcast in Australia.
The letter said that Jabbour’s statements indicated “the insidious influence of al-Manar’s programs and their ability to foment hatred of Jews in Australia”.
The ECAJ also joined with the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) to urge Jabbour to retract his remarks, which they said contravened Part IIa of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“We invite and urge you to dissociate yourself and your council from the remarks and … to publicly withdraw them and to apologise to the Jewish community for the deep offence and hurt that you have caused,” the letter reads.
Last week other Jewish groups echoed the ECAJ and ZFA in condemning Jabbour’s comments and calling for a ban of al-Manar.
John Searle, president of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission called Jabbour’s comments “dishonest”, “un-Australian” and said they “undermine our multicultural society”.Â
He said Jabbour should apologise or resign from the AAC to “pave the way for the appointment of a chairperson who is capable of working towards a harmonious, multicultural society”.
Dr Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said Jabbour’s comments “reek of fringe extremism”. Dr Danny Lamm, president of the State Zionist Council of Victoria, also condemned Jabbour’s comments and called on the Federal Government to do whatever it could to prevent al-Manar broadcasting into Australia.
Victoria’s Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu even weighed into the debate, and called on Kevin Rudd to convince the Indonesian government to stop using its satellite to beam al-Manar to Australia.
“I would encourage the Prime Minister to use his special relationship with the Indonesian government to highlight the dangers of broadcasting networks that incite violence, vilification and terrorist activities,” Baillieu said.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority is currently investigating al-Manar.