Censorship row highlights media challenge in reporting on anti-semitism
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A documentary on anti-Semitism among European muslims has become the subject of a heated debate after French-German broadcaster Arte decided against broadcasting it, despite having it commissioned- then later changed its mind.
The documentary, which was directed and producted by Joachim Schroeder and Sophie Hafner, was to be about discrimination against Jews in Europe and commissioned by Arte.
However, after seeing the final prodct, Arte refused to screen it. At the time, Arte said the reason for its refusal to broadcast the film was that the subject had focused too much on the conflict between Pälestine and Israel and not on the commisioned subject, which was anti-Semitism in Europe.
An Arte review panel also claimed that the film contained factual inaccuracies and that there were allegations made about individuals who were not given the right to reply, or comment.
On June 14 Arte wrote to the president of The National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, Sammy Ghozlan, explaining that the documentary "Chosen and Excluded - the Hate for Jews in Europe," was not what it had commissioned and that it would not be broadcast.
Journalist and historian Dominique Duval said Arte had done the right thing in deciding not to show it.
"It is not possible in the 21st century to produce such distortion and manipulation of the history,” Duval told RFI.
“This is contrary to the spirit of Arte, a highly reputable broadcaster.”
Not everyone agrees. German author Sergey Lagodinsky said there are problems of objectivity.
“Is it pro-Jewish to identify anti-Semitism?” German author Sergey Lagodinsky told RFI.
“Are we applying a different standard of objectivity that we didn’t apply to documentary makers who make movies about the plight of Palestinians?” he asks.
Supporters of the film say it was canned because it shows a reality Europe refuses to admit exists.
“I think Arte was embarrassed to tell European citizens that they are indirectly funding anti-Semitism and supporting racism and murders committed against Jews by blindly funding the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza,” Ghozlan told RFI.
The film claims that European NGOs working in Palestine may be financing hatred of Israel, and the growth of the BDS movement to boycott products from the country.
For Vidal however, the issue is not about anti-Semitism.
"There is no difficulty in France to work as a journalist and cover anti-Semitism. It’s absolutely common. Why? Because we had a past. 75,000 Jews were transferred to the death camps, and not transferred by the Germans but by the French police.”
Vidal may not see a problem but the film still sparked controversy.
“In Germany yes,” he says, “but not here”.
"It strikes the nerve of Germany as a country in transition,” explains Lagodinsky.
“Germany is transforming into a multicultural country, with a large population from the Middle East on the one hand. And on the other, to a country which is still struggling with its past and renegotiating its post-Holocaust identity."
It is still not clear why, but Arte changed its mind in mid-June and the documentary was finally aired on Wednesday June 21 in both Germany and France to enable the public draw its own conclusions, the station said.
In France, it was broadcast at 11pm.
"Every single judgment and opinion voiced in this movie has been brutally scrutinized, very negatively characterized,” Lagodinsky said.
“I don't think we will have many journalists willing to take on such a commission, because this will become a reputational risk for journalists to make a movie like this."
Vidal argues, however, that the risk of sabotaging one's reputation is only true if a journalist gets the facts wrong.
“If you look at the story they tell about the great Mufti of Jerusalem it’s absolutely false. If you look at what this general Raphaël Eytan is telling about the war of 1948 it’s totally false. There is a generation of Israeli historians which show that all these old explanations how there was no Arab killed, no one expelled, all these clichés are totally false,” he says.
So, what made Arte change its mind?
That's the question Duval and other critics are asking.
"The only point which I can see because I am not blind is that between the letter of refusal and the approval, there was a meeting between the president of the Jewish community, the official community, the CRIF ([umbrella organization of French Jewish organizations] and Arte," he said.
"I see in the social networks, a lot of people very active in the rightist-oriented Jewish groups showing a sense of victory," Duval says.
Ghozlan though rejects claims Jewish institutions forced Arte to cave in.
“I know the directors of the CRIF and I can guarantee you that if they invited the producers of Arte it was perhaps to get their explanation, but not to coerce them.
"Perhaps the CRIF gave very convincing arguments, which is why Arte changed its mind. Anyhow I think Jewish institutions are in their right to defend Jewish citizens, otherwise who else would?”
Whatever, the reaons behind the change of mind are unclear and the decision is still generating considerable debate in Europe.