Cape Town -

The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) hate-speech complaint regarding a broadcast on Radio 786 was an attempt to gag the station, the Islamic Unity Convention (IUC) said on Wednesday.

“Their aim is to try and make certain that they can dictate to us what we should do and what we cannot say. That is the real crux of the issue here,” IUC secretary Ali Chicktay told Sapa.

“This is ultimately about freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of the media and we will, at all times, vehemently defend that.”

Chicktay was speaking on the sideline of a Broadcasting Complaints Commission of SA hearing in Cape Town, to determine whether statements made during an interview on the station on May 8, 1998, amounted to hate speech.

The Muslim community radio station broadcast a programme entitled “Zionism and the state of Israel Ä an in-depth analysis”, featuring an interview with United Kingdom academic Yakub Zaki.

The station, whose licence is held by the IUC, broadcast the show to Cape Town.

According to the SAJBD, Zaki claimed, among other things, that Jews had brought about the Anglo-Boer war, conspired to steal South Africa's natural resources, controlled the banks of the world and invented the Holocaust.

It argued that Radio 786 was guilty of contravening the Broadcasting Code of Conduct, which prohibited the advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constituted incitement to cause harm.

But Chicktay said the broadcast fell clearly within the latest broadcasting code.

“The broadcasting code has changed many times. If you look at 2009's changes, this broadcast would be absolutely protected. Before that, there might have been a slight grey area, but it still fell within freedom of expression.”

He said there was a perception being created that the station had a certain agenda towards Jews.

“In the programme itself, things get said and the question leads from there and so it might be construed like that, but it's almost stated as if we had a agenda. There was no agenda and we are going to show that we have a rational, proper correct approach to our programmes.”

According to the IUC, the SAJBD was invited after the programme to broadcast their views on matters such as Holocaust denial but declined, on the basis that there was only one view of the Holocaust and it could not be debated.

Chicktay said the invite was extended to allow the board to talk about anything, but it was still turned down.

“That invitation is always open because we want to have a responsible media, to represent all views,” he said.

The IUC intended presenting evidence by Neturei Karta rabbi Ahron Cohen, Satmar rabbi Yisroel Weiss, American “terrorist” defence lawyer Stanley Cohen and American political activist Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor.

The complaints and compliance committee, headed by Wandile Tutani, began the hearing on Tuesday and had, so far, heard submissions from two witnesses presented by the SAJBD.

University of London sociology lecturer David Hirsh on Tuesday testified that, in his view, the broadcast was an “irrational, essentialist and absolutist denunciation of Jews, Israel and Zionism.”

He said the broadcast would likely lead to suspicion of all Jews and had the potential to cause great physical, emotional and mental harm.

On Wednesday, SA Rabbinical Association president Joseph “Yosy” Goldman was called to testify about the lack of credibility of Ahron Cohen and Yisroel Weiss, rather than the direct broadcast itself.

He said Cohen and Weiss were “like-minded radicals” who could not be considered to represent even the extreme far-right of Judaism, because even the extreme fringe of Jewish society rejected them.

He said their movements were not at all representative of South African Judaism. The hearing was postponed until Thursday, and would continue until Friday. - Sapa