Sunday, 28 December 2008

Can anyone explain why this is not offensive?

The Toronto Globe and Mail recently had an article regarding a public television broadcaster in Belgium, VRT, that has been accused of gross insensitivity towards Jews. You are invited to read the story at

Whenever I read a story of this nature, I always try to find some argument as to why the person being accused of this insensitivity thought it was not so. This is not an argument that there is no real anti-Semitism anymore. I am clearly aware of the reality of anti-Semitic bias in the media. Yet, I also believe that there is also an attempt by the media to try and hide the existence of this bias and thus I believe that when a biased story does emerge -- and they clearly do emerge -- there must have been some argument made by someone in the media world that tried to maintain that the report or story was not biased, not anti-Semitic. I think it is important to identify this perception as it makes us better prepared to argue our point.

I am thus most perturbed by the story presented in this article. I just can't see how anyone could perceive that words of the comedian mentioned in this article not to be insensitive. They are just simply remarkably crude.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Anonymous said...

If you read more detailed accounts of the story, you'll see:
a) the comedian was making fun of Jewish groups' overreaction to every faux pas, which I think is legitimate ground for satirizing(... remember the ADL's warning of nationwide pogroms at the release of Mel Gibson's Jesus film?), and
b) the network also made fun of Hitler and Germany, drawing protest from the German embassy.

People need to remember that while sensitivity is a value, it must be weighed against other values, rather then trumping everything. Criticism through satire and humour can often be legitimate, even when the price is insensitivity.

Anonymous said...

Just because something is offensive does not mean it is deserving of being gagged.
If we lived by that standard, there would be no free speech, and something even more precious would be lost.
Have a look at the BCCLA newsletter, page 11, which summarizes its defense of satirist Mark Steyn's Macleans article which the Canadian Islamic Congress has called "Flagrantly Islamophobic":
Elmasry and Habib v.Rogers Publishing and MacQueen

Here's the text of the BCCLA article:

The Canadian Islamic Congress filed a human rights complaint against Maclean’s magazine for publishing an article by Mark Steyn entitled, The Future Belongs to Islam.
The article is an excerpt from Steyn’s book, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It.
The complaint was filed with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and alleged discrimination in the area of a publication, on the grounds of religion.
The Tribunal dismissed the complaint, finding that publishing the article did not breach the BC Human Rights Code.
BCCLA intervened at the hearing and argued that the hate speech provisions of the BC Human Rights Code infringe the right to free expression and this infringement cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.

The BCCLA argued that a proper interpretation of the Code must view hate speech, not as a free standing right to be free from deeply offensive material, but rather as a reinforcement of the other rights protected by the Code and the Charter. Consequently, a violation of the hate speech provisions of the Code should only be found where there is proof that the hateful or contemptuous statement caused or is likely to cause individual recipients of the communication to change their behaviour so as to preclude the exercise of rights of third parties that are recognized in the Code or Charter.

BCCLA argues essentially that offenseivness alone must not merit a gag order by the state. Only when the level of incitement is met, may the state gag someone.

The right to say things that will offend some (whether an ethnic group, a professional group, a corporation, or a government office) is why we have freedom of speech, because you simply cannot tell uncomfortable or unpopular truths about urgent or challenging situations without offending someone !

For an example of what to look forward to if criticism could be gagged, see the prior article on p.11 of the BCCLA newsletter:
"BCCLA Challenges City for Threatening to Sue its Citizens for
Criticizing the Government

The Steyn legal case can be found here:

The Mark Steyn article in question can be found here: