P for propaganda

Dog the wag: When KVIE president and general manager David Hosley previewed the documentary Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence, he didn’t like what he saw. A Middle Eastern school girl refers to Jews as pigs and dogs. Anonymous Middle Eastern men—read brown-skinned Arabs—offer similar opinions about Jews. Yet the program, which purports to be a fair and balanced look at an alleged worldwide increase in anti-Semitism, offers no context for the incendiary remarks. Hosley, who’s been at the helm of the local Public Broadcasting Service affiliate for the past nine years, considered the documentary “journalistically flawed.”

So, as he does whenever he suspects a program might stir up controversy, Hosley invited KVIE’s board of directors, as well as members of the community, including a minister, a rabbi, an Islamic CSUS professor and an imam, to review the program. Their decision was unanimous.

“Without stating my views about it, I asked what their thoughts were,” Hosley says. “Their feeling was that more harm than good would come from playing that program.”

Hosley chose not to air Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century—apparently the only general manager in the country to do so.

Propaganda Broadcasting Service: Nevertheless, some members of the local Jewish community deemed the program as must-see TV. Hosley received more than 70 phone calls and a flurry of e-mails requesting that the program be aired. According to a report in the March 7 edition of the Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento Jewish Federation, which belongs to the larger statewide Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, convinced Hosley to change his mind.

In its headline, the Bee called the decision to air a program the station’s general manager considers journalistically flawed, and members of the local religious community as well as KVIE’s board of directors agree would cause more harm than good, a “blow to bigotry.”

This, as they say in Yiddish, is what’s known as chutzpah.

Forgive Bites for thinking that the timing of the broadcast, coming as it does on the fourth anniversary of the widely unpopular war in Iraq and what appears to be the cusp of an impending invasion of Iran, is more than a little suspect. Now more than ever, Americans are questioning the relationship between Israel, the United States and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. As author Norman Finkelstein and other critics have noted, whenever such questions are raised, the alarm of recurring anti-Semitism is sounded.

In the eyes of organizations such as JPAC and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the latter of which heartily promotes aggressive policies toward its Middle Eastern neighbors, any criticism of Israel is de facto anti-Semitism. Thus, when, say, this newspaper published an editorial cartoon critical of Israel’s effect on U.S. foreign policy, it was deluged with e-mail complaints claiming that the cartoon fomented hatred toward Jews. While some of the protests were spontaneous expressions of opinion, others were funneled toward the paper via JPAC in what appeared to be an organized attempt to silence any criticism of Israel.

P for Palestine: Having witnessed such campaigns firsthand, Bites can attest to their chilling effect. No doubt this column will receive similar complaints. Fortunately for readers, while honest debate, love letters and even hate mail are always encouraged, Bites will not be deterred by ad hominem attacks.

How much influence do AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations have on U.S. politics? There’s no telling for sure, but Bites does know this: Despite the widespread public displeasure with the country’s current course in the Middle East, every current candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination tows the Israel über alles hard-line espoused by AIPAC. At stake are millions of dollars in political donations from the Jewish-American community.

Does all of this have anything to do with the probability that you won’t be seeing Australian journalist John Pilger’s award-winning-but-virtually-banned-in-America documentary Palestine is Still the Issue on KVIE any time soon? Probably not, but Bites has no way of knowing for sure.