The BSA said Bryn Hall's comments were 'an example of casual anti-Semitism and such comments can contribute to the normalisation of racism' but 'the comment did not contain the level of nastiness or malice to find a breach of the standard'. Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

The BSA ruling on a ‘Jew’ slur loaded with centuries of persecution is utterly feeble

The ruling from the broadcasting regulator on a plainly anti-Semitic comment is unacceptable and suggests we have failed to learn the lessons of March 15, writes Juliet Moses of the NZ Jewish Council.

Yesterday a ruling came out from the Broadcasting Standards Authority, otherwise known as the BSA, that was, frankly, BS.

It considered whether the “red card segment” in the programme Kick Off, broadcast on Sky Sport back in June, fell foul of its “denigration and discrimination” standard. The statement in question was something to do with All Black Jack Goodhue’s mullet and went like this: “I’m red-carding … Jack Goodhue for his mullet … he’s actually looking for Women’s Day or Women’s Weekly to try and get behind and pay for his wedding, so red card for being a Jew, Jack”.

Somehow, Goodhue’s red card started out being for his mullet (and, honestly, I do think it’s worthwhile exploring whether red cards should be handed out for some hairstyles) and ended up for being a Jew.

Now, I’ve never watched Kick Off in my life and, as might be obvious, I’m not much of a rugby fan, but I do know something about being a Jew.

I’m pretty sure Goodhue isn’t a Jew, or at least that he doesn’t identify as one. So the guest who uttered this wasn’t saying that Goodhue should be excluded from the game because he’s Jewish. That would be anti-Semitic. What he was doing, though, was invoking a stereotype about Jews, as stingy and greedy. And that is also anti-Semitic.

The BSA noted the use of “Jew” as a slur, saying: “It is an example of casual anti-Semitism and such comments can contribute to the normalisation of racism. We understand that comments like this may be part of people’s ordinary vernacular but that is unacceptable … There is no room in New Zealand for casual racism and it is important that we all work hard to move away from this type of language.”

Then the BSA decided not to lead by example in working hard to move away from this type of language, finding that the standard had not been breached, because it didn’t contain the “level of malice or nastiness required, nor did it amount to a sustained attack”.

It may well be true that the guest, Bryn Hall (who has just been re-signed by the Crusaders – and perhaps could be included in their rebranding efforts?), was not driven by nastiness or malice. But should lack of nastiness or malice even matter? This isn’t a criminal case, and nor should it be. The standards are about accountability for words. Surely, broadcasters should avoid language that reinforces a negative image of a group of people, based on their race, religion, sexuality, or whatever, and if that is so, why does the state of mind of the speaker matter? Is the stereotype less effective, less damaging, because it was just a bit of light-hearted banter?

I love a joke as much as the next person, and I believe that context can matter. If, for example, I was to say, “I would bet money on the fact that Hall has never knowingly met a Jew, but I would never bet money because I’m a Jew,” that would be a way to mock a stereotype. But here, it was simply a gratuitous smear, using “Jew” as a synonym for a cunning, miserly person. There’s no other way to interpret it, no other message or extra layer of meaning. It’s not cute or clever. It’s flat-out racism, through the use of a negative stereotype.

Stereotypes are about prejudging a person, and guess what comes, both etymologically and behaviourally, from prejudging? Prejudice!

I can’t think of a more pervasive, prejudicial stereotype about Jews than that we are a conniving, parasitical and money-hungry people. It’s a stereotype with a painful past, reinforced by famous literature like Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Dickens’ Oliver Twist. It goes right back to the Middle Ages. Christians were forbidden from usury, and Jews were prohibited from most occupations, and only permitted to do those Christians were barred from, so often ended up in money-lending.

During the enlightenment and the industrial revolution, as society became more secularised and commercialised and Jews emerged from the ghettos, Jews were perceived as a rootless people worming their way into power, manipulating economies. Voltaire said: “The Jew does not belong to any place except that place in which he makes money.” The foremost image was of the Jewish banker, personified by the Rothschild family. In the early 1900s, the Russian forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, arguably the most damaging antisemitic document of the modern era, widely propagated the calumny that a shadowy, malevolent cabal of Jews was conspiring to overthrow the world order and control global economies and governments. Hitler was heavily influenced by the Protocols.

These anti-Semitic tropes persist to this day, and appear to be on the rise, uniting anti-Semites on the far left and far right. Have a look at social media, or google “Rothschild” some time, and you will see what I mean.

So while “Jew” may for some simply be a noun for a cunning, money-hungry person, it’s a slur that is loaded with centuries of persecution. And while Mr Hall may not know this, the BSA certainly should.

To be fair, the BSA’s decision is consistent with a previous BSA ruling on the use of “Jew” as a slur, back in 2012, and with some other decisions about the use of racial stereotypes that were found to lack malice. But times change. Those decisions were before 15 March 2019. And surely, if we have learned anything from that horrific day, it is of the dangers of stereotyping.

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