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Former SBS Executive Denounces The Promise

February 9, 2012 – 7:56 pm48 Comments

Stepan Kerkyasharian

Stepan Kerkyasharian, the Chair of the Community Relations Commission for a multicultural NSW and President of the Anti-Discrimination Board, wrote the letter below to SBS in relation to The Promise. Notably, Kerkyasharian was the Head of SBS Radio in its formative years and member of the Executive team which set up SBS Television. He was also a member of the Independent Complaints Review Panel of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for ten years. This letters follows Jewish community complaints to SBS and this response from the SBS Ombudsman.

I refer to the series, “The Promise”, recently televised by the Special Broadcasting Service.

The Community Relations Commission has the legislated responsibility to promote community harmony in our multicultural and multi-faith society.

I am acutely aware of the distress that the series caused to the Jewish Community, particularly to the survivors of The Holocaust.

At the core is the concern that the series negatively portrays the WHOLE of the Jewish People. Such a portrayal cannot be justified in ANY context. There is a distinct separation between condemning an action by a government on the one hand and condemning the whole of the people of a nation collectively, through stereotyping, on the other hand. In the context of television, I am of the view that the portrayal of an entire nation in a negative light as part of a dramatic work is not acceptable either. This is reinforced by SBS Code 1.3.

Stereotyping, particularly in the context of race or ethnicity not only creates distrust and hatred but condemns the generations yet to be born.

I urge the Board of the Special Broadcasting Service, as the ultimate editorial authority of its programming content, to re-consider the representations from the Jewish Community with due regard to the potential destructive consequences of racial stereotyping and desist from further publication or distribution of the program.

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  • Harry Joachim says:

    Onya Stepan. You’re an immense credit to your dual roles with the CRC and ADB. Congrats for buying in to this important issue and saying what needed to be said. I doubt whether SBS will retract its position, but it’s good to know that the senior official charged with safeguarding multiculturalism in NSW and prevent discrimination supports the ECAJ’s position on the issue.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I think that Stepan who has done great work in promoting multiculturalism has overdone the rhetoric in this letter. “WHOLE of the Jewish people”? I’d actually like to sit down with him and discuss the show, scene by scene.

  • Ian Grinblat says:

    Am I reading your comment correctly?
    Are you trying to exclude yourself?

  • Reality Check says:

    larry, can I come to, just want to hear what you say. On second thought, maybe not. I would hate to see a fellow Jew justify anti-Semitism.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I’m not taking the bait on justifying anti-Semitism.

    There is a profound difference of opinion here on the merits or demerits of a drama. and I have said I think all I have to say in a variety of forums on this topic, otherwise I will be going around in circles for ever.


    I hope Tsiolkas’ Dead Europe will win the support of all when that is made by an award winning author.;)

    who is helen?

  • Sydney Daniel says:

    Just a quick question Larry.
    I tried to google but failed – have you seen the entire series?

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Final comment from me. I have watched it twice and more for some scenes, including the director’s voice over on DVD 1 and the extras.

  • Reality Check says:

    And my last comment Larry is that anti-Semites are not in the least subtle, or profound: they just hate Jews in the most basic form, and any reason given is good enough for them.

  • ROBERT says:

    Thank you very much but commonsense says Stepan Karkysharian does understand the parameters of the job he held for decades at least as well as Mr Larry Stillman who did not.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Sen Doug Cameron in the Senate Estimate hearings which included asking SBS director Michael Ebeid about ‘The Promise’, concluded with these words tonight (14 February) “I hope tonight’s hearings have improved sales of the DVD”. No Senator objected to his remarks.

    There were no particularly chiding words from Senators, though one or two tried to present the series as anti-Semitic or stereotypical, but the matter seemed to lapse into questions about how the series was purchased, reviewed and so on within SBS. There were no condemnations of SBS.

    Perhaps the majority of Senators present realized that the complaint was somewhat out of order and exaggerated, including Kerkyasharian’s letter.

  • Robert says:

    @ Larry Stillman.
    I dare say Stepan Karkysharian understands the bounds,paramaters and subtleties of broadcasting better than the good senators.
    If you do not think Senators calling “The Promise” antisemitic or stereotypicall is chiding,then sir I suggest you have issues.
    Of course the senators want it to have sales,they(read taxpayers) pay for the leftist self indulgence aka ABC/SBS

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Er, the Senators included a number of fearsome members of the Liberal party who love nothing better than getting stuck into leftists. What the ECAJ has been left with is a political dud and a not very good submission.

    What I hope however, is that SBS does run an intelligent Insight or what-have-you about the program, including the producer, a Palestinian film-maker and an Israeli film-maker. Put them up against someone from ECAJ and lets see who can talk most intelligently about drama.

    I think we need to remember that there in fact been a history of attempts to suppress films presenting a different viewpoint about the conflict. These include films by Amos Gitay such as Bayit

    This episode is in the same vein.

  • Robert says:

    @ Larry Stillman
    I won’t hold my breath waiting for the ABC/SBS to self criticise. More likely they would do the BBC manouver,spend a fortune of taxpayers money to cover up an investigation like the Balen report.
    Fact is the “drama” is full of outright lies such as “All was well till the Jews came” In fact the Jews were there and the Arabs were doing their pogroms centuries ago.Except then they used “insult to Islam” as their excuse.
    It is a one sided anti Israel,anti Jewish rant in a 3 sided conflict in 1948,where the Arabs could do no wrong.Not unlike the views of the elites of the ABC/SBS

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I am not sure that Senators take that view any more. I don’t know much about the Balen report. In any case, that is about news, not about a drama series.

    Robert, I always use my name. I prefer that you did.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I have just found out that Hal Wootten has published an opinion on The Promise that you may care to read. He is a past chairman of the Australian Press Council, a retired judge (think of it, used to viewing lots of contesting interpretations), former Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1988-91), and lots of other things.

    Or is he part of a left elitist conspiracy as well, and Jew hating like almost everyone else in Australia? http://inside.org.au/much-too-promised-land/ and links to his long and forensic response to the ECAJ’s complaint.

  • Robert Eichel says:

    Conspiracy ? No but in his article he does not see that there was or is any Arab fault in this conflict,nor does he adress the straight lies,like rolling grenades down the movie aisles with wounded British soldiers.
    His “explanation” for Arabs being soft spoken gentle & graciuos while Jews are loud cold blooded and agressive is just that.No conspiracy just elitist knee jerk support for Arabs.
    Anti semitism ? If you criticise Israel that’s your prerogative.If you criticise only Israel,you are an anti semite.Something for Lowenstein with his one dimension and often simply ignorant views to ponder.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    On that point, don’t associate with me with A. Lowenstein.

    Your depiction of Jewish/Arab split is quite exaggerated, and “rolling grenades down the movie aisles with wounded British soldiers” sorry, but did I miss a scene? I know that during the mandate grenades were thrown at British soldiers by the underground.

  • Sydney Daniel says:

    There i no doubt that this series upset a lot of Holocaust survivors and members of the community.
    I don’t understand why the SBS would ever screen a series that upsets so many people, Jewish, christian, old, young, muslim or otherwise?

    What the managing director from SBS did say is that he knew it was controversial before they agreed to pay for it.
    He also said they have to make budget cuts and they have been unable to purchase as many series as they would have previously, and they de-commissioned an australian series.

    Was The Promise, which is of course just a drama and not non-fiction, that amazing that it was worth all of that? Put aside whether the ECAJ or SBS is right – was it really worth it? I would suggest not

  • Jack Chrapot says:

    Larry’s right in questioning the use of the words “the WHOLE of the Jewish People”. Stepan omits to mention that the series does not negatively portray the quislings among us and regrettably, we have a few of them.

  • Robert says:

    @ Larry
    I did not bring up Lowenstein,as a role model,you did.
    Exaggerated difference between Jews and Arabs? How often were Arabs portrayed in a negative,stereotype manner in the series? How often were Jews?

  • Reality Check says:

    Larry, you don’t even know if doug cameron saw the promise. other senetors argued it was anti-semitic, so there must be some truth to it. but what gets me is that we are having this argument. larry to you it has become a contest who wins more points proving or disproving if it’s anti-semitic. so what is anti-semetism? is anti-semetism racism? when is some thing racist?. to me if it looks like shit and smells like shit, it’s shit, but with anti-semitism you, larry, need to go through this long check list, do some statistical analyses and then decide if it’s anti-semitic.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Reality Check — Cameron said he had watched it.

    As for anti-Semitism. The problem is not just a matter of smell or me point-scoring.

    Why is it that I and you who have probably had the same life experiences, see things differently? It is about psychology, perceptions, all sorts of things like that, particularly when applied to something like a complex drama.

    As examples, if someone scrawls something nasty about Jews or Asians on a toilet wall, is that the same as throwing a brick through a synagogue window? It’s deplorable, but is it of the same quality?

    If someone yells out fucking Jew if having a political argument, is it anti-Semitism, or just nasty argument–like yelling out fucking Greek at a Greek – Macedonian demonstration?

    If someone writes a long academic article free of vitriol but says that Israel and Zionism oppress Palestianians because of the influence of say, Rav Kook, is that anti-Semitic and in the same class as a speech by Ahmadinejad?

    Is burning an Israeli flag anti-Semitic or anti-Israel?

    When the Age reports about sex abuse at certain Jewish institutions, is it setting up Jews for criticism, or is it fair public interest? If it does the same about Catholic priests, is it anti-Catholic?

    Are all the instances above meant to be interpreted in the same historical chain as Cossack massacres or the Nazis? (you may have a theological view which influences your answer).

    And by way of contrast, is ‘Tag mahir’ anti-Arab, or a political statement? Is mavet le-aravim a racist statement or a political statement?

    The line between political critique and anti-Semitism (or hatred of other groups) is a very difficult one. I see latent anti-Semitism out there, for example, in the motivations of some of the people involved with Students for Palestine and I have recently spent hours denouncing them publicly to humiliate them as much as possible. But I also see too many examples of crying wolf and The Promise is one of them.

    So much of this is contextual and in the eye of the beholder (and the sometimes unknowable intent of the person who does it). That is why laws against racism and vilification are so problematic and hard to prove in court, particularly when allegations involve political or artistic commentary. If you want kangaroo court justice that is one thing. If you want fair courts and an open society, that is another.

    The problem for many people who believe that there is anti-Semitism or want to use allegations of it as tool against criticisms of Israel is that it actually demands examining why so many people display such hatred of Israel. Confronting the critiques–and sometimes seeing that they are correct– is disturbing, particularly if you feel that this is going to make you seem ‘disloyal’. David Hirsh, a British academic who spends a huge amount of time fighting anti-Zionists in the UK has written about this in an argument with Isi Leibler (btw, I don’t share the same views as Hirsh on all matters, but he makes some very good point about the incredible defensiveness on all matters Israel). [see http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=89.

    And I would prefer as you are starting to sling words around, for you to actually name yourself if you are going to attack me.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I forgot to mention.

    I hope that use of the term ‘quisling’ by Jack Chaprot is not directed at me. If it is, I ask him to apologize publicly for such an assertion.

    In any case, he may care to name those who he believes to be quislings or traitors to prove his case.

  • Robert says:

    What is antisemitism?
    If the only country that does not “deserve to exist” happens to be the Jewish state THATS antisemtism.
    Ditto for the the doctrinaire leftists/Greens/useful idiots whose only problem in life is Israel.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Robert, that is not a rational response. I also ask you to name yourself if you think your views are so substantial.

  • reality check says:

    See what I mean Larry, you have got this long checklist and you appear to disregard Jewish history. The Holocaust didn’t begin with the building of the gas chambers,it started a long time before that. Anyhow. And don’t be so paranoid, I am not attacking you, just check your checklist.

  • Robert Eichel says:

    @ Larry whats irrational about calling doctrinaire haters & baiters of ONLY Israel antisemites?

  • Robert Eichel says:

    @ Larry.We Jews are sick of being subject to “special” attention.

  • Jack Chrapot says:

    Come on Larry, did I call you a quisling?

    It seems to me that you might be a little touchy about things and are boxing at shadows.

    Or perhaps, you just complain too much?

  • Larry Stillman says:

    You used the word quisling. If you weren’t referring to me, who were you referring to. It wasn’t a shadow.

  • Jack Chrapot says:

    “You used the word quisling. If you weren’t referring to me, who were you referring to.”

    You really don’t get it, do you?

    When a comment is made that you perceive is offensive, you immediately go into a lather, exercise your right to object, voice your outrage and seek to cow the other person into making an apology for his remarks.

    Yet when the majority of the Jewish community (and many others) feel outraged by a series that portrays Jews and Israelis in the most grossly offensive manner using hurtful stereotypes and distorting their history, you’re out there not only obsessively defending those who smear us and compare us to the hideous monsters who slaughtered a third of our people not so long ago but you question our right to speak out and voice our own objections to such an outrage.

    “The Promise – is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged (‘You, of all people’) with failing to live up to it.” – Howard Jacobson.

    So we can condemn that which is deeply offensive to every one of the many different cultures and people within the community but when it comes to the Jews, it’s business as usual.

    The double standards are simply appalling, aren’t they?

    Keep punching at those shadows Larry, and mind that you don’t knock yourself out in the process.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Jack — I am not in a lather. I am asking for a factual answer. You said “Stepan omits to mention that the series does not negatively portray the quislings among us and regrettably, we have a few of them.”

    Either you know who the quislings are, and can name them, or you are making it up. What is your answer?

    And this one, that I am “obsessively defending those who smear us and compare us to the hideous monsters who slaughtered a third of our people”

    How am I doing that? Evidence? Look at the report in the Jewish News today (p. 4), about what I have said about Students for Palestine and their gross stupidies. Look at how many hours I have spend criticizing ultraleft creeps, holocaust deniers and racists who think they know the “truth” about Israel/Palestine on the internet. It is all there. That is real evidence.

    But answer the first question please. Which people are traitors? That is a very serious accusation to make.

    I believe you are a lawyer and have some experience of the Supreme Court of Victoria. Consider this a matter before the President of the Court of Appeal. Where is your evidence about quislings? I don’t think it is covered by legal privilege.

  • Andrew Harris says:


    In essence, in the way in which you interrogate whether or not something can be, to your satisfaction, classified as ‘antisemitic’, you are applying rationalism to something that is by definition irrational.

    By arguing antisemitism in degrees you intentionally or unintentionally delegitimise even what you yourself appear to qualify as ‘antisemitic’ as being rightly labelled as such.

    Perhaps what would be a more productive line of argument would be to suggest that while overwhelmingly the indicators you have mentioned in this thread are antisemitic, it’s more about how we need to moderate our reactions to them, in order for society at large to fully appreciate what’s genocidal, and what’s just nasty.

    I suspect that in the course of you arguing your point, you have become tangled in your own logic, and have come out appearing a bit more extreme than you intended. Or at least I hope so.



  • Larry Stillman says:

    No, my examples were to show how difficult the issue can be at times. I don’t think I am entagulated in my logistical expostions.

  • Robert says:

    @ Larry
    Patiently waiting for a direct answer on why “Larry whats irrational about calling doctrinaire haters & baiters of ONLY Israel antisemites?”
    Please do not refer me to or hide behind further articles a direct answer will do this time,now that we have finished nit picking over names.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I would however, prefer your real name.

    The problem is labelling all critics of Israel etc as doctrinare and haters & baiters of ONLY Israel. I think you will find that critics of Israel are critics of many regimes, including Burma, China, Iran and so on, including on the ultraleft. Chomsky whom I know is in bad odour in particular, is nasty about all authoritarian regimes, but this gets ignored. His advocacy on East Timor for example, was incredibly important in raising the international profile of Indonesian occupation.

    However, I agree, on the ultraleft there is an obsessive, cult-like behaviour about Israel that has been very recently critiqued by no less that Norman Finkelstein, no friend of Israeli politics.

    The Israel/Palestine problem is a critical violent flashpoint, a communal conflict that seems unsolvable, that is why it attracts so much attention–as it has for the past 60 years, and the claims that Israeli is a democracy while engaging in occupation don’t carry much weight.

    However, at this point, I cannot carry on the discussion anymore for a few days. I have pressing work.

  • Robert says:

    “Our” ABC has done it again. Note the totally specious and irrelevant mudslinging reference to the Lebanese war. How many times did the Israelis bomb themselves there? In the rest of the M.E.?
    “In an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “The World Today” radio program, guest pundit Geneive Abdo is asked by host Eleanor Hall who is responsible for this week’s terror attacks on Israeli embassies:

    ELEANOR HALL: Iran’s leadership says it’s sheer lies that it’s behind the attacks and that the Israelis have planted the bombs themselves to discredit Iran?

    GENEIVE ABDO: Well I think that’s entirely possible. I mean, if you consider what the Israelis did for many years in Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, that theory is not so farfetched.


  • Robert Eichel says:

    @ Larry
    If the Arabs only wanted their own state they could have had it 63 years ago on ALL the WB,ALL Gaza plus the ethnic cleansed Jewfree areas of Jerusalem courtesy of the invading Arab armies plus the vast majority of the mandate handed to Jordan which they do not seem to want to” liberate”
    No BDS for Turkey, China ,the Arab countries(Kurdistan) Indonesia etc speaks for itself pretending those occupations are less worthy of BDS because Israel is a democracy is pure dialectic and a copout.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    This is turning into a two person conversation going over old ground I think.

    But I agree, the ABC reporter’s lack of questioning is highly regrettable and a great pity.I have send a complaint to the ABC.

    End of conversation.

  • Sydney Daniel says:

    Larry Stillman says on Feb 10, 2012 @ 8:09 pm: Final comment from me.

    Larry Stillman says on Feb 16, 2012 @ 1:42 pm: End of conversation.

    I guess we can only hope it will stick this time…
    Although I doubt it.

  • Jack Chrapot says:

    Sometimes things go completely over people’s head so for the last time on this point …

    Larry asked twice and I twice responded that he was boxing at shadows. That wasn’t  enough so for the third time, my answer still remains the same. 

    However, I’ll add by saying the type of person I have in mind when I think of quislings is Sam Finkler, an individual depicted by Howard Jacobson in his novel The Finkler Question as an ASHamed Jew. Sam’s a shadow; the product of a work of fiction that’s certainly not a documentary so there’s no reason for anyone to get their knickers in a knot.

    Not obsessive? My last count was 16 out of 40 responses in strident defence of a disgraceful piece of work that offends a large number of Jewish people if not the whole of them. That’s what I call “obsessive”!

  • Reality Check says:

    You are right Larry, and it is getting a bit too personal. I also apologize about calling you paranoid. But I still strongly disagree with you.

  • letters in the age says:

    It’s also called an “intellectual bloodsport” with the best of intentions.

    Chill out Galus et al.

    great thread guys!

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I cannot help but respond to Jack.

    So Howard Jacobsen can write a word of fiction on which you based your accusations of ‘quislings’ in the Jewish community (I assume you mean people who live in the St Kilda-Caulfield area). You stated “the series does not negatively portray the quislings among us and regrettably, we have a few of them.” The latter part of that statement is clearly a factual statement.

    I challenge you again, to tell us who the quislings are and indeed, what acts of treachery they are conducting either against the Australian government or I assume you also mean the government of Israel.

    Or else, you are tilting at windmills –que aquellos que allí se parecen no son gigantes, sino molinos de viento, y lo que en ellos parecen brazos son las aspas, que volteadas del viento hacen andar la piedra del molino—

    and I challenge you to a duel. I think I know who would win.

  • Jack Chrapot says:

    Thanks Larry. I now conclude you agree with me that the SBS Complaints Committee finding that The Promise was a fictional drama and did not  cross the threshold into racism or promote, endorse, or reinforce inaccurate, demeaning or discriminatory stereotypes is an absolute crock of shit and that, in making its findings, the committee was biased, conflicted and incapable of making a fair and reasonable judgement in its deliberations.

    On the other matter, pistols at ten paces suits me just fine.

  • Sydney Daniel says:

    Just to be clear..

    SBS managing director Michael Ebeid told the Senate committee that six people, including himself, watched The Promise before they decided to screen it.
    The following is the SBS Complaints Committee:

    • the Managing Director;
    • the Director Content (Television & Online);
    • the Director Audio and Language Content;
    • the Director News & Current Affairs;
    • the SBS Ombudsman; and
    • where required, one member independent of the Division being investigated.

    So the managing director watched it and passed it.
    The director of content (you would bloody well hope) was one of the six who watched it and passed it.
    And 2 of the other 3 know that if they find it broke the code then they are saying their boss, who is sitting next to them, fucked up.

    Whether you agree with larry or the others… this is clearly NOT an independent complaints process and therefore their finding is irrelevant.

  • Reality Check says:

    Larry, I hope I am mistaken in that you compare Howard Jacobsen’s book with The Promise because they are both fictional, because that is indeed an absurd comparison for the most obvious reasons.

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