Felicia Levy vs The Star

Complainant:  Felicia Levy

Lodged by:  Felicia Levy

Article:  One holocaust many don’t like to acknowledge or discuss

Author of article:  Victoria Brittain

Date: 1 June 2016

Respondent:  Kevin Ritchie, the editor of The Star

Complaint

Levy complains that the headline was not a reasonable reflection of the content of the article, as required by the Code of Ethics and Conduct. She is particularly concerned about the use of the word “holocaust”, as the article did not contain any such notion, and argues that the term specifically denotes the killing of six million Jews during World War II – which means that the headline suggested that the Holocaust before and during that war could be compared with what happened in Palestine (when 2 251 people were killed during a war in 2014).

The text

The article, written by Victoria Brittain, was about the miserable living conditions of the Arab Palestinians in Gaza. She stated that 2 251 people were killed by the Israeli Defence Force in the 2014 war, and sketched the ongoing poor conditions as a result of that battle.

The arguments

Levy complains that the term “holocaust” misrepresented the content of the article. She argues that The Star used the word to portray the victims in Gaza as comparable and equivalent to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. She calls this disingenuous and a shameful betrayal of editorial ethics and responsibility by the newspaper.

In support of her complaint, she presented me with definitions of the Holocaust, an account of some of the “facts and events” pertaining to the Holocaust, and “facts and figures” pertaining to Gaza.

Ritchie says while Levy is entitled to her view and her interpretation of the word “holocaust”, it can and does also refer to destruction and slaughter on a mass scale. “Our use of the word refers to the destruction wrought by the bombardment from the Israel side. It appears that it is only Holocaust (rendered with a capital H) that is taken as a specific reference to the Nazi genocide of 6-million Jews before and during World War II.”

Analysis

I can fully understand that some (probably most) Jews or Israelis are sensitive about the term “holocaust”. That, in itself, is enough reason for a newspaper to think twice before using that word.

However, Jews and Israelis do not own the word. Ritchie is correct – “the Holocaust”, with a capital letter, has come to denote the slaughtering of millions of Jews; but “holocaust”, with a small letter, may refer to other human catastrophes as well.

I am not in any position to make a judgment about the rights and the wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, neither is it my job to do so; my only task is to decide whether or not the use of the word “holocaust” in the headline was justified.

The answer to that is uncannily simple: it depends on one’s perspective – while I can understand that Jews or Israelis would not think that the word “holocaust” was appropriate, I can well imagine that Palestinians may argue the opposite.

The fact is that more than 2 000 Palestinians died in the war in 2014. Levy might say “only” 2 200 (when compared to the Holocaust) perished; Palestinians might say “one death is one too many”.

The article was about the dire consequences of that war, still continuing to this day. Given the fact that it was an opinion piece, I am satisfied that the heading also reflected opinion – which is valid for some, but not for all.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

Our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombud