PARIS – The official warming of ties between Israel and Morocco has led to a heated dispute between a radio station for the French-Maghrebi community and two presenters who wanted to discuss the normalization agreement on air.
Malik Yettou and Rose Ameziane host Paris-based Beur FM’s weekly show “L’Actu Autrement” (“News with Another Perspective”), and the spat arose a few days after the normalization deal between the two countries was announced on December 10. Yettou said the Israeli Embassy in Paris contacted the pair directly, offering to discuss the agreement, after emailing the radio station about the matter but receiving no response.
“We called the radio director, suggesting a debate about the normalization agreement – since many of our listeners have North African origins and since Morocco is, with Tunisia and Algeria, one of Beur FM’s top areas of interest,” Ameziane, 37, told Haaretz. “We thought about a show with a Moroccan representative and one or two intellectuals who would present the Palestinian side. But management told us that covering the agreement went against the station’s editorial line.”
The two hosts decided to meet anyway with Israel’s chargé d’affaires at the embassy, Daniel Saada, with the aim of gathering background information. The meeting took place on December 23.
“We discussed the deal with the chargé d’affaires to get some additional information – we were happy to do so,” Yettou, 34, told Haaretz. “Then he asked us if he could tweet a picture. We agreed, and two hours later we got an incendiary email.”
The email’s subject header was “EMBASSY TWEET” and had been sent by Beur FM Director General Djima Kettane, who founded the station with her brother Nacer Kettane in 1981. It notified the hosts that their weekly show had been suspended.
“You have involved the station in your visit to the embassy, even after our discussion,” Djima Kettane wrote in the email. “You want to take personal stands – fine! But the station decides who represents it. For your information, your show is suspended until you two get a serious briefing about our editorial line.”
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In a follow-up meeting, Beur FM suggested moving “L’Actu Autrement” from prime time on Fridays to Saturday mornings, saying this was due to poor ratings and not the meeting at the Israeli Embassy. The two hosts refused, saying this was sanctioning them.
Ameziane said she believed the meeting with the Israeli chargé d’affaires had been a red line for the station. “During our time at Beur FM, we faced various pressures. Some people within management refused to address certain topics, including this one. They also told us we talked too much about lack of security in impoverished neighborhoods and Islamist extremism and terrorism – but that’s what’s in the news.
“Then there’s social media. A small group of people criticized us when we invited guests they didn’t approve of,” Ameziane added. “I think social media has become so powerful in recent years and so aggressive that the station has decided to give in.”
Following Ameziane and Yettou’s meeting at the Israeli Embassy, a popular host from a rival radio station, France-Maghreb, accused them of “showing their real face” by covering the normalization agreement. Dozens of people tweeted that the hosts should be ashamed of themselves for betraying the Palestinians.
Website Algérie Patriotique, meanwhile, wrote that Beur FM’s managers had successfully stopped a maneuver by “the Zionist lobby that has infiltrated all French media.”
Yettou said he and Ameziane couldn’t just let the matter pass. “Our country has faced a wave of terrorist attacks. People were assassinated because they drew cartoons. We have a responsibility to the community, we can’t give in to obscurantism and these people threatening us. Many Muslims agree with us and people have called to thank me – but few want to come out publicly because there is just too much pressure.”
For Ameziane, the normalization agreement was a completely valid subject to discuss. “We believe in debating even with people we disagree with. Interviewing someone doesn’t mean you can’t ask tough questions,” she said. “This censorship, this discrimination, the fact they did not cover this news item, is dangerous.”
Yettou added: “Israel isn’t North Korea. It has been France’s ally for years. We can disagree with its government’s policies and we can talk about it. This is 2021 – we can’t only talk about Israel through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel is in the news all the time, like now with the coronavirus crisis. Israel is not limited to its conflict with the Palestinians. There are Israelis who are opposed to the Netanyahu government and there are also Israelis who are Muslim, so I think people should have a nuanced approach.”
The presenters accused Beur FM of antisemitism, backing up their claim by showing Haaretz a tweet the station had retweeted that accused French Jews of being increasingly Islamophobic.
Nacer Kettane, who now heads Beur FM, strongly rejected the accusation. “We are anything but antisemitic,” he said. “I’ve been to Israel. I’ve met with Shimon Peres and broadcast a special in honor of Yitzhak Rabin after his assassination. I’ve organized weekly shows with an imam, a rabbi and a priest,” said Kettane, who has also enjoyed a long working relationship with Radio Shalom, a station aimed at the Jewish community.
Bernard Abouaf, Radio Shalom’s news editor, defended Nacer Kettane and called him “anything but anti-Jewish. We have broadcast shows together about Judeo-Arabic culture, we’re at the head of a body fighting discrimination. Nacer is a man who stands strong against Islamists too,” he said. “But he’s an Arab nationalist. He has a tough stance on Israel, but he accepts dialogue. He presents the Palestinian perspective, like we present the Israeli perspective.”
Kettane described Beur FM as “an independent radio station” that has “produced shows about all issues.” He accused Ameziane of concocting the antisemitism allegations. “This whole story is about a girl who messed up,” he said. “We gave her a chance to head a show – and she blew it. Her ratings were down, so we moved her show to another hour. Now she wants revenge. It’s despicable to turn a personal issue into a baseless campaign against us.
“We didn’t want her to interview the chargé d’affaires because she isn’t a journalist,” Kettane said. “There are no pressures applied at our station. We haven’t reported about the agreement because we’re not a news station. But we will probably broadcast two or three shows about the issue. I have nothing against the normalization deal,” he added.
Ameziane maintained, though, that Beur FM acted in a discriminatory manner.
“Fighting people whose antisemitism is overwhelming and notorious is easy. It’s harder to address antisemitism when it’s subtle, hidden, when it’s done behind closed doors under false pretences,” she said. “It was our responsibility to expose this attitude, because if discrimination is ignored, it can lead to violence. I’m sick of hearing people deplore tragedies. I want people to act before they happen. That’s what everyone should do.”
The fight between Beur FM and its two presenters has received national coverage, with political leaders reacting to the controversy by saying normalization agreements should be hailed. In the wake of the media storm, Beur FM submitted a request to the Israeli Embassy for an interview with Daniel Saada.
However, the dispute between the radio station and its two hosts remains unresolved, with both sides threatening to sue. “There are several allegations, including discrimination against a nation,” Yettou told Haaretz, in a possible case where the Israeli chargé d’affaires could even be called as a key witness.