The federal commissioner for combating antisemitism in Germany, Felix Klein, blasted Germany’s largest broadsheet paper Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) on Wednesday for publishing an antisemitic cartoon attacking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s 2018 winner of the Eurovision song contest, Netta Barzilai.
The cartoon shows Netanyahu celebrating on the Eurovision song stage in Netta’s attire while holding a missile with has a Star of David imposed on it. He is depicted singing with a speech bubble that says, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Klein told the mass-circulation Bild that “Here associations are revived with the intolerable cartoons of National Socialist propaganda.” He added that even if cartoons provoke and create irony, “a red line was crossed here.” After the cartoon appeared on Tuesday in the SZ, the scandal gained traction with a tweet from Aras-Nathan Keul, a board member of the Youth Forum of the German-Israeli Society, who wrote: “Dear SZ, this drawing is antisemitic.”
The Frankfurt-based Anne Frank Educational Center termed the cartoon as “Israel-related antisemitism” on its Twitter feed.
Within the pro-Israel community in Germany, the SZ is widely considered one of the most anti-Israel publications. The paper has been engulfed in a series of antisemitic and anti-Israel scandals over the years involving cartoons and its commentary and reporting. Katharina von Schnurbein, European coordinator on combating antisemitism, wrote on Twitter: “This @SZ caricature is not only antisemitic in its symbolism. It’s also unfair towards @NettaBarzilai. Why should the artist stand proxy for the politics of her country? That’s like holding #EltonJohn responsible for Brexit.” Netta won the Eurovision contest on Saturday with her song “Toy.”
The Munich-based SZ removed the cartoon from its website and apologized. Wolfgang Krach, the editor-in-chief of the paper, which has a circulation of nearly 400,000 as of 2015, said the cartoon caused “discussions within and outside the SZ editorial team. He added that “The cartoonist Dieter Hanitzsch says that he only wanted to point out that the next ESC [Eurovision Song Contest] finale in 2019 is to be held in Jerusalem. Despite the caricaturist’s intention, one can understand the drawing differently and take it as antisemitic. Its release was therefore a mistake for which we apologize.”
However, the 85-year-old Hanitzsch defended his drawing. He told the German Jewish weekly Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung: “That the editorial apologized is their business. I do not apologize.” He dismissed the allegation of antisemitism because it “does not affect me. I did not mean it that way. I would like to be able to criticize Netanyahu’s policy, even as a German.”
The German Jewish activist Malca Goldstein-Wolf launched a public petition to have Hanitzch stripped of his Federal Cross of Merit. The Federal Cross of Merit is awarded “for achievements that served the rebuilding of the country in the fields of political, socio-economic and intellectual activity, and is intended to mean an award of all those whose work contributes to the peaceful rise of the Federal Republic of Germany,” according to the federal government. Goldstein wrote to German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, urging him to take back Hanitzch’s award, which he received in 2014. In November, 2017, Goldstein convinced the chairman of the Cologne-based TV WDR outlet Tom Buhrow to pull the plug on televising a Roger Waters concert because former Pink Floyd band member is an energetic supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. Waters has also allegedly used antisemitic imagery at his concerts.
The SZ faced criticism in 2016 for a headline that was accused of mimicking Nazi rhetoric by placing the blame for Palestinian terrorism squarely on Israel’s shoulders. An article last week titled “Israel suffers for its cycle of revenge,” by the newspaper’s Israel-based correspondent, Peter Münch, quoted from an interview with Said Zidani, a Palestinian philosophy professor at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, in which he said Palestinians murder Israelis not only out of “desperation but [as] an act of resistance…”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Jerusalem Post at the time that the center “protested about the Mark Zuckerberg cartoon [in the SZ in 2014 showing Zuckerberg as an octopus devouring the world]. Their tepid response failed to convince me that they were unaware that the grotesque use of Nazi-like animalization was obviously inappropriate and never should have seen the light of day.
“Only a biased moron would characterize Israel’s desperate efforts to protect pregnant mothers, children and the elderly from knife-wielding Palestinian terrorists as a ‘cycle of revenge,’” Cooper said.
In 2016, the SZ falsely claimed that tens of thousands of Israelis fled to Germany because of the policies of the Netanyahu administration, the German Press Council confirmed. The German Press Council rebuked the SZ’s former Israel correspondent Thorsten Schmitz for his factually incorrect contention.
In 2015, the German Press Council issued a ruling asserting the SZ violated the council’s press code against discrimination because of the paper’s publication of an anti-Israel cartoon. After the SZ published an illustration early in July 2015 showing Israel as a demonic monster, pro-Israel groups in Germany filed a joint complaint to the Press Council in the same month. The SZ depicted Israel as a demonic monster. “This German Press Council ruling is a wake-up call for the media to exercise greater caution in depictions of Israel, which all too easily slide into antisemitism,” American Jewish Committee Berlin director Deidre Berger said at the time..
“The ruling reinforces the message that artistic freedom cannot be used as a cloak to disguise antisemitism,” she added.
The caricature depicts a young woman serving food to a demonic monster with horns sitting at a table and holding up a carving knife. The caption under the cartoon reads: “Germany at your service. For decades, Israel has been provided with weapons, partly free of charge. Israel’s enemies consider the country to be a voracious Moloch.”
Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.