Opinion: deliberations after article on the anti-Semitic cartoon in the SZ


slightly modified 26/2/2014

So the Süddeutsche (SZ), one of Germany’s most renowned broadsheets, published a caricature that was identical with the depictions of Jews in the Nazi Era.  Burkhard Mohr, the cartoonist who drew up the picture was well experienced.  In spite of having won multiple awards, he was unable to spot, he claims, that his drawing could be deemed anti-Semitic and he apologized.  Neither did the Süddeutsche’s editorial notice early enough what was happening and then still did, somehow, but earlier editions have been already on its way to Berlin, London and elsewhere.  So it is that just in nearby Bavaria late editions had a modified version by Mohr, which he himself still shows on his website.

The timeline of news. Following the publication of my article in the Tablet Magazine in my opinion, one of the most Avantgarde and Zeitgeist journals on Jewish current affairs, there were others.  The New York Algemeiner, a Jewish paper, incidentally published the story even about an hour before me, and had seemingly worked parallel with me on this.  Given that I wrote the story whilst also managing child care (I picked up my daughter took her to classes together with friends, run to a German library to get a copy of the relevant page of the SZ, whilst the kids were being taught, etc… ), I consider it an achievement for the working parent model, that I was almost as fast.  The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz,  the two large Israeli papers followed later in the evening, having a natural interest in this,  and nearly 12 hours after that, the Daily Mail published a copy-write of the former with added photos.

UK news media react late. Being based in London, it is interesting to note that the UK news organs were late to react, even though I had pitched the UK Guardian and various departments at that, as early as Sunday afternoon., earlier than anybody else I wrote to.  As usual, I regret to say, The Guardian either thought the story was not interesting or they failed to spot it (given that it went to several desks I don’t believe the former), or the emails they give out to freelancers are no good. Representing the left of center liberal paper of the UK, it was my possibly my false estimation that they were most concerned when it came to anti-Semitic issues and would jump on the story. Perhaps that was no surprise given the muddle the SZ just got themselves in who are themselves left-liberal.  Instead, it was the more conservative Daily Telegraph that announced more interest to me, though in the end, even this did not crystallize, and it was finally just the right of center Daily Mail who broke the story to the UK masses using footage prepared by others.

The incidences of the SZ in Germany between an offensive anti-Jewish caricature on the issue of Israel and another caricature deemed directly anti-Semitic by most observers nine months later, are strange. Some of my Munich-based Jewish friends believe the SZ is rather hostile towards Israel (see http://www.suedwatch.de/blog/?p=12148 for a take on this). Are there connections between seeking the right to criticize Israel and unacceptable sloppiness the way one reports on Jewish affairs (or not at all)?   Critique is always justified, be it against Israel or Facebook, as long as it is relatively balanced within the wider picture of things. But this was beyond critique.  In my personal opinion it may have been an attempt to test new limits of very dark humour: Look, remember the Nazi cartoons about Jewish world domination? Isn’t Zuckerberg behaving just as if it was true, the Jew controls all!  Of of course not, it is just satire or was it propaganda pure?

Perhaps greater human diversity amongst editors and journalists could also help for checks and balances, I wonder, especially in Germany.

 

Addendum 27.2.14

A reader on Tablet commented that he saw but a pirate, and there was no offence.  The messages images send depend on cultural specific contexts. I believe he the person who only saw a pirate.  However given the historical images of Jews during the Nazi era and even today by esp. in some neo-Nazi and some bad Arab press, the message it sends to anyone concerned about anti-Semitism is clear. 

I once worked for a Palestinian / Israeli Jewish conflict transformation organisation.  They also worked with images.  Photos were thrown in between the two groups and individuals had to explain what they saw.  What they saw was different depending who they were.  E.g. when seeing a railway track some Jewish participants said it evoked memories of train transports in the Nazi era. When seeing a beach Palestinians talked of the difficulties of getting to the beach in the area due to check points etc. 

In the case of the cartoon the association is more directive than but a beach or train track.  It is almost identical with Stürmer like cartoons.  But if you are not exposed to the history of racist imagery in the Third Reich and are not Jewish it is probable one can not see it.  In Germany all are exposed to the Third Reich and its legacy, it is always present, and when one works as a cartoonist one can be assumed to be well informed in terms of political Zeitgeist.  That said, a Jewish co-worker would most likely have spotted and felt the association instantly, hence the way I closed my opinion earlier.

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