DC-area school board apologizes for art contest winner seen as anti-Semitic

Offending drawing part of exhibit called ‘Racial Irony’ shows a Jewish man with an oversized nose and a skullcap, carrying a money bag

This March 4, 2019, photo shows Fairfax County Public Schools in Merrifield, Virginia (Matthew Barakat/AP)
This March 4, 2019, photo shows Fairfax County Public Schools in Merrifield, Virginia (Matthew Barakat/AP)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools in northern Virginia apologized for displaying satirical artwork created by a student that some viewers saw as anti-Semitic.

“For any pain or hurt this may have caused Jewish students, families, or any members of our community, I offer our most sincere apology,” Scott Brabrand said in a March 28 statement.

The offending drawing was part of an exhibit called “Racial Irony,” and the 17-year old artist had hoped to provoke discussion of what she saw as malign stereotypes.

It showed a Jewish man in a skullcap carrying a money bag, standing next to a well. The caricature featured a grim expression and an oversized hook nose. It was captioned, “No Jew in the world understands the importance of money,” in quotes. It was one of a series of eight drawings by the student artist looking at different racial and ethnic stereotypes, but the only drawing of the series to be placed in the exhibit.

The display of the art a local community college of the winners of the school system’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards did not add context, except for the title of the artist’s series, “Racial Irony.” A number of parents alerted local media and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. The JCRC made representations to the school system.

“The JCRC commends Superintendent Braband for his swift and unequivocal response to this incident, which provides a valuable teaching moment for FCPS and our broader community, and for reaffirming to the JCRC his commitment to combating anti-Semitism and ensuring a safe and sensitive environment for all within the diverse FCPS community,” the JCRC said in a statement.

Recent studies show that northern Virginia and its network of suburbs of Washington DC is the fastest growing Jewish community in the Washington region.

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