German daily draws outrage with ‘anti-Semitic’ image of Netanyahu at Eurovision

Süddeutsche Zeitung editor-in-chief apologizes for publishing cartoon of PM holding missile decorated with Star of David, but cartoonist says he is not sorry

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

A cartoon published on May 15, 2018, by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring 'next year in Jerusalem' with a missile adorned with a star of David in hand after Israel won Eurovision song contest. (Screen capture: Twitter)
A cartoon published on May 15, 2018, by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring 'next year in Jerusalem' with a missile adorned with a star of David in hand after Israel won Eurovision song contest. (Screen capture: Twitter)

One of Germany’s main newspapers came under fire Tuesday for publishing a cartoon, regarded by some readers as anti-Semitic, depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrating Israel’s Eurovision win while holding a missile adorned with a Star of David. The paper subsequently published an apology, but the caricaturist said the publication’s statement did not represent his views.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung, the largest German broadsheet daily, published the image on Tuesday as Israel faced criticism over its handling of protests initiated a day earlier on the Gaza border by the Hamas terror group, which openly seeks to destroy Israel.

In recent weeks, Israeli security forces were said by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry to have shot and killed about 100 people in a series of violent clashes along its border with the Gaza Strip, most of them on Monday, the deadliest day of conflict since the 2014 war. Dozens of those killed were members of Palestinian terrorist groups, according to Israel.

Palestinian rioters hurled hundreds of firebombs, rocks and flaming kites at Israel and attempted to breach the border fence despite having been warned to stay away. Israel says Hamas plans to send armed terrorists through any breach in the fence to “carry out a massacre” of Israelis.

On Saturday, Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Toy,” winning the Jewish state the right to host the 2019 competition, marking her win by exclaiming on stage: “Next year in Jerusalem!”

The German cartoon depicted Netanyahu in Barzilai’s dress and in military-style boots, while holding a missile emblazoned with a Star of David and with a speech bubble saying “next year in Jerusalem.” Some people said the sleeves of Netanyahu’s dress appeared to be drenched in blood or fire, although the pattern was similar to Barzilai’s Eurovision costume.

Behind Netanyahu, another Star of David replaced the letter “v” in the word “Eurovision.”

Israel’s Netta Barzilai celebrates after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, Portugal, May 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Jewish reader Malca Goldstein-Wolf published an open letter on Facebook to the paper’s editors, decrying the “double standards” and “hypocrisy,” and demanding that Israel be permitted to celebrate its win of the musical contest “without being demonized.”

She wrote that Netanyahu praising Barzilai’s win was no different from German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling singer Lena after she won the 2010 Eurovision for Germany.

Following the outcry, the paper on Wednesday published an apology signed by editor-in chief Wolfgang Krach, saying that printing the cartoon — drawn by 85-year-old veteran caricaturist and journalist Dieter Hanitzsch — was a mistake.

The image “led to discussions within and outside the SZ editorial team,” Krach wrote. “The cartoonist Dieter Hanitzsch says that [by replacing the “v” with a Star of David] he only wanted to point out that the next ESC finale in 2019 is to be held in Jerusalem.

“Despite the caricaturist’s intention, one can understand the drawing differently and take it as anti-Semitic,” he added. “Its release was therefore a mistake for which we apologize.”

But the cartoonist himself contradicted that message, telling local Jewish website Jüdische Allgemeine that the apology didn’t represent him.

“That the editorial apologized is their business. I do not apologize,” Hanitzsch said, adding that the accusation that the drawing could be regarded as anti-Semitic “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.”

Many countries, including Sweden, France and the United Kingdom, have accused Israel of using disproportionate force in the riots on the Gaza border. But the United States, Australia and other countries said Hamas was to blame for the violence and its aftermath. Israel says the terror group encouraged and led the protests, which included attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to breach the border fence.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung, or “South German Daily,” reaches 1.1 million readers a day in Germany and also boasts a high circulation abroad.

This isn’t the first time the paper has faced accusations of publishing an anti-Semitic cartoon.

Cartoon in Süddeutsche Zeitung depicting Israel as ravenous Moloch (photo credit: Courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center)

In 2013 the newspaper ran a cartoon depicting Israel as a hungry monster lying in bed, knife and fork in hand, being waited on by a woman.

“The characterization of the Jewish state as a ravenous Moloch — an idol to whom children were sacrificed — is a blatant anti-Semitic canard,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, at the time.

“Like every other democracy Israel is never above reproach or criticism. However, the depiction of the Jewish state as a ravenous monster deploys a classic tool of dehumanization-animalization,” Cooper charged. “Such horrific stereotypes were all-too devastatingly deployed by the propaganda machines of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.”

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