Jerusalem Post defends axing ‘Animal Farm’ pigs cartoonist, keeps cartoon online

Amid free speech furor, editorial says Avi Katz’s nation-state law critique ‘reminiscent of antisemitic memes,’ should not have run; it remains at top of Jerusalem Report homepage

Avi Katz (Facebook)
Avi Katz (Facebook)

The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday defended its decision to cut loose its veteran cartoonist for portraying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud lawmakers as pigs from George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm,” saying the cartoon constituted “incitement and hatred” and should never have been published.

The publication was slammed by many last week for dumping Avi Katz, who had been working for the biweekly Jerusalem Report magazine, which is owned by the Jerusalem Post, for three decades. Other social media users objected to his portrayal of the Likud politicians as pigs, which are perceived as among the most ritually impure animals in Judaism.

“The swine image is reminiscent of antisemitic memes used against Jews throughout history,” the Post wrote in an editorial. “We, a Zionist newspaper, cannot accept this demeaning analogy.”

It said the editorial staff “recognized after publication that this specific cartoon should not have been published. It should not have been published to begin with, but it would have been a greater error not to take action once it was published.”

Nevertheless, the cartoon was still prominently featured as the first item at the top of the Jerusalem Report’s homepage at time of writing, on the afternoon of August 1, more than a week after the row erupted.

Avi Katz’s Animal Farm cartoon, still on the home page of The Jerusalem Report in the afternoon of August 1, 2018. (screenshot)

The cartoon by Katz was based on a photo of Netanyahu and members of his Likud party snapping a selfie at the Knesset following the passage of the so-called Jewish State law two weeks ago.

The legislation, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, has had a mixed reception. Some critics decry it as discriminatory toward the country’s non-Jewish citizens, an Arab member of the Zionist Union party resigned over the issue, and the Druze community expressed particular outrage. Proponents say the law puts Jewish values and democratic values on equal footing, with the country’s other basic laws enshrining the value of equality.

My cartoon on Israel's shameful new Nationalism Law

Posted by Avi Katz on Monday, July 23, 2018

Alluding to the law, Katz’s drawing — in which all the figures have the heads of pigs — included Orwell’s quote “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

“Animal Farm,” which tells the story of a revolt by animals on a farm against their human owners and its aftermath, is seen as an allegory for the Soviet Union following the Communist revolution and the totalitarianism that accompanied Joseph Stalin’s subsequent rise to power.

Likud MK Oren Hazan takes a selfie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and MK David Bitan, right of Netanyahu, after the passage of the so-called Jewish State law at the Knesset on July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Olivier Fitoussi)

Following the uproar, the Jerusalem Post announced last week it would no longer work with Katz.

“Avi Katz is a cartoonist who worked as a freelancer at the Jerusalem Post and in accordance with editorial considerations, it was decided not to continue the relationship with him,” it said in a Hebrew-language statement.

Katz did not immediately comment. He had worked for the Jerusalem Report since 1990.

After he was fired, the non-profit Brit Yisraelit launched a fundraising drive on the fundraising platform Drove to raise money to employ Katz until he lands another job. By August 1 the campaign reached 97% of its NIS 100,000 ($27,200) goal, 54 days before its deadline.

The Animix festival, which is a partner in the fundraising campaign, said in a Facebook post that while it found the cartoon “shocking,” the drawing does not go against the principle of freedom of expression and contains only “matter-of-fact” criticism of the government.

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