AT the face of it, a cartoon caricature of a ‘greedy capitalist’ isn’t anti-Semitic. Taken within the context of a boycott and disinvestment campaign against Israeli goods? Well, there are some who may be offended. Personally I don’t find such images, which are redolent of similar Nazi propaganda, in particular the earlier Dreyfus Affair, terribly problematic.
Distasteful yes, and often accompanying conspiracy theories of Jews controlling the world, or bizarre plots to murder Christ and Christian babies, the images are well-known and documented. The illustration in question is a stock ‘man eating money’ image, symbolising greed, similar in many ways to earlier NP-inspired ‘Hoggenheimer‘ images from the 1930s and also deserving of comparison with ‘watermelon men‘ images, from the 1950s symbolising, indolence.
Although the picture in question has appeared in the context of such mischief, and is often used by anti-Semites, it is not one of the truly abysmal images depicting Ashkenazi Jews, with over-sized facial features deserving of our opprobrium. Judge Bernard Ngoepe is right to some extent, and on this account alone, to attempt to discount the controversy, since the image could just as well have found its home on the cover of Noseweek.
Unfortunately the logical analysis provided by Ngoepe is absolutely flawed. The least of which is its resort to an a priori finding — reasoning which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience.
The argument goes: Somebody who is Jewish says the cartoon used in this context is not Anti-Semitic, therefore it must follow that the author Tali Feinberg cannot impute any Anti-Semitism to BDS on the basis and must apologise.
The finding is wrong for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is clear that Feinberg quotes the opinion of an esteemed academic and expert on the subject, Prof Milton Shain, whose conclusions are thus immediately at odds with the a priori finding. (Frankly, the result does pose the question, why similar union campaigns are devoid of caricature? The subject of the use of cartoons in politics is especially touchy when compounded by religion.)
Secondly, Ngoepe essentially quotes only one opinion, provided by the complainant, that of David Saks, a member of the SAJBD in order to substantiate his own opinion in the matter.
Thirdly, Ngoepe is correct in averring a lack of balance and fairness, thus an impact upon journalistic standards of their member, insomuch as the report in question failed to solicit either the opinion of GIWUSA or BDS, the two affected parties.
Lastly, the sanctions imposed do not fit the nature of the offense. (SEE: Sanef Urges JR to reconsider its position).
In upholding the complaint in its entirety, instead of making an objective ruling upholding the rights of both parties, and thus the complainants right to respond to the article (right of reply) — to thus have their views published by the Jewish Report, as too the publisher’s right to publish, Ngoepe chose to side with the complainant. It is thus a highly politicised stance and outcome, one which immediately calls into question the Press Council’s standing and capacity to act.
The Press Council’s opinion in this regard really runs counter to the idea that a publisher may publish an authors opinion, based as it is on an academic’s opinion, however problematic and contrary to mainstream politics, it may be, and is contradicted by its own previous findings — rulings made when similar complaints are lodged by Jews regarding anti-Semitism in the press, (see my own complaint against Cape Times).
Does this make me biased when it comes to pointing out the resulting hypocrisy? It certainly should and please mark my words — the result is now an exile of the party concerned, an outcome which does not bode well for the council since BDS via its advocacy of far-ranging sanctions, which often translate into cultural sanctions against anyone vaguely Jewish, has long since gained a reputation for Anti-Semitism, in other words, hostility to secular Jewish identity.
I have merely to refer readers to death threats issued against the runner up to last year’s Miss Universe.
In seeking to close down the debate on what constitutes anti-Semitism, (rather than interpretation of the cartoon per se), and instead of reaching out to issues of fairness, the result rubs salt in the wound as it were. Surely it is not up to non-Jewish members of the council to determine such definitions, same way as whites don’t get to define racism, and an apartheid media company doesn’t get to decide who is a member of the anti-apartheid movement or not?
The result thus erroneously attempts to limit discourse, to force an apology on the substance of the unproven allegations, instead of a sanction on the merits, and with the unfortunate effect, a professional excommunication from the council. Which leads one to conclude Ngoepe is really entertaining a presumption in seeking to set BDS up as a movement whose reputation is beyond question at the same time that he denies the right of SA Jewish Report to call out Anti-Semitism, however and whenever they see it (surely all a matter of opinion?).
I also note there appears to be some debate as to whether the Clover boycott effects the so-called occupied territories or not. For the record, both sides in the tragic case of injustice vs injustice need to be heard.
If anyone wishes to engage with Medialternatives on creating a press code of conduct that would include internationally accepted definitions of anti-Semitism that include the right to criticise the policies of the state of Israel, please comment below. Surely time for a South African code?