Miss SA cartoon shows ugly face of antisemitism
Amidst the virulent reaction from the South African government and media to Miss South Africa choosing to compete in Miss Universe in Israel, one cartoon took the criticism a step too far, delving into classic antisemitic tropes.
In its 16 November 2021 newsletter, titled Maverick Citizen, local online newspaper Daily Maverick sent out the cartoon, ironically under the headline “Racist Pageantry”. The cartoon was certainly discriminatory, but not in the way it was intended to portray discrimination. According to experts, it was blatantly antisemitic.
The cartoon depicts the Miss Universe organisation, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and a man representing the “Zionist lobby” at a beauty pageant.
In the drawing, the Miss Universe organisation is awarded “Miss Anthropic” (misanthropic), possibly saying that the organisation “hates people” by holding the contest in Israel. A misanthrope is a person who hates or distrusts humankind.
The Israeli prime minister is awarded “Miss Appropriate” (misappropriate). According to the dictionary, misappropriate means to “dishonestly or unfairly take (something, especially money, belonging to another) for one’s own use”. Similar words are “embezzle, expropriate, steal, thieve, pilfer, swindle, and pocket”.
While this is a classic antisemitic trope, the point is emphasised even more by giving Bennett an opulent jewelled crown and an oversized hooked nose.
Not to be outdone, the “Zionist lobby” proudly wears a sash awarding him “Miss Information” (misinformation). He is also given a large hooked nose, and wears a yarmulke. The idea of Jews being untrustworthy is a classic antisemitic trope.
Daily Maverick later pulled the cartoon from its website, and sent a message from Editor-in-Chief Branko Brkic to its subscribers saying it had “erroneously published [the] cartoon. After realising it had been published before going through our usual publishing process, we have removed it from our site and resolved to resend this newsletter. We apologise unreservedly to all our readers for this mistake.” The message made no mention of why the cartoon was problematic.
“This [cartoon] is crass antisemitism,” one of the world’s foremost antisemitism experts, Professor Yehuda Bauer, told the SA Jewish Report. Bauer is professor emeritus of history and Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and academic advisor to Yad Vashem.
“The cartoon, with the hooked noses and the charge of financial rapaciousness, is simply ‘Nazi’,” he said. “It endangers South African society. The paper and cartoonist should be condemned by all.”
Local antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town, Milton Shain says, “In trying to be clever, Daily Maverick has disgraced itself. Too often, Jews are easy targets of hate. Somehow it’s fine to satirise or condemn a group not seen to be vulnerable. The cartoon is ugly, with obvious allusions to a panoply of anti-Jewish tropes. Its insinuations would have appealed to readers of Der Sturmer, the Nazi antisemitic rag.”
Political scientist and former research associate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr Matthias Küntzel, says, “The cartoon is particularly perfidious: the three inscriptions are classic antisemitic stereotypes that are further reinforced in the Bennett figure with the jewelled crown.”
Responding to questions from the SA Jewish Report, Brkic said, “I have taken it down and apologised for it being published in the first place. Our publishing systems failed, and when I saw this, I took it down. This is all I can say. There was nothing behind it. I have apologised, and apologise again for a bad mistake. We screwed up. There is always supposed to be an extra pair of eyes and this time, it didn’t happen.”
Mike Abel, a commentator, Cape Town Jewish community member, and regular contributor to Daily Maverick, wrote on Facebook in response to the cartoon, “It’s 2021, and I need to see a cartoon that could have been commissioned by [Nazi propaganda minister] Joseph Goebbels. I don’t feel anger. I feel pure, undiluted f**king rage. It’s one thing having an issue with Miss SA going to Israel, it’s quite another creating a vile, grotesque, and antisemitic cartoon to depict this. I’m astonished at Daily Maverick stooping to such a despicable level. Replete with hooked nose and yarmulke. It’s frankly inexcusable. I have an intolerance for intolerance, and this cartoon, not the first of its kind to appear in this publication either, makes me sick to my very core. #ShameOnThem.”
Abel chose not to comment on whether he would continue to contribute to Daily Maverick.
Responding to Abel, one person wrote, “This cartoon is something the Nazis would have been proud of. I’m horrified that this is being published in a major publication. No wonder people are leaving this country in droves. A disgrace.”
Another wrote, “I’m disgusted. DM [Daily Maverick] just got my unsubscribe. I support freedom of speech and uncensored press. This is neither, merely a liberty taken to be despicable and clearly defamatory under the guise of free speech. This is tantamount to hate speech. What editor would endorse this?”
The SA Jewish Report reached out to the cartoonist, Thulani Ntsong Ka Sibiya, but didn’t receive a response. He posted the cartoon on his personal Facebook page, where his followers are free to see and share it. Six people reacted to the cartoon with a laughing emoji, 17 said they liked it, and 10 said they loved it.
South African Jewish Board of Deputies Associate Director David Saks says, “All reasonable people agree that criticism of Israel doesn’t in and of itself constitute antisemitism. Like any sovereign state, Israel can expect to be criticised. What begs the question is when such purported ‘criticism’ takes an extreme, exaggerated form that is inconsistent with the way other countries are treated. Israel is the acknowledged nation state of the Jewish people with which the great majority of Jews everywhere identify and are identified with. Thus, when it is demonised, delegitimised, and subjected to double standards [to use the ‘three D’ model], it’s specious to pretend that it has nothing to do with Jews as a whole.
“As events the world over have consistently shown, it’s all but inevitable that unbridled hatred for Israel will sooner or later spill over into vitriolic attacks against Jews in general,” he says. “Such, unfortunately, was the case with this cartoon. It relies on ugly caricatures to thrust its message home. Particularly inflammatory is the figure identified as ‘Zionist lobby, Miss Information’. From the skull cap and hooked nose, there can be no doubt that those portrayed as being liars are Jews. It’s a vicious image, redolent with classic antisemitic stereotypes portraying Jews as scheming, dishonest, and untrustworthy.
“While the offending cartoon has since been removed, the fact that it was published in the first place by Daily Maverick is disturbing,” he says. “One has to ask why a publication that is generally so sensitive to racism, sexism, homophobia, global warming, and the like can have failed so badly when it comes to respecting the right to dignity and equality of Jewish people.”