THE Sydney Morning Herald could face legal action after widespread community outrage at a “clearly anti-Semitic” cartoon that could lead to the “inciting of hatred of Jews”.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) didn’t pull any punches this week when it responded to a cartoon by Glen Le Lievre that was published in Saturday’s SMH as well as on the website of fellow Fairfax paper The Age. It was still online when the The AJN went to print on Wednesday.
“The publication of the clearly anti-Semitic Le Lievre cartoon was completely unacceptable,” The ECAJ said in a letter to the SMH.
“The cartoon unambiguously portrays an ugly stereotype of a Jew.
“He is identified with a hook nose, kippah and Magen David, sitting in an armchair and using a remote control device to blow up houses and people, presumably in Gaza, in the context of the current fighting.”
The letter said the cartoon portrays Jews as collectively guilty of “acting outside the norms of civilisation and the laws of war, intentionally causing civilian deaths in Gaza”.
“In our view this is racial vilification not only in the sense of offending, insulting, humiliating and intimidating Jews as a group but also in the sense of inciting third parties to hatred of Jews.”
The ECAJ said Holocaust survivors in the community have compared the cartoon to those which regularly appeared in Nazi newspapers in occupied Europe.
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council also wrote a letter slating the cartoon, which it said “evoked a number of overt and degrading Jewish stereotypes, none of which are accepted or tolerated by the wider community in Australia”.
In response to the ECAJ’s letter, SMH editor Darren Goodsir said the cartoon was not intended to depict an ugly stereotype or incite racial hatred.
Goodsir noted that the cartoon was directly modelled on a number of photographs published, including one with an old man sitting alone observing the conflict in Gaza from a hill in Sderot, and that Le Lievre usually draws old people with pronounced features, including noses.
“I deeply regret the offence this cartoon has caused for members of your community,” Goodsir said in response to the ECAJ’s letter.
“That was not the Herald’s intention. I want to assure you that we observe, and enforce, the highest journalistic standards; not least during the current traumatic and emotional times.”
He said that the SMH had published diverse opinions consistent with the wide range of community views and that he was determined to lead a team that is committed to calling out examples of racial prejudice and bigotry.
“I take a very dim view of any racist behaviour – as do all members of the Herald newsroom.”
The ECAJ said Goodsir’s response did not address the substance of their complaint and The AJN understands that the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, as a constituent of the ECAJ, has threatened legal action and demanded an apology. The organisation believes the cartoon is in breach of Section 20C of the Anti-Discrimination Act and said it was considering lodging a formal complaint against Fairfax Media and the cartoonist with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board.
Section 20C states that it is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race of the person or members of the group.
The cartoon was used to illustrate a column by Mike Carlton in which he wrote of Operation Protective Edge, “Call it genocide, call it ethnic cleansing; the aim is to kill Arabs.”
Carlton added, “It is a breathtaking irony that these atrocities can be committed by a people with a proud liberal tradition of scholarship and culture, who hold the Warsaw Ghetto and the six million dead of the Holocaust at the centre of their race memory.”