Rat cartoon exposes BDS anti-Semitism

  • BDSCartoon
A cartoon on social media depicting Jews as rats has once again exposed the hypocrisy of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions South Africa (BDS-SA) movement when it comes to accusations of anti-Semitism.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Feb 06, 2020

BDS-SA, which calls itself a human-rights organisation for peace, last week scored an own goal when it posted a distasteful anti-Semitic cartoon on Facebook and Twitter in response to United States President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” peace-plan announcement, which it vehemently opposes.

Widespread criticism of the organisation’s use of the cartoon has made global news.

This isn’t the first time the objectionable cartoon has been used. It dates back several years, and resurfaces time and again on various anti-Israel platforms with reference to the Middle-East conflict.

The rehashed cartoon depicts Israel as a piece of Swiss cheese full of holes with caricatures of Jewish people, including former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Caricatures are drawn with rat-like features including gnawing teeth, rats’ tails, and large hooked noses, and can be seen “munching” and “chomping” through the cheese. Some are seen wearing yarmulkes. The drawings are reminiscent of how Jews were depicted as vermin by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Signs which read “kosher cheese” and a “Jews only freeway” are placed on the cheese.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) lambasted BDS-SA “for using political events to demonise and incite hatred against Jews”.

This “clearly crosses the line between legitimate political comment and blatant incitement to hatred on the basis of religion”, the board stated.

“There are so many cases like this where BDS-SA shows its true colours,” said SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn. “There is incident after incident, and that’s why this is critically important and needs to be exposed.”

BDS-SA posted the cartoon on 29 January at 09:51, with the preface, “In essence, Donald Trump’s #DealOfTheCentury peace plan is designed for Israel to steal as much Palestinian land as possible with forced co-operation and consent from Palestinians.”

The posting of this cartoon flies in the face of the organisation’s insistence that it opposes all forms of racism including anti-Semitism. The SAJBD said the label of “kosher cheese” in the cartoon “leaves no doubt that this cartoon targets Jewish people”.

The organisation has denied allegations of anti-Semitism on numerous occasions, each time reiterating its commitment to non-violent action. In a past statement, BDS-SA said it was “extremely sensitive to conduct that is discriminatory or tantamount to hate speech, and takes genuine allegations of anti-Semitism seriously”.

It says allegations of anti-Semitism are untrue, and a misrepresentation of the organisation’s values.

However, this latest round of accusation has been met with silence. At the time of going to press, the organisation had not responded to questions put to it.

“While they absolve themselves from any anti-Semitic incidents that occur, it’s the aggressive, inflammatory, and intolerant nature of their campaigns that fosters the environment in which anti-Semitism flourishes,” said Kahn.

“BDS-SA has never had a campaign that contributes towards finding a lasting peaceful solution to the Middle East crisis because this isn’t its objective. It has created a ‘politically correct’ platform to hate Jews with impunity. It has nothing to do with peace building. It uses a political platform for its real objective, which is to create a climate of hostility towards South African Jews.”

Describing the cartoon as “full-on genocidal speak”, Kahn explained, “When you use rats and vermin, you are dehumanising people. In the ten stages of genocide, this is stage four. This kind of dehumanisation has led to genocides in the past, such as the labelling of Tutsi people in Rwanda as cockroaches. It’s shocking and unacceptable.”

South African anti-Semitism expert Professor Milton Shain said, “It’s unfortunate but not surprising that those representing ‘Jews’ in the cartoon as opposed to ‘Israeli Jews’ bear a striking resemblance to something out of Der Stürmer, the Nazi tabloid published by Julius Streicher. But I wouldn’t have expected anything different from the BDS movement, which rejects the Jewish state.” Shain is professor emeritus of historical studies at the University of Cape Town.

Der Stürmer was a “tabloid style” newspaper published by Streicher from 1923 to the end of World War II. It was viewed by Hitler as playing a significant role in the Nazi propaganda machinery.

Benji Shulman, the director Public Policy at the South African Zionist Federation, said, “You can easily see what BDS-SA is doing here. First of all, it always claims that there is no Jewish link, but in the cartoon, the cheese is kosher, so what has that got to do with anything? Second, the freeway says, “Jews only”. There are no Jews-only roads anywhere in the West Bank or Israel, so it’s clear they are unable to make their case and so revert to old-style anti-Semitism. Not only are Jews represented as rats, there are rats wearing yarmulkes here. They are religious Jewish rats. It shows where BDS’ head is at. This isn’t the first, second, or third time this has happened. It happens with BDS fairly regularly, and shows what it is all about.”

Well known South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, alias, Zapiro, said he “would’ve avoided the rats’ tails”.

“I think the cartoonist could’ve made the point without the rats’ tails. This takes a step in a different direction. But I don’t think it’s a cartoon people should scream and shout about.”

He said it was “difficult to avoid the iconography” such as the kippot and the big noses. “Everyone in the cartoon has a fairly large nose, this is a cartoon device. I think if people are going to create a furore about anti-Semitism, it would be a highly exaggerated take on this cartoon” which he described as a “fairly ordinary looking cartoon” to which “he wouldn’t give a second glance”.

“There are nuances that could be vaguely uncomfortable for some, but this is what it’s like in cartooning. If this is blown up, it would be a convenient diversion to prevent people from looking at what the cartoon is actually saying,” Zapiro said.

Allan Horwitz, the spokesperson of the South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP) said, “We don’t believe the cartoon is inherently anti-Semitic because it accurately portrays the Balkanisation of Palestine so that there is truly no chance of a viable Palestinian state emerging from this plan.

“There are some things that are verifiable, such as signs that say ‘Jews only’ with respect to highways that crisscross the West Bank community settlements into Israel. Bearing in mind historic sensibilities and the portrayal of Jews, we believe cartoonists should be circumspect in the way that Jews are physically characterised.”

“It’s ironic that the Palestinian in the cartoon also has a large nose. The pictorial use of the big nose to depict the Jew is an unfortunate one because it does raise historic resonances. This plays into the hands of propaganda that wishes to depict the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. BDS is not an anti-Semitic crusade. There are Jews worldwide who support it,” Horwitz said.

In spite of numerous attempts to reach BDS-SA founder, Professor Farid Esack, he has not provided comment.


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