The Likud selfie: drawings that shout louder than words

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What’s in a pen? Drawings of political cartoonists are often the first thing people read in a paper, lampooning some essential quality about people and events, often delighting, and equally often outraging the subjects of their drawings. Zapiro, (above) has long been an iconic commentator on South African affairs

WHO WOULD have thought a shocking picture of a woman being raped by then president Jacob Zuma would appear on the oped pages of a major South African newspaper? Not a photograph, but a drawing. What about an image in an Israeli paper showing Israeli leaders as pigs? That’s what political cartoonists like Zapiro – Jonathan Shapiro – and Avi Katz do in South Africa and Israel: stab at peoples’ most sensitive impulses, to make a point. They have outraged people for years – and delighted many. And Katz was fired last Tuesday from his position at the Jerusalem Report magazine for his ‘pigs’ cartoon, reported Ynet.

For Zapiro, rape has been a potent image to depict South Africa’s ‘rape’ under Zuma, based initially on accusations in 2005 that he raped a friend’s daughter, known as ‘Khwezi’.

In 2008 a Zapiro cartoon in the Sunday Times depicted Zuma preparing to rape ‘Lady Justice’ who was held down by major politicians, with one saying, “Go for it, boss!” And in 2011 a cartoon in the Mail and Guardian showed Zuma zipping up his pants, lasciviously, as an ANC politician held down a woman, with the words “free speech” draped over her body and Lady Justice looking on saying “Fight, sister. Fight!”  Then in 2017 a cartoon in the Daily Maverick depicted the Gupta brothers robbing the country with corruption – again, Zuma was shown zipping up his pants gleefully as one brother prepared to rape a woman draped in the South African flag, held down by political figures. The caption read: “She’s all Yours, Boss!”

South African Jews find Zapiro’s unashamed anti-Israel depictions highly offensive – he has gone so far as to draw analogies between contemporary Israel and Nazism. In April 2002 he depicted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as similar to a Nazi leader, when the IDF bombarded the West Bank town of Jenin after a wave of suicide bombings.

Rape for one, pigs for another: In Israel, veteran cartoonist Avi Katz rendered an image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud lawmakers as the pig characters in George Orwell’s iconic book “Animal Farm.” The unflattering image derived from a photograph which appeared in Israeli papers of the Knesset members taking a congratulatory selfie to celebrate the passage of the controversial nation state bill. The cartoon’s homage to “Animal Farm” included the widely known quote “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

In response, hundreds of outraged comments were posted on Katz’ Facebook page deploring his swine imagery – pigs are considered unclean in Judaism. Some compared his cartoon to anti-Semitic caricatures.

The cartoon was shared more than 2,800 times. “Crazy anti-Semite, filled with self-loathing…” wrote one commenter. Another wrote that within a few months, the brouhaha about the nation state bill will recede, but Katz’s cartoon will remain forever and become a new anti-Semitic Shylock image, like that from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, to be exploited by Jew-haters. It will be uncontrollable and enable hatred “of orthodox, of fat, of men, of Jews in general…”

Are Katz’s critics correct? In a statement, the Union of Journalists in Israel voiced support for him, saying: “Causing harm to a journalist because he expressed an opinion, let alone when it was approved by his editors, is a dangerous step that must not be accepted.”

We are living in dangerously deceptive times, where the internet makes it easy to tar the cartoonist as the ultimate enemy. Love them or hate them, the job of a political cartoonist is to confront and make people think, and they will do that even by resorting to the most inflammatory images conceivable. It’s their job.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za 

Is Zapiro a racist or victim of doublespeak?

Zapiro cartoon monkey organ grinder

Last week’s cartoon by Zapiro (above) sparked a racial furore in South Africa about depictions of black people and censorship

 

WHEN South Africa’s best-known cartoonist, Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro) was accused last week of racism for depicting a black man as a monkey in a cartoon in The Times, it showed how this troubled society has lost its compass and is eating its own best people.

The accusation’s trigger was Zapiro using the universal, comic metaphor of the organ grinder and his monkey. The cartoon commented on National Prosecuting Authority head Shaun Abrahams (the monkey), seeming to be dancing to its master, President Jacob Zuma’s tune (the human organ grinder) by resisting reinstatement of over 700 corruption charges against Zuma, which were mysteriously dropped by his predecessor at the NPA before he became President.

During his decades-long career, Zapiro – arguably the Western world’s most respected political cartoonist today – has incurred the wrath of many powerful people, which is the lot of anyone speaking truth to power. He satirised apartheid’s political leaders, and lampoons the antics of post-apartheid figures, particularly the blunders and corruption of Zuma and his lackeys.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa responded angrily last week that “Zapiro’s cartoons are now being used by racists in our country to glamourise their prejudice”.

Jews and black people have something in common – a hypersensitivity to how they are portrayed by others. Long histories of discrimination and dehumanisation, leading to violence and killings, have developed psychological buttons. For Jews, pogroms and the Holocaust are emblematic of this. For blacks, the sore points are colonialism, slavery and apartheid.

A caricature which enrages Jews is the “Shylock” image, portraying a Jew with hooked nose, cunning eyes and pockets stuffed with dollar bills, controlling the world with money and secret deals – an image used by Jew-haters to demonise them before killing them.

Not everyone who comments negatively about Jews or blacks is anti-Semitic or racist, however. Sometimes these subjects over-react. Some Jews tend to respond to any non-Jew’s criticism of Israel by labelling the critic an anti-Semite. The danger of genuine anti-Semitism is real and, sadly, is growing worldwide. But the term must be used carefully, or it loses its significance.

Zooming in on the local South African context: it is far too easy today to throw the word “racist” at anyone, regardless of appropriateness or the hurt caused. Nobody, black or white, Jew or non-Jew, is totally without prejudices – it is part of the human condition. But if everyone can be labelled a racist for the slightest hint of criticism, the term is drained of all meaning.

The sensitivity of the monkey image for black people is clear, particularly after the recent infamous incident where Durban estate agent and DA member Penny Sparrow caused a national social-media storm by referring to black beachgoers as “monkeys”. But where does the line lie between a sane perspective and the madness of today’s angry South African society?

Zapiro has previously portrayed all sorts of people as monkeys. One well-known cartoon shows white apartheid leaders Hendrik Verwoerd, John Vorster, PW Botha and FW de Klerk as neanderthals in various stages of development, with Nelson Mandela towering over them as the dignified, fully evolved human being. He has also enraged Jews with negative depictions of right-wing Israelis and SA Jewry, resulting in some calling him a self-hating Jew.

With public discourse so dominated by social media, the crudest verbiage spewed by idiots quickly reaches thousands, making racist slurs more dangerous. When words lose meaning, it leads to the kind of bizarre doublespeak portrayed in George Orwell’s iconic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, a society where nothing means what it says.

The current furore surrounding Zapiro indicates rising paranoia among South Africans, exacerbated by an increasingly prescriptive, legislation-obsessed government. The underlying causes – basic insecurity when leadership is almost non-existent and the future uncertain – must be addressed to avoid the kind of outcome Orwell envisaged.

Undoubtedly, South African society is filled with racists of all colours. But they need to be confronted wisely, not like a sledgehammer to a spider.

(Geoff Sifrin is a journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email geoffs@icon.co.za)