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.