Jewish publication expelled from press group after exposing ‘antisemitic’ cartoon

The South African Jewish Report refused to apologize for describing a pro-BDS cartoon as antisemitic.

By Shiryn Ghermezian, The Algemeiner

The Press Council of South Africa (PCSA) said on Friday it expelled a South African Jewish outlet after it refused to apologize for describing a pro-BDS caricature as antisemitic, drawing a swift response from the publication.

Judge Phillip Levinsohn, the PCSA chair of appeals, said the press group kicked out the South African Jewish Report (SAJR) after the outlet did not heed its rulings on a complaint over a November 2020 article covering the controversial cartoon.

In a statement on Friday, SAJR chairperson Howard Sackstein said the publication in fact withdrew from the PSCA six months ago, “after it became evident to us that the Press Council lacked the skills to perform their job competently, fairly and without prejudice.”

The original complaint against the Jewish paper was filed on behalf of the South African Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Coalition (SA BDS Coalition) — a movement of anti-Israel organizations in South Africa affiliated with the Palestine BDS National Committee — and the General Industrial Workers Union of SA (GIWUSA), both of whom created and published the political cartoon on their social media pages.

In November 2020, the SAJR published an article titled “Antisemitic Clover cartoon is BDS’s sour ‘last gasp.’”

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At the time, Israel’s Central Bottling Company was set to take over the dairy company Clover Industries. The caricature encouraged South Africans to boycott Clover, and was described by the SAJR as displaying a “greedy, overweight giant of a man eating a pile of money while the ‘man on the street’ is drawn as a small, insignificant figure sitting in front of an empty plate.” The image was accompanied by a caption that said in part, “Greedy bosses connected to apartheid Israel. Blood curdling milk [and cheese, yoghurt, etc.]. Every reason to boycott Clover!” according to SAJR.

In its report, the Jewish publication cited antisemitism expert and University of Cape Town scholar Milton Shain, who called the cartoon antisemitic, and also quoted South African Jewish Board of Deputies Associate Director David Saksas, who slammed the image for using “stereotypes of greedy, exploitative Jews … to fuel the radical anti-Israel positions.”

In their complaint filed to the PCSA, the SA BDS Coalition and GIWUSA claimed that the Jewish newspaper had falsely accused them of antisemitism and that the article’s headline was “misleading,” while seeking a retraction of the headline and an apology printed in the SAJR.

PCSA’s Acting Ombud Johan Retief ruled against SAJR in January 2021, and the paper filed an application for leave to appeal in March 2021, which was dismissed.

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Levinsohn said on Friday the council tried to resolve the issue with SAJR but “they refused to publish the ruling against them.” The council said SAJR also “abandoned” a second complaint last year, after losing another application to appeal, and then sought to withdraw from the press council to avoid complying with the ruling.

“Compliance by members is essential,” Levinsohn said. “To refuse undermines the Press Council and is unfair to the complainants.”

Responding Friday, SAJR head Howard Sackstein said the publication had already withdrawn of its own accord last year, and that the press council’s announcement “reaffirmed the newspaper’s decision to disassociate itself with such a body that has failed both the press and people of SA.”

Sackstein said the disputed cartoon was “almost identical to traditional racist antisemitic tropes used by the Nazis,” but that the PSCA overruled the expert opinions cited in its report without a hearing, and then denied the right to an appeal.

“By calling on the SA Jewish Report to apologize to racists, the Press Council discredited itself and failed the people of South Africa,” Sackstein said. “As a consequence, the SA Jewish Report, which has a proud history of standing up to racism, informed the Press Council in 2021 that it was embarrassed by its association with the Press Council and that it would no longer associate itself with an organization of that nature.”

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“Through its failure to recognize the racist undertones of the cartoon, the Press Council became party to the perpetuation of racism, hatred and bigotry in SA,” Sackstein added.