Really, what could be antisemitic about picturing Israel as an ugly greedy monster with horns? Why on earth would anybody take offense to see Israel caricatured like this as illustration for an article recommending two books highly critical of the Jewish state in one of Germany’s most influential newspapers?
But while Franziska Augstein of the Süddeutsche Zeitung firmly declared that there was no antisemitism in an illustration that, after all, just showed how Israel is seen by its enemies [sic!], some demonstrated on Twitter that not everyone in Germany is as utterly clueless as Dr. Augstein: Stefen Niemeyer posted a photo of the caricature with the comment: “The @SZ goes Stürmer in color today: ‘Germany serves the voracious Moloch’ Israel.” According to a report in the Jüdische Allgemeine, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany deplored the image in similar terms.
The caption for the image reads: “Germany is serving. For decades, Israel has been provided, in part for free, with weapons. Israel’s enemies see the country as a voracious Moloch. Peter Beinart laments that it has come to this.”
As the reference to Peter Beinart indicates, the article that the image is meant to illustrate reviews the German edition of his controversial book “The Crisis of Zionism.” Strictly speaking, it’s not really a review, but rather a summary of his criticism of “what’s going wrong” with Israel, as the subtitle of the book’s German edition reads. And according to this summary, Beinart’s views are entirely justified; there is no mention of the fact that “countless reviewers” have criticized Beinart’s book as “an Israel-bashing-fest.” Interestingly enough, however, the article opens with the remark that it is really “good” that Beinart isn’t a German writer, but an American Jew – which supposedly allows him to write what he wrote without facing condemnation.
In addition to warmly recommending Beinart’s book, the article also highlights a book by a German journalist who questions the notion that Germany should regard Israel’s security as a vital interest that justifies and requires providing weapons to Israel. According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, questioning German support for Israel’s security is particularly important given Israel’s “continuously expanding borders” and the prospect that Israel might “attack” Iran or get involved “even deeper” in the “crisis” in Syria.
Well, it really shouldn’t be too hard to see here the “voracious Moloch” ready to gobble up a friendly and peaceful neighborhood…
But there is an intriguing twist to the story. As the Jüdische Allgemeine reports, the drawing of the “voracious Moloch” was originally done for a culinary magazine and artist Ernst Kahl was horrified to learn that the Süddeutsche Zeitung had used his drawing in a very different context than he had envisaged when he drew the image.
That brings us back to Franziska Augstein’s assertion that the image is not antisemitic. And she has a point: imagine the same picture in a food magazine, perhaps illustrating an article about how some people wolf down lovingly prepared meals without appreciating the effort that has gone into the cooking. Nothing wrong with that.
But as Augstein surely understands, it is of course a very different matter to use the “voracious Moloch” to represent Israel – or, as she emphasizes, Israel as seen by its enemies.
Augstein is also sophisticated enough to know what she is doing here – not only because her Ph.D. dissertation is on the origins of the modern concept of race and the implications for modern racism, but also because the daughter of the influential Der Spiegel founder Rudolf Augstein has already worked for more than two decades in fairly distinguished positions in the German media.
However, like many members of the German elite, Augstein apparently prefers to believe that even the harshest and most unfair “criticism” singling out the world’s only Jewish state is not antisemitic. One doesn’t have to look far for another example, because it was exactly this kind of “criticism” that got her half-brother Jakob Augstein a place on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of prominent antisemites in 2012.
Given this fondness for the unfair double standards used to make Israel into a repulsive monster, it is hardly surprising when an intelligent and highly educated German media professional plays dumb and insists that there is nothing wrong with depicting the Jewish state as a grotesque greedy Moloch if this reflects the view of Israel’s enemies. Of course, Nazi publications like Der Stürmer also depicted Jews as utterly repulsive creatures only because that reflected their view of the Jews – who, the Nazis felt, made the Germans “serve” them, voraciously taking advantage of German good nature to continuously expand their evil power and influence.
Some Germans, it seems, still have the feeling that they are forced to “serve” the Jews, who are now busy with “continuously expanding” their borders and abusing their considerable power to threaten their innocent neighbors with totally unwarranted attacks. In short: once it was the Jews who were only up to evil, now it is the Jewish state…