A newspaper is meant to be a marketplace of ideas. It is a platform where readers have the opportunity to come and learn new information, read different opinions and have their ideologies questioned and challenged.
That is very much what we do here on a daily basis in the pages of The Jerusalem Post, as well as in our award-winning biweekly magazine, The Jerusalem Report.
Last week we came under fire following our decision to stop running cartoons in the Report by freelance cartoonist Avi Katz. This was not an easy decision to make. On the one hand, we believe firmly in freedom of speech – and especially the right of our opinion writers and cartoonists to express themselves without pressure or intimidation from external forces. On the other hand, all freedoms, including that of expression, have their limits.
Katz’s last cartoon for The Jerusalem Report copied a photograph by Associated Press photographer Olivier Fitoussi of a selfie MK Oren Hazan took of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Likud members in celebration of the parliament’s late-night approval of the controversial Nation-State Law. The law states that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it.”
In a series of editorials, we have sharply criticized the legislation as well as Netanyahu for his own personal failure to uphold the principles of a Jewish and democratic state by allowing a law that discriminates against minorities to pass. Our last editorial on this subject was Sunday and in it we called on the prime minister and his coalition partners to immediately fix the law amid the growing rift it has caused with Israel’s Druze community.
But while we uphold these principles, we also have ethical and editorial standards that we believe Katz’s depiction of those same politicians as pigs, in reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, blatantly crossed.
The swine image is reminiscent of antisemitic memes used against Jews throughout history. Just recently, a Hamas-affiliated scholar said, “Allah has transformed Jews into pigs and apes.” We, a Zionist newspaper, cannot accept this demeaning analogy. Criticism yes. Incitement and hatred, no.
We understand why this decision caused such an uproar. But we also know that, like every other news outlet in the world, we have a responsibility to our readers to uphold ethical and editorial standards and to take action when they are crossed.
Freedom of speech is not the freedom to defame and harm others with impunity. Lampooning politicians in satirical cartoons can be found in almost every newspaper worldwide but there needs to be limits. Katz, in our opinion, breached those limits.
We are also not the first publication in the world to recognize the damage after publication. Last year, for example, the United Kingdom’s Sunday Times newspaper decided to fire a columnist for writing an op-ed that many accused it of being antisemitic and misogynistic. Just recently, The Atlantic magazine in the United States fired a conservative columnist just a month after hiring him following social media uproar over his controversial opinions.
Like the Times and the Atlantic, we, too, recognized after publication that this specific cartoon should not have been published. It should not have been published to begin with, but it would have been a greater error not to take action once it was published.Newspapers cannot exist in an ivory tower. We need to listen to our readers and public and be vigilant when our ethical and editorial standards are crossed.
Claims that political pressure caused our decision are factually incorrect. We take on the government in these pages daily and hold it accountable for its mistakes and flaws. We do that while believing that it is our duty to serve as a watchdog for democracy and to ensure that Israel stands by the Jewish and democratic principles it was founded on 70 years ago.
That is our job and that is exactly what we will continue to do.