It isn’t the first time a politician in Western Europe has been accused of anti-Semitic behaviour. This time it has happened in Austria. Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the country’s far right Freedom Party has come under fire for posting what appeared to be an anti-Semitic cartoon on Facebook last week. Austrian Jewish leader Oskar Deutsch has likened the caricature, which depicts a banker with a hooked nose and wearing Star of David cufflinks, to anti-Jewish Nazi propaganda seen in the 1930s. Strache later posted a second version of the cartoon with significant changes. The Star of David emblems had been removed from the banker’s cufflinks and the shape of his nose had also been altered.
The original cartoon has caused outrage and backlash. Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League has said, “Strache brings shame to Austrian politics and should be repudiated for his anti-Jewish bigotry”. Austrian paper Der Standard has reported that prosecutors are investigating whether the cartoon meets the standard of inciting hatred against Jews, which would be a violation of the country’s anti-hate laws.
…”dancing on the graves of Auschwitz”…
Strache and his Freedom Party have been accused of anti-Semitism as well as Islamophobia in the past. Earlier this year Strache was heard saying, at a far-right ball in Vienna, that he and his supporters were like the “new Jews.” His comments referred to the fact that over 2,500 people had picketed outside the ball, which was held on the same day as the Holocaust Remembrance Day. Talking about the insensitive timing of the ball Green Party leader Eva Glavischnig said that guests would be “dancing on the graves of Auschwitz”. Strache later said that his comments were taken out of context.
While this case is just the latest example of cartoons sparking controversy it is by no means the first. In 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten created a huge uproar when it published 12 cartoons, most of which depicted the Islamic prophet, Mohammed. The newspaper explained it produced the images not as an insult to Islam but as an attempt to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship. Regardless, the cartoons, which were then printed in 50 other countries around the world, led to wide spread protest. At least 100 people were reported to have died after police opened fire on protesters.
…every right to publish the cartoons under the right of free speech…
While critics of the Danish cartoons have described them as Islamophobic, racist and blasphemous to those of Muslim faith, supporters have staunchly said that the cartoons did not target Muslims in a discriminatory way since other religions and their leaders have often been unflatteringly depicted, and that Jyllands-Posten had every right to publish the cartoons under the right of free speech.
But perhaps this is comparing apples with pears. Cartoonists deal in satire – it is part of their job to shed perspective in a way that many other forms of media don’t. And as members of the press they should be allowed to produce material that is satirical, as long as they abide by both press and country laws. Politicians on the other hand are a different story. They should know better than to produce material that is likely to cause widespread offence, regardless of their personal beliefs and opinions. And while a proponent of free speech – not just for the press but for any individual in society – I also believe that there are some lines that should not be crossed. Politicians producing material that depicts and incites religious prejudice is one of them.