Source: LinkedIn

One of Canada’s largest French media outlets has apologized for a politically charged cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a manner reminiscent of antisemitic propaganda.

La Presse withdrew the controversial cartoon Wednesday, but Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge, failed to condemn it.

During a scrum after the Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday morning, St-Onge said critiques of Israel are “normal.”

“But what I am going to say is that, of course, you know, with everything happening right now in the Middle East and the tension that it’s bringing in Canada as well because communities are feeling this conflict very profoundly, that it’s normal that there are critiques with such a cartoon,” said St-Onge.

The heritage minister continued in French, saying that she would not give any judgments regarding this issue.

“But given the current situation in the Middle East, where there is a lot of tension and the various communities which are affected here in Canada, I believe that this kind of cartoon is going to be the target of criticisms. But we need to have respectful conversations and with compassion and respect,” she added. 

The image was based on the titular character Nosferatu in a 1922 German film that later inspired antisemitic cartoons published by the Nazi propaganda newspaper Der Stürmer. 

The cartoon portrayed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a vampire with long claws, pointed ears, and wearing an overcoat. 

Netanyahu stands on a ship above an inscription that reads “Nosfenyahou, en route to Rafah,” in the cartoon that has since been retracted.

The caricature led various Jewish advocates, such as groups, MPs, Senators, and others, to demand a retraction and apology from La Presse.

B’nai Brith Canada was one of the many Jewish groups and human rights organizations that demanded an immediate retraction and apology from La Presse in a post to X.

“At a time where Canadian Jewry are suffering from the effects of an unprecedented rise in antisemitic incidents, to publish such a hurtful image is a painful insult to the Jewish community and an affront to Canadian morals,” wrote B’nai Brith Canada.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said that there is nothing compassionate or respectful about the cartoon, taking aim at St-Onge’s refusal to denounce it. 

“Canadian Jews are facing massive rising levels of antisemitism, and for the Canadian Minister of Heritage to say this was about the freedom of the press was an abject failure on her part to address antisemitism and to condemn it,” she said.

While Rempel believes that the press has the right to do what it wants, she said that what La Presse published was a blatant example of Nazi-era antisemitic imagery.

She said that St-Onge could have demonstrated moral clarity but failed to do so.

“I was shocked when I saw the fact that this minister danced around this issue, as opposed to taking a firm and solid stance. I believe that she owes a clarification and, more importantly, an apology for her horrendous, abject failure to condemn this image,” said Rempel Garner.

The government needs to ensure that the levels of antisemitism that the Canadian Jewish community is facing are reduced, according to Rempel.

“This is something that every parliamentarian has a duty to understand and protect against. Every parliamentarian should feel as comfortable as I am and as angry as I am that this was published in a major Canadian journal today. This should never have passed editorial standards. And the fact that the Minister of Canadian Heritage failed to say this is atrocious. It’s appalling.”

La Presse issued a mea culpa, titled Our Apologies, to anyone the caricature offended, saying that the cartoon was intended to critique Netanyahu’s policies and confirming that it has been removed from all of their platforms.

“It was aimed at the Israeli government, not the Jewish people,” said La Presse.

“It was unfortunate to depict the Prime Minister as Nosferatu, the vampire, since this movie character was taken over by Nazi propaganda during the Second World War, as readers pointed out to us after publication,” added the French newspaper. 

“It was never our intention to promote anti-Semitism or harmful stereotypes. On the contrary, La Presse has already loudly denounced the deplorable rise in anti-Semitism since the start of the war, in Quebec and elsewhere in the world,” it added.

While St-Onge failed to explicitly condemn the caricature, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did.

“It is unacceptable to bring back antisemitic tropes and allusions like that. It is distasteful and exactly the wrong thing to do, particularly in these times. It is a good thing that it was pulled. It was a good thing that they’ve apologized, but it never should have happened in the first place,” said Trudeau.