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Precedent-setting Ruling: Australian Press Council Upholds Compaint Against Newspaper for Publishing

In a precedent-setting ruling, the Australian Press Council has upheld a complaint against a leading national weekly newspaper for publishing an anti-Semitic cartoon last May.

The complaint was brought by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) against. The National Times after a full-page cartoon was published depicting a satanic cloven-hoofed rabbi slicing, with one hand, an infant into pieces against a background of a crescent moon dripping blood. With the other hand, the figure was dropping a bomb on a mosque.

The caricature accompanied an article by a pro-Palestinian academic, Dr. Jeremy Salt, which dealt with what the newspaper described as the “brutal campaign to drive out the West Bank Palestinians.” Although the article was highly critical of the Israeli government, Salt did not know of the cartoon and subsequently dissociated himself from it in a letter to The National Times, where he described the images portrayed as “highly offensive” not only to Jews but to others.

The ECAJ made no complaint to the Press Council about the article and made a distinction in its submission between vigorous and even harsh criticism of Israel and incitement to racial hatred of Jews.

EDITOR DEFENDS CARTOON

The ECAJ pursued its complaint to the Council, the newspaper industry’s editorial watchdog, after Brian Toohey, the editor of The National Times, a left-liberal weekly newspaper published in Sydney, defended the drawings by artist Michael Fitzjames as a “legitimate strong comment on Israeli policies”.

Although the Press Council is traditionally headed by a judge or barrister, it has no legal powers. But its adjudications are widely published and they set the standards on such issues as bias, journalist ethics and racism.

In upholding the ECAJ complaint, the Council said the drawing had gone beyond strong disapproval of the Israeli government and used “images which tapped deep well-springs of racial and religious prejudice, thereby giving deep offence to at least some Jewish people through the revival of memories of past persecution.”

In his defense the cartoonist said he did not intend to be anti-Jewish, but was referring specifically to Rabbi Meir Kahane, since elected to the Knesset, who was mentioned in the article.

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