On Cartoon Noses, Antisemitism, and the Slaughter in Gaza

Once again, the accusation of antisemitism was weaponized to trump both common sense and support for the victims of Israel’s murderous rampage.

Last week prominent Quebec cartoonist Serge Chapleau caricatured Benjamin Netanyahu as a vampire. The cartoon published in La Presse reads “Nosfenyahou, en route to Rafah.”

The pro-Israel and genocide lobby immediately condemned the caricature of Israel’s prime minister. So did NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice and others.

In my opinion there’s nothing antisemitic about the cartoon and Chapleau should be celebrated for using his mainstream platform to challenge Israel’s holocaust in Gaza. Even more, his refusal to apologize for a cartoon that was quickly withdrawn should also be applauded. Chapleau told CBC, “It’s a caricature based on an old character Nosferatu, an old vampire who goes and invades another country. That’s all, it’s not worse than that. If you look up cartoons of Netanyahu, you’ll see much worse. … It’s not antisemitic, it’s not that at all.”

Following the genocide lobby’s condemnation, Boulerice posted in French “The La Presse caricature, now withdrawn, was highly problematic and antisemitic. It should never have been published. In these difficult times, we all need to be more careful not to stir up the roots of hatred.” In what may have been a coordinated move with the party’s Quebec lieutenant, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh quickly retweeted Boulerice’s post.

The next day I questioned Boulerice about his criticism of the cartoon. His response suggested he hadn’t done much research on the matter. But the broader aim of my questioning was to highlight the connection between a willingness to disparage those opposing genocide and left-wing MPs failure to participate in anti-genocide protests. I asked Boulerice if he’d attended any of the mass marches that had taken place in Montréal over the past 25 weekends against Canada’s role in enabling Israel’s genocide. He hadn’t (though he participated in the following day’s large union-led march).

Over the years I’ve seen Boulerice at climate, poverty, immigrant rights, etc. marches. Imagine if there had been 25 weekends in a row of protests with thousands, even tens of thousands, coming out for workers’ rights or expanded Medicare or against racism, homophobia or even Canada deploying troops abroad. It is unthinkable that Boulerice and other NDP and Green MPs would fail to participate. But I’m only aware of one MP attending a Palestine protest. NDP MP Matthew Green spoke during a march in Toronto on November 12. (Conversely, the PM, Deputy PM, ministers and MPs have attended far smaller and less numerous pro-genocide rallies.)

One reason MPs have not attended the demonstrations is out of a concern for being smeared (Green was forced to release a statement defending himself after speaking in Toronto). That’s the power of the antisemitism stick. Leftists who echo the genocide lobby’s faux outrage about a cartoon are strengthening a stick that makes it less likely that anyone with profile or power will add their voice to the popular uprising.

Unfortunately, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) played a dubious role in this anti-Palestinian affair. Former IJV communications lead Aaron Lakoff quickly echoed the backlash, posting to X that “this caricature in La Presse is antisemitic”. IJV’s main account retweeted Lakoff and the group’s spokesperson Corey Balsam immediately liked his post. Lakoff suggested the cartoon was a “blood libel” and claimed “it’s antisemitic because you just don’t draw Jews with exaggerated large noses. Netanyahu is already an evil monster. No caricature needed. For those Jews like me who were teased for our noses, this is foul.”

But a quick scan of Chapleau’s cartoons demonstrates that they largely all have big noses (if anything Netanyahu’s nose, which is not drawn in a stereotypical hook fashion, is exaggerated less than other public figures).

According to IJV’s definition of antisemitism posted on their website: “Antisemitism is racism, hostility, prejudice, vilification, discrimination or violence, including hate crimes, directed against Jews, as individuals, groups or as a collective – because they are Jews. Its expression includes attributing to Jews, as a group, characteristics or behaviours that are perceived as dangerous, harmful, frightening or threatening to non-Jews.”

Clearly Netanyahu is not targeted because he is Jewish, but rather because he is the PM of a country currently engaged in what even the International Court of Justice has ruled is a “plausible” case of genocide.

But let’s say for the sake of discussion you believe there is a problem with the depiction of Netanyahu’s nose and that the cartoon reinforces some residual ‘Jews as vampires’ stereotype, does the damage done to Quebec/Canadian Jews outweigh the benefit of a mainstream publication vilifying an Israeli prime minister committing a holocaust in Gaza? It’s not even close and focusing on Jewish sensitivities in this manner enables more Palestinian babies to be starved or slaughtered. IJV should remove Lakoff’s post and apologize to Palestinians and everyone seeking to mainstream critiques of Israel’s holocaust. (Long-time IJV member Larry Haiven corrected some of the harm done by the group with “Labelling La Presse cartoon ‘antisemitic’ falls into pro-Israel trap” but he takes pains to note that it’s “the personal opinion of the author alone and does not necessarily represent the views of Independent Jewish Voices Canada.”)

The La Presse cartoon highlights how IJV’s political weight in Palestine solidarity circles can be damaging. IJV’s quick tweet undercut those pushing back against the bad-faith attacks on the cartoon and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East retweeted IJV (and to their shame two other criticisms of the cartoon). Even amidst the unimaginable horrors in Gaza, some mainstream respectability-oriented Palestine solidarity groups are willing to echo apartheid lobby panics.

This is, of course, not the first time IJV and CJPME have assisted the apartheid lobby in marginalizing Palestine solidarity. And it’s almost a pastime of those in the NDP leader’s office.

On Friday I also asked Jagmeet Singh why he echoed the genocide lobby’s claim that a march to stop the attack on Rafah last month “targeted” a Toronto hospital with Jewish roots. I mentioned to the NDP leader that over 6,000 individuals had emailed him to delete his smear, but it’s still on his account. He partially backed away from the post, but his answer was unconvincing.

Amidst the genocide, Singh has yet to attend a demonstration against it. Singh was in Montreal on Saturday to attend former Conservative party leader Brian Mulroney’s funeral but failed to join the 5,000 who participated in a broad union and civil society led march against Israel’s holocaust in Gaza.

Why? Not because of principled anti-racism. Rather, the pro-Israel lobby has trained politicians, media pundits and other opinion leaders like Pavlov’s dogs to pile on condemnation when they ring the bell of “antisemitism” regardless of the merits of a particular accusation.

Too many on the left pathetically desire to appear “mainstream” and not threaten the status quo. And that “mainstream” space remains defined by a legacy media and its pro-Israel “commentariat” despite that media shrivelling in reach over the past two decades. Interestingly, the right has learned just how irrelevant the legacy media has become, but not the left.

But the most important lesson from the vampire cartoon affair is that self-described leftist MPs who echoed the Israel lobby’s condemnations of a cartoon also have failed to attend protests against Canada’s contribution to an incredible injustice in Palestine. That is not simply a coincidence. It reflects a fundamental concession to the power of Israel’s supporters. Some “on the left” think it is more important to consider the size of a cartoon figure’s nose than rally support for ending the genocide in Gaza.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People's History of the Canadian Military . Read other articles by Yves.