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Montreal newspaper La Presse removes cartoon denounced as antisemitic

La Presse chief editorialist Stéphanie Grammond apologized for the cartoon on behalf of the paper in a statement posted online this afternoon, saying it was never the outlet's intention to promote harmful stereotypes.
La Presse chief editorialist Stéphanie Grammond apologized for the cartoon on behalf of the paper in a statement posted online this afternoon, saying it was never the outlet's intention to promote harmful stereotypes.

Quebec newspaper La Presse has apologized for publishing a cartoon Wednesday that depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the vampire from the film “Nosferatu” after criticism that the caricature used antisemitic imagery.

The image published online portrayed Netanyahu with pointed ears and long sharp fingers, evoking a sequence in the 1922 silent film in which the vampire Count Orlok hides away on a ship in pursuit of his human prey.

A text overlay identified the caricature as “Nosfenyahou” on his way to the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, which Netanyahu this week said would be targeted by a ground invasion, despite international appeals against the assault. La Presse removed the cartoon from its website Wednesday morning.

Many commentators and politicians denounced the image as an expression of antisemitic tropes, with some noting the German film’s echoes in Nazi propaganda and ties to historical depictions of Jewish people as vampires.

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In a statement posted to X, formerly Twitter, the embassy of Israel in Canada said “shame on (La Presse) for posting this vile caricature.” The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs wrote on X that criticism of Netanyahu is possible “without stooping to using antisemitic tropes such as hooked fingers or a big nose.”

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The centre said the drawing “contributes to the normalization of antisemitism that has been affecting our community for months.”

La Presse chief editorialist Stéphanie Grammond apologized in a statement posted online Wednesday afternoon, saying it was never the paper’s intention to promote harmful stereotypes.

“The drawing was meant to be a criticism of Mr. Netanyahu’s policies,” Grammond wrote. “It was aimed at the Israeli government, not the Jewish people.”

The representation of the Israeli prime minister as the “Nosferatu” vampire was “unfortunate,” she said, given the embrace of the figure by the Nazi regime.

The film even served as inspiration to the publisher of Der Sturmer, a Nazi newspaper that pushed antisemitic imagery before the Second World War, according to Deidre Butler, a Carleton University professor and director of its Max and Tessie Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies.

The image of the blood-sucking, barbaric vampire has long resonated with antisemitic ideologists, Butler explained in an email. The physical characteristics of the vampire in “Nosferatu,” in particular, could have been read as Jewish stereotypes to audiences in 1922, she said.

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“This is a powerfully antisemitic image,” wrote Butler, who teaches a course that examines depictions of Jews as monsters. “Even if you’ve never seen ‘Nosferatu,’ ‘Nosferatu’ informs an entire genre of vampire movies that reverberate with antisemitic tropes.”

The cartoon by award-winning editorial cartoonist Serge Chapleau also drew condemnation from politicians in Ottawa, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called it unacceptable. “It is distasteful and exactly the wrong thing to do, particularly in these times,” he told reporters.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Ya’ara Saks said that to see “antisemitic tropes used in a national publication like this is just egregious.”

Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre called the caricature “disgusting” and “vile” in a post on X.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Conservative Senator Leo Housakos accused La Presse of “following in (the) footsteps” of Der Sturmer. “The fact that this antisemitic trope was published in the first place reveals either gross ignorance or blatant antisemitism within the ranks of media in this country,” Housakos said.

This isn’t the first time in recent months that a Canadian publication has pulled a cartoon over accusations of antisemitism. In December, the Toronto Sun apologized for running a drawing that the paper said used antisemitic stereotypes in its depiction of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish. The outlet cut ties with the syndicated cartoonist who drew the image.

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