On Friday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung—one of Germany’s most serious and widely-read broadsheet dailies—published a cartoon about Facebook’s newly-announced acquisition of WhatsApp, the text-messaging service. Titled “Krake Facebook”—Facebook Octopus—it featured a many-armed creature reaching its tentacles into computers and servers, grasping the WhatsApp icon.
It had a human face, which belonged to Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO. The problem was that the face was drawn in the style of the worst anti-Semitic caricatures: Adorned with a greedy fish-lipped mouth and a long hooked nose under a hat emblazoned with Facebook’s logo and a fringe of Zuckerbergian curls. Had it appeared 70 years ago its intention would have been deadly clear: The “eternal Jew,” that ugly creature Germans tried to exterminate, had entered cyberspace.
You could argue it was all the spirit of the current German carnival season, in which Germans dress up in costume and make a game of social satire, but many observers thought it was more sinister than that. First in line with an accusatory public critique were the professionals of Germany’s premier satirical magazine Titanic, with a speedy “Sunday special” condemning the drawing by paralleling it clearly with Hitler’s thinking.
The Süddeutsche promptly apologized—on Twitter, naturally, in the form of a simple Twitter message, declaring “We are sorry!” But the fire continued, fueled by the fact that it wasn’t the first time the SZ has been at the receiving end of recently public disapproval for a caricature that related negatively to the wider Jewish theme: Less than a year ago, in July 2013, the newspaper published a drawing by Ernst Kahl showing a hungry Gruffalo-like monster, a true Moloch, being served by a waitress with a full plate, with the subtitle: “Germany serves!” The picture was supposed to illustrate “nearly free servings of German arms” to the insatiable monster that is the State of Israel. The outrage was great. The president of the Association of German Jews, Dieter Gauman, responded that the cartoon was on the level of Stürmer, the infamous Third Reich magazine that frequently depicted Jews as world ruling monsters. “I am most surprised that anti-Semitic associations are so superficially permitted to happen, given the seriousness of this paper otherwise,” he wrote.
Now the Süddeutsche Zeitung has released a statement by Burkhard Mohr, the man responsible for the drawing, who updated it to replace Zuckberg’s face with a blank rectangular hole. He insists he is rather baffled and surprised and in his own words “shattered,” because he is apparently totally unacquainted with the ideologies of anti-Semitism and racism and their history in popular art. “Trying to combine a satirical take on Zuckerberg in combination with the movie Pirates of the Caribbean, I failed to realize that it looked like an anti-Jewish hate drawing,“ he wrote. He added, “I am deeply sorry that it caused such misunderstanding and possible injury to the feelings of parts of the paper’s readers.”