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A Cartoon in More Than Bad Taste

German blood libel depiction deemed not to incite hatred

Marc Tracy
March 03, 2010
The poster in question.(Jewish Chronicle)
The poster in question.(Jewish Chronicle)

Unlike the United States, Germany, due to legal culture and not-all-that-distant history, has fairly extensive restrictions on speech; particularly hate speech; and particularly hate speech that hates the Jews. Quick example: in Germany, the Nazi Party is banned; in America, it’s not (not going to dignify it with a link, but if you want, Googling it is very easy).

Now look at this cartoon, a poster actually, which is part of a display—called the “Wailing Wall”—in the town square of Cologne, Germany. In case you don’t “get it,” the ostensible point of the cartoon is that Israel is using Gaza—maybe the Gaza blockade? the politics, needless to say, aren’t the most sophisticated in the world—to kill innocent Palestinians. In case you still don’t “ get it,” this is a depiction of the blood libel: the centuries-old anti-Semitic myth that Jews murder and feed on Gentiles (note not just what’s on the plate, but what’s in the glass, too).

The poster has been removed, although the “Wailing Wall” proprietor pledges to try to put it up elsewhere. Meanwhile, however, the public prosecutor has declined to charge the poster-maker under a German law that bans the incitement of racial hatred. “It is not a tendency of hostility toward Jews, but an actual criticism of the situation in Gaza,” he explained of the poster. “The cartoon is a sarcastic expression of the Israeli army in Gaza.”

This puts me in a tricky position. I think cartoons like that should be allowed. Only by allowing a full public airing of atrocious views can we ensure that decent people know about them, condemn their makers, and educate the ignorant. So I don’t want the person who made them to be prosecuted.

However, it’s very, very disturbing that local authorities think that this doesn’t violate their law. It plainly does; it plainly incites anti-Semitism. Believeing that it doesn’t indicates a lack of knowledge about and sensitivity to the history of anti-Semitism that would be troubling anywhere, and is particularly chilling in, well, Germany. And ignorance is a charitable explanation for this lapse.

But this is also a lesson, right? Maybe if anti-Semitism weren’t a crime in Germany, then Germans would be more willing to call people on it!

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.