antisemitism,  International

Spanish left: a poster of racism and antisemitism

This is a guest post by Mirabella

The Madrid branch of Izquerda Unida, or United Left, party landed itself in a right doddle when it tweeted on Thursday a cartoon image which uses both racist depiction of Obama hugging anti-Semitic caricature of a Jew.

The cartoon depicted a thick-lipped Obama standing behind a wall amid explosions while hugging a Jew with payot (side curls), a Star of David emblazoned onto his kippah and a suit in the light-blue colour on the Israeli flag. The tweet read “Invading and destroying countries to loot them,” along with the hashtag #ObamaGoHome.

Obama slips a wad of cash in or out of the Jew’s pocket (open to interpretation). The caption above the cartoon reads “No to Wars”.

The cartoon which has been retweeted over 300 times, urges people to gather outside the US embassy in Madrid today, to protest against Obama’s visit.

Obama is having lunch today in Madrid with King Felipe VI and the leaders of Spain’s main political parties.

Interestingly, the cartoon received little attention in the Spanish media, with the main angle being the anti-Semitic stereotype but a failure to see the additional anti-black racist component.

Let’s have a look at the cartoon, whose basic message is that Obama’s biggest crime is the conspiratorial complicity with the Jew (Israel) in order to invade, destroy and loot countries.

Racist and Anti-Semitic Stereotypes

What is immediately apparent about these images, drawn in a “Charlie Hebdo” style, according to a discussion with Dr. David Hirsh, is:

1. It is a strange caricature of the President: here he is depicted with small ears (most caricatures depict him with large ears and big teeth), round (most caricature emphasise his thinness), thick lips (typical of racist portrayals of blacks), an image that barely resembles Obama at all. Obama also has a big nose, almost Jewish like (in fact it, hide’s the Jew’s)

2. The Wall, we might assume, is the separation wall in the West Bank, although that isn’t clear; there are three explosions surrounding the two behind the wall emphasising the ideas of invasion, destruction and looting.

3. Israel is caricatured as a Jew; this is not Netanyahu or any other Israeli politician, but a racist stereotype of a Jew, complete with payot and grey beard; the vague reference to state of Israel is signified through the star of David on the kippa and the blue and white of the Jew’s dress. The Jew wears an arm’s badge with a dollar sign.

4. Obama shuts his eyes as he hands into or takes from the money in the Jew’s pocket, the Jew, by contrast, has his eyes open: he knows what he is doing. Firstly, we have hostility to Israel as the key grievance against President Obama.

Then we have the fact that this is illustrated using the old fashioned anti-Semitic stereotypes; the ambivalence about the possibility of the reversal of the relationship, is it Obama financing the Jew, closing his eyes to the crimes of the Jew, or is it, in fact, the Jew giving (or in the tradition of antisemitism, lending) money to the racialised figure of Obama? Playing on the age old idea of the Jew as financier/money lender. The racist angle has Obama depicted in a highly stereotypical manner, he has a big nose, small ears, fat lips (his mouth his closed and smiling) and wearing a black-suite; he is almost a Jew-black-president. The image is reminiscent of Nazi imagery against “degenerate art” symbolised by thick lipped black musician, dressed in black, who is also identified as a Jew.

IU Madird’s tweet was met with a barrage of critique online accusing the branch of antisemitism and racism, including members of IU. In response, IU countered and said the poster meant to reflect the “geopolitical reality” of the US-Israel pact.  In “support” of the claim, IU Madird tweeted a picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting an alleged ISIS terrorist (who was in fact a one of the 900 wounded Syrian treated in a field hospital in the Golan Heights) is a spoof story from the conspiracy theory news site Global Research and Press TV.

The Israeli Embassy issued a statement on Friday condemning the cartoon saying: “Nothing can justify the usage of anti-Jewish caricatures, and silence shouldn’t be maintained in the face of this flagrant expression of anti-Semitism.”

While the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain, or FCJE stated that the “United Left is entraining the most repugnant anti-Semitic stereotypes with this image, in accordance with the Nazi paper Der Sturmer, trying to caricaturize and vituperate with unfounded and defamatory myths, both blacks and Jews…”

FCJE said that IU and its leaders “reject dialogue, coexistence and peace, and only promote hatred and fanaticism”.

Finally, the FCJE has warned that it may take legal action “against all racist and anti-Semitic expression that incites hatred and anti-Semitism.”

Spain’s secretary of state for foreign affairs, Ignacio Ybanez Rubio, contacted Israel’s ambassador to Spain “deploring” the cartoon and “stressed Spain’s commitment to fight any expression of anti-Semitism or which encourages anti-Semitism.”

Interestingly there has been relatively little critique of the poster from the angle of anti-black racism.

Izquerda Unida  – United Left (IU), which has eight lawmakers out of 350 in the Spanish congress, dominated by the old Communist Party of Spain, and has recently signed an election pact with Podemos.

When explanation is denial.

Responding to the criticism, IU said that it was not their intention to offend “people who profess to the Jewish faith, but to denounce the role of the State of Israel.”

It further explained that the poster was not designed by the party and the use of it on twitter was meant to “denounce the role that both Israel and the United States play geopolitically, which has been condemned by many human rights organisations”.

It is true that the poster is not by the IU, clearly it has a different font and message, and the logo No Al TTIP on the lower right side suggests it may have been produced by the association of organisations fighting TTIP or by someone related to it.

But if IU wanted to “denounce” the “geopolitical role” of Israel and the US, then why choose such a blatantly anti-Semitic and racist cartoon? A different image using Obama and Netanyahu would have sufficed, why the overly racisalised image of Obama and the Jew to symbolise the two?

The “explanation” by IU sounds more like a rather pathetic attempt at denial. It would have been far better if IU admitted this was a mistake and apologised for tweeting the poster, deleting the tweet and acknowledging the offense done. But IU did nothing of the sort, in fact it retweeted the offensive cartoon again, as Obama was arriving to Madrid.

The suspicion of poorly thought through denial is corroborated by IU Madrid’s counter tweet above regarding the Netanyahu ISIS “connection”.

Does Izquerda Unida have a problem with anti-Semitism?

In January this year IU Madrid invited Leila Khaled, to give a talk and have a discussion with party members.

Khaled is of course infamous for hijacking a TWA flight from Rome to Tel Aviv in 1969 and an El Al plane from Amsterdam to New York in September 1970, and being a member of PFLP (listed as a terrorist organisation by the EU, US and Canada).

A few months earlier, during a visit in South Africa to promote BDS, Khaled proclaimed: “ISIS, I tell you, is a Zionist, American organization. Boko Haram is another Netanyahu. [Its leaders] are more Zionist than the Zionists… Beware the imperialists. They are vicious and they are collaborating with the Zionists to control the whole world….”

Such conspiracy theories it seems must have found an audience with at least some of the member of IU Madrid, as evidenced by the tweet we mentioned above.

Of course, we must recall, that quite a few members from IU objected to the tweet of the cartoon, saying it “is repugnant, racist and disgusting. Recalling Nazi propaganda.”

“Hallucinatory. It is very depressing to see confusion that could be generated by such imagery :(“ “Exactly. An ethnic stereotype to represent a state. Really bad.”

“Shameful to have a continued use of anti-Semitic cliché in pure fascist style. I feel ashamed.”

“I demand this rectified, @IU_Madrid. I am saying this as a member.”

I spoke with one member of IU Madrid, who prefers to just be identified by the first letter of his name, F. He told me:

“I personally am going to the protest today, precisely because I object to TTIP. However, this carton totally disgusts me, to use such racist and anti-Semitic imagery is wrong. It’s one thing criticising the current government of the state of Israel, but quite another to invoke such symbolism. This certainly does not represent my views and many others in IU, although we do have problems with some members who voice conspiracy theories and extreme, even dogmatic views. Often they see they world in absolutist way and sadly can be anti-Semitic and respond to such ideas.”

A member of Spain’s Socialist party, who also preferred to remain anonymous told me: “We’ve got problems sometimes from the extreme left, they come up with such ideas about Jews controlling banking and the media, or inflated ideas about a Jewish lobby somehow controlling US politics. In fact, most Jews in America vote democrat and the greatest supporters of Netanyahu are in fact the evangelical Christians, but these facts never seem to bother some members of the extreme left. I find it ironic that they express such conspiracy theories about Jews, when Karl Marx, the father of communism was in fact of Jewish origin.”

Both pointed to a member of IU Madrid, Julio Rodriguez Bueno, who has been refused entry, detained and then deport from Israel in 2012.

On Friday IU MEP Javier Couso Permuy met with Mohamad Raad, head of the Lebanese parliamentary party of Hezbollah, in Beirut. Of course talks does not mean support nor even endorsement.

Last year IU Cordoba demanded that a public festival of Sefaradi Music should be cancelled, citing BDS as a policy, as the Israeli government was one of the sponsors.

In 2014 IU called upon the Spanish government to expel the Israeli ambassador to Spain and to halt diplomatic relations with Israel.

The official position of IU regarding Obama’s visit is that the US is that US policy is “threat to peace” as it “promoted coups of state in Latin America, successive military interventions in states such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya or its role as one of the largest players in the destabilization of Syria.”

The party accused Obama that receiving the Nobel peace prize was hypocritical, as he is responsible the continued use of Guantanamo Bay, “the maintenance of the criminal blockade against the Cuban people or complicity of the US administration in the slaughter the Palestinian people carried out by Israel.”

Of course the irony is that the leader of Podemos, with which IU signed a pact, is meeting president Obama today.

The problem of unconscious racism

Before writing this article I asked eight friends in Spain to have a look at the cartoon, only two of them thought it was racist. One told me: “Oh come on! It’s like Charlie Hebdo, you are reading into it far too much, it’s not racist and it’s a legitimate criticism of Israel.”

Another said: “Dear friend. Anti-Semitism is one thing and anti-Zionism is another. The cartoon of IU expresses the protest against the allegorical US support of the right-wing policy of the current leaders of the state of Israel, it is not a criticism of the citizens of Israel, much less of Jews”.

How could they not see the racist and anti-Semitic stereotypes? I asked myself.

In an interview with Fernando Rey Martinez, President of the Council for the Promotion of Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination, said that Spain suffers from “low intensity racism” that remains largely “unconscious”, that is people are even unaware that often they hold prejudice. It is most commonly “expressed through generalisations” he said.

In contrast to the UK, Spain is less politically correct, but has less hate crimes reported. Racist abuse often plays out in football – when blacks were compared to monkeys eating bananas – or even a “white only” policy to enter clubs and bars. However, hate crime is not as widely reported as in the UK or France, although that in part may be a problem with the blind spots of laws and authorities.

Indeed, a recent study showed that Spain has the third most negative stereotypes of Jews in Europe, after Greece and France. 65% of respondents in Spain said that it is “probably true” that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Spain, 53% that Jews have too much power in the business world and 50% that their power extends to international markets. 48% of Spaniards seem to think the Jewish community is still talking too much about what happened in the Holocaust and 26% believe that only care about what members of their own community.

Furthermore, the stereotype of the Jew seems still to be widely held: 34% think that Jews have hold much power over world affairs, 39% believe they exercise much power in the US government and 31% who believe that Jews control the media, 22% believe that Jews think they’re better than the others, 12% which are responsible for most of the world wars and 17% hate Jews for their behaviour.

“In Spain there is a latent anti-Semitic prejudice,” said Esteban Ibarra, president of the NGO Movement against Intolerance, to El Pais.  Indeed, this is a strange problem for a country that has a tiny Jewish community of around 30,000 people and a very dark history of systematic persecution, expulsion and forced conversion of Jews in the 15th century.

It seems that the problems in IU are therefore a condensed image of a larger problem of racial and anti-Semitic prejudice that is not uncommon in Spain.  Decades of Fascist Franco dictatorship and a still relatively strong influence of Catholicism have left lingering archetypes of racial stereotypes which remain latent in many people’s minds.  It is however, exactly as Martinez says, unconscious, and rarely translates into acts of hate crime, far less than is found in the UK for example.  However, it is strong enough to cloud judgment and cause confusion when criticism of Israel or of the US are fused with racial stereotypes, particularly, it seems, under the auspices of Izquerda Unida.

They reproduced the “perfect” poster of racism and anti-Semitism.