Jewish leaders are satisfied with The Australian Financial Review’s explanation that a David Rowe cartoon did not deliberately include anti-Jewish imagery even though it was interpreted that way by many readers.

By Andrew Tillet
The Australian Financial Review (paywall)
June 9, 2020

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said he accepted the newspaper’s explanation that no offence had been intended in the depiction of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Rowe’s cartoon, published in AFR Weekend, drew upon the famous Emanuel Phillips Fox painting Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay in 1770, to make an anti-racism statement following the global protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mr Frydenberg was drawn as a young sailor but depicted with a hook nose, carrying a dollar sign and appeared to wear a yarmulke, sparking concern the cartoon was reinforcing anti-Semitic tropes given the Treasurer’s Jewish faith.

Rowe explained he used the hook nose for many faces of politicians, the dollar sign was a symbol used often to depict treasurers and business people and Mr Frydenberg was wearing a cloth sailor’s cap, not a yarmulke.

Nevertheless, Rowe apologised for any hurt unintentionally caused and amended and republished the cartoon to remove the cloth cap and change Mr Frydenberg’s nose.

Mr Alhadeff said a significant number of Jewish community members had contacted him over the weekend over the cartoon, which he said played into both overt and sub-conscious bias against Jews.

He said there was concern that the cartoon conveyed the message that Jewish people did not care about black lives, which was at odds with their historical support for the civil rights movements both in the US and Australia, including by future NSW Chief Justice James Spigelman’s role as an organiser of the 1965 Freedom Ride. In addition, even though unintended, the cartoon conveyed a number of anti-Jewish stereotypes.

Mr Alhadeff said he held several “constructive and cordial” discussions with the Financial Review’s editor-in-chief, Michael Stutchbury, over the “unfortunate and damaging” cartoon.

“We acknowledge and appreciate the way the Financial Review, its editor-in-chief and the cartoonist dealt with this issue quickly and upfront,” he said.

“That was greatly appreciated, as was the direct owning of where the message went awry in the depiction of one of the principal characters.”

Mr Alhadeff did not take issue that the newspaper had republished an amended version of the cartoon.

“The important point is that the offensive cartoon was quickly removed and a thoughtful, detailed explanation was offered,” he said, referring to the prominence this received in being published on page two of Tuesday’s newspaper.

“The fact that a new version of the cartoon was inserted was certainly not an issue.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin, who raised his concerns directly with Rowe on Twitter, said the cartoon controversy was a “cautionary tale to exercise greater care when depicting people of an ethnic minority”.

“There was considerable outrage … which reflects the feeling there was something sinister but at the same time I’m very satisfied that the cartoonist and editor-in-chief offered a clarification and my point of view that concludes the matter,” he said.

Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said: “I appreciated the constructive conversations I had with Michael Stutchbury and welcome the amended cartoon and the considered explanation and apology that went with that”.

Speaking on Sky News on Monday evening, Mr Frydenberg said he understood why people were sensitive about the cartoon.

“David Rowe is a brilliant cartoonist and I know the people at the AFR certainly didn’t mean any harm by what they’ve have seen in terms of the reaction to that cartoon,” he said.

“I’ve seen David Rowe’s explanation, I accept that. We move on but at the same time I can see why some people felt very strongly about it.”