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Canadian Publication Utilizes Nazi-Era Aesthetics in Caricature of Israeli Prime Minister

One of Canada’s leading French-language news outlets abruptly removed a crudely antisemitic caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from its website on Wednesday morning following a storm of protest from Canadian politicians and Jewish advocates.

The image, drawn by veteran cartoonist Serge Chapleau — who has won several awards for his work and was honored with the Order of Canada medal in 2015 — was published by the Montreal-based newspaper La Presse and appeared on the front page of its print edition. It showed Netanyahu as Nosferatu, the titular character of a classic 1922 German Expressionist silent movie about a blood-sucking vampire, Count Orlok, who preys upon a real estate agent and his wife under the cover of purchasing a house and who, later in the film, unleashes a plague of rats onboard a ship on which he is traveling. The film is based on the famous 1897 novel Dracula, set in Romania.

Chapleau’s cartoon imposed Netanyahu’s features on that of a vampire wearing a grim, lifeless expression, with his hands replaced by long claws. An accompanying text displayed the word “Nosfenyahou” — a contraction of “Nosferatu” and the Francophone spelling of Netanyahu’s last name — dripping with blood. Another text beneath declared “On the way to Rafah,” the city in Gaza where Israeli troops have been battling Hamas terrorists.

Historically, antisemitic caricatures of Jews frequently depicted them as blood-suckers, building on earlier Christian libels that falsely accused Jews of using the blood of Christians in their religious rituals. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in Israel, the same motif has appeared across the Arab world in relation to Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, with news outlets in Morocco, Jordan, and Qatar all publishing cartoons of Netanyahu drinking the blood and consuming the flesh of Israel’s adversaries.

By the middle of Wednesday morning, La Presse had removed its contribution to the genre following widespread protests on social media. However, the paper has not apologized for the offending image nor offered an explanation as to why it was published to the 860,000 followers of its feed on X/Twitter.

“No big deal, just the second-largest newspaper in French Canada caricaturing Jews as vampires,” David Frum — a Canadian-American writer and former speechwriter for US President George W. Bush — remarked in a post. Frum added: “That’s how antisemitism often works. A rich inventory of anti-Jewish images and themes pre-exists: the Jew as bloodsucker, the Jew as child-killer, the Jew as alien enemy. When a user wants to vent rage or dislike … the resource accumulated over centuries is waiting for him.”

Canadian politicians who condemned the cartoon included Quebec Senator Leo Housakos, who said he had been “appalled” by it.

“While Mr. Netanyahu, as with any politician, is not above criticism, this kind of antisemitic trope is reminiscent of the 1930s. I’m saddened for Jews across Canada for the level of hate to which we, as Canadians, have co-signed,” Housakos’ X/Twitter post continued.

Media watchdog group Honest Reporting Canada separately announced a petition demanding that La Presse apologize for Chapleau’s cartoon.

The group noted that “the film Nosferatu is widely recognized as having deep antisemitic overtones, namely being a ‘twisted Jewish caricature — a parasitic, invasive outsider who fed on the blood of noble Christians,’ according to a contemporary film review. The film also piggybacked on common antisemitic lies of Jews being associated with disease and sickness, and even the character’s face resembled the stereotypical Jewish face of anti-Jewish propaganda.”

It added: “At best, Serge Chapleau’s cartoon is the result of profound and incomprehensible ignorance, borrowing from antisemitic imagery to depict a Jew, and which, incredibly, was allowed to be published by La Presse, which, at best, shares in the same total ignorance about antisemitic propaganda. At worst, the cartoon reflects something much darker, not just at the hands of the cartoonist, but of the publication that evidently saw no problem whatsoever with its printing it in the first place, until there was public opprobrium which led to the cartoon no longer being featured on La Presse’s website.”

B’nai Brith Canada separately denounced the cartoon as “inexcusably antisemitic,” while the Canadian Institute for Jewish Affairs (CIJA) observed that “this kind of drawing contributes to the normalization of antisemitism that has been affecting our community for months.”

Antisemitism has rocketed in Canada since the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7, with massive increases in hate crimes targeting the country’s 335,000-strong Jewish community in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, and several other cities. Canadian Jews have also expressed concern at the Canadian government’s stance towards Israel, following Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly’s announcement on Monday that arms shipments to Israel would be frozen following the passage of a motion brought by the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP) in the House of Commons.