'Freedom of Speech Has Limits': Jerusalem Post Defends Axing of Cartoonist Over Pig Drawing

In an editorial the paper says illustration published by The Jerusalem Report crossed lines and that it could not accept the demeaning analogy of Jews and swine

From left: Olivier Fitoussi's photo of Netanyahu and other lawmakers; Avi Katz's cartoon.

The Jerusalem Post has defended its decision last week to fire cartoonist Avi Katz, saying his caricature showing a group of Israeli politicians as pigs “blatantly crossed” the newspaper group’s ethical and editorial standards.

Katz was fired after his cartoon in the Jerusalem Post’s biweekly magazine, The Jerusalem Report, depicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his governing coalition as pigs.

The Jerusalem Post recognized that the cartoon was based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Animal Farm” and the theme “some animals are more equal than others.” However, it said in an editorial Tuesday that it could not accept the pig representation of Netanyahu and colleagues as they celebrated the passage of the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.

Avi Katz's cartoon

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“The swine image is reminiscent of anti-Semitic memes used against Jews throughout history,” it wrote. “Just recently, a Hamas-affiliated scholar said, ‘Allah has transformed Jews into pigs and apes.’ We, a Zionist newspaper, cannot accept this demeaning analogy. Criticism yes. Incitement and hatred, no.”

The Post acknowledged it had been a difficult decision to fire Katz: “On the one hand, we believe firmly in freedom of speech – and especially the right of our opinion writers and cartoonists to express themselves without pressure or intimidation from external forces. On the other hand, all freedoms, including that of expression, have their limits,” it wrote.

The illustration was widely criticized on social media after its publication, a point noted by Jerusalem Report journalist Haim Watzman when he quit in protest at the decision last Thursday.

“I cannot be associated with a publication that dumps a staff member simply because his work has upset some readers,” Watzman wrote in his resignation letter. “Journalism, when done well, always angers some readers, and it is the duty of the newspaper or magazine’s editors and managers to stand by writers and other members of the staff when readers complain ... This is all the more true in the case of editorial cartoonists, whose very job is satire – and a good satirist never pauses to worry about angering the citizenry.”

However, the Jerusalem Post wrote in its editorial that while it understood why its decision “caused such an uproar,” it also recognized that “like every other news outlet in the world, we have a responsibility to our readers to uphold ethical and editorial standards and to take action when they are crossed.

“Freedom of speech is not the freedom to defame and harm others with impunity,” it continued. “Lampooning politicians in satirical cartoons can be found in almost every newspaper worldwide but there needs to be limits. Katz, in our opinion, breached those limits.”

It also denied that “political pressure” was behind its decision to fire Katz, noting that the Jerusalem Post has “sharply criticized the legislation as well as Netanyahu for his own personal failure to uphold the principles of a Jewish and democratic state by allowing a law that discriminates against minorities to pass.”

It also cited British weekly The Sunday Times and U.S. magazine The Atlantic as other publications that had fired writers following “social media uproar” over their controversial views.

The Israel Press Council published a statement of concern last week about Katz’s dismissal and had demanded that the newspaper’s owners explain the reasons behind their decision. 

Ohio-born Katz, who had worked as a freelancer at The Jerusalem Report since 1990, has yet to formally comment on his axing.