The Australian Financial Review on Monday issued a lengthy explanation and apology for its cartoon of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg which sparked claims of antisemitism.
by Evan Zlatkis
Australian Jewish News
June 8, 2020
“As for the nose it’s just a quick sketch,” Rowe went on to say. “And yes he’s carrying a dollar harpoon because he’s the treasurer.
“Apologies if you thought I was suggesting something else.”
Rowe later deleted the cartoon from his Twitter page amid a flood of angry comments.
On Monday evening, in a lengthy statement online, Rowe and the AFR apologised for the “unintended hurt and offence” caused by the cartoon.
In an unusual decision, the newspaper amended the cartoon on its website, removing the cloth cap on the Frydenberg character’s head and changing his nose. The dollar symbol remains.
In its apology, the AFR and Rowe maintained that the cartoon “contained no Jewish references, even though they understood why some readers had interpreted the imagery differently”.
The newspaper said it “abhors antisemitism, from whatever part of the political spectrum and celebrates the contribution of people of Jewish faith and background to modern Australia, especially to modern Australian business”.
The AFR said the hooked nose is “Rowe’s particular caricature style that he uses for many faces”, adding he has used “dollar sign imagery for many people, especially for treasurers and businessmen”.
The masthead said in the drawing process, Rowe “replaced the red hair of the young male character with the ‘sailors’ cloth cap’ of a similar young male further to the right”.
“At the time, he figured that the red hair would make it more difficult to identify the character as the balding Frydenberg,” the AFR added.
“Close examination shows the knotted tail of the cloth cap which distinguishes it from a yarmulke.”
The newspaper’s editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury thanked Jewish leaders for their “constructive interaction” with the AFR over the weekend, including their “acceptance of the masthead’s explanation”.
The AJN understands NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff had numerous discussions with the editor-in-chief of the newspaper on this issue over the past few days.
Alhadeff told The AJN on Monday, “From the outset there has been no doubting the sincerity of his regret at the unintended hurt and offence which was caused by the publication of this unfortunate cartoon.”
He added, “We acknowledge and accept the apology from the editor-in-chief, the cartoonist and the newspaper, and trust that greater care will be taken in future in regard to matters of cultural awareness.”
The AFR statement in full:
The Australian Financial Review’s David Rowe has adjusted a cartoon after complaints that it depicted the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in an anti-Semitic trope.
Both Rowe and the Financial Review apologise for unintended hurt and offence caused by the cartoon published in last weekend’s AFR Weekend.
At the same time, the Financial Review and Rowe maintain that the cartoon contained no Jewish references, even though they understood why some readers had interpreted the imagery differently.
As a masthead, the Financial Review abhors anti-Semitism, from whatever part of the political spectrum and celebrates the contribution of people of Jewish faith and background to modern Australia, especially to modern Australian business.
Rowe and the Financial Review’s editor in chief Michael Stutchbury agreed the imagery around the depiction of Mr Frydenberg, however interpreted, was of no consequence to the meaning of the cartoon, which was an anti-racist “black lives matter” commentary.
It would be perverse if a non-essential part of a cartoon that raised complaints of unintended racism ended up censoring a cartoon designed to make an anti-racist commentary.
That led to the unusual decision to accordingly amend the cartoon online. The cartoon published on the weekend’s editorial and opinion pages explicitly drew on the Emanuel Phillips Fox painting of Captain Cook’s landing at Botany Bay in 1770.
It depicted Scott Morrison as Cook in front of a flag emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter” and an image of the coronavirus. It played on Mr Morrison’s suggestion that Black Lives Matter protesters should find a better way to protest than gathering in large numbers in spite of social distancing restrictions.
Mr Frydenberg was depicted as the young male character holding a gun to the right of Mr Morrison’s Cook.
Those who have complained about the cartoon say the Jewish Mr Frydenberg was depicted wearing a Jewish yarmulke cloth cap, with a hooked nose reminiscent of negative racial stereotypes of Jews stretching back centuries and holding a dollar sign that reinforces greedy and crooked Jewish stereotypes.
Stutchbury says he fully accepted Rowe’s alternative explanation of the imagery. In the drawing process, Rowe replaced the red hair of the young male character with the “sailors’ cloth cap” of a similar young male further to the right. At the time, he figured that the red hair would make it more difficult to identify the character as the balding Frydenberg.
Close examination shows the knotted tail of the cloth cap which distinguishes it from a yarmulke.
The “hooked nose” is Rowe’s particular caricature style that he uses for many faces including for John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, Bronwyn Bishop, Julie Bishop, Donald Trump, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and, in the weekend cartoon in dispute, Christian Porter. That comes with a loose and fast drawing style.
Working for a business and financial newspaper, Rowe has used dollar sign imagery for many people, especially for treasurers and businessmen.
In the cartoon concerned, it also appeared on the backs of red-coated English characters and helped signify Mr Frydenberg’s position as Treasurer.
Having all three issues pointed out, Rowe said he understood why this had upset some people and apologised for any hurt that this had unintentionally caused.
Rowe’s amended cartoon, republished on afr.com on Monday, removes the cloth cap on the Frydenberg character’s head and changes his nose, but retains the dollar symbol.
Rowe and Stutchbury agreed that cartooning and caricaturing can raise difficult issues of context, ambiguity and free speech.
This issue differed from other recent such controversies in that the offence taken was completely unintended and unrelated to the explicit point of the cartoon. The Frydenberg character could be removed completely without changing the cartoon’s intended meaning.
Stutchbury thanked Jewish leaders for their constructive interaction with the Financial Review over the weekend, including their acceptance of the masthead’s explanation.
Over more than three decades, he said, Rowe had become Australia’s most decorated working cartoonist. His work remained widely loved, including by the political and business figures he caricatures.