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Montreal newspaper's political cartoon showing Netanyahu as a vampire decried as antisemitic

A cartoon published on Wednesday in La Presse, a digital-only newspaper, sparked criticism due to its depiction of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a vampire. (iStock - image credit)
A cartoon published on Wednesday in La Presse, a digital-only newspaper, sparked criticism due to its depiction of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a vampire. (iStock - image credit)

The following story contains an image that has been criticized for being antisemitic.

A political cartoon in a French-language newspaper depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a vampire has sparked accusations of antisemitism.

The cartoon appeared in Wednesday's edition of La Presse, a prestigious digital-only newspaper. It shows Netanyahu with long claws, pointed ears and wearing an overcoat — imagery reminiscent of Count Orlok, a vampire from the 1922 silent film, Nosferatu.

In the cartoon, Netanyahu stands on a ship above an inscription that reads "Nosfenyahou, en route to Rafah."

Politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Jewish leaders criticized the cartoon and called it antisemitic and reminiscent of Nazi propaganda against Jews. Serge Chapleau, the cartoonist who drew it, dismissed the criticism in an interview with CBC and said he did not believe it was antisemitic. Nonetheless, by late morning, the cartoon no longer appeared on the La Presse website and the newspaper issued an apology.

A screengrab of the cartoon showing Netanyahu as a vampire as it appeared in La Presse on Wednesday morning.
A screengrab of the cartoon showing Netanyahu as a vampire as it appeared in La Presse on Wednesday morning.

A screengrab of the cartoon showing Netanyahu as a vampire as it appeared in La Presse on Wednesday morning. (CBC)

Jeremy Levi, the mayor of Hampstead, a town on the island of Montreal with a large Jewish population, called the cartoon "extremely hurtful."

Nazi propaganda in the 1930s portrayed Jewish people as vampires and the original depiction of Count Orlok in the Nosferatu film has been compared to stereotypical caricatures of Jewish people.

"Everybody who's Jewish understands the significance of what that meant," Levi said of the cartoon. "The problem is, you go back 100 years ago, this was starting to be done in Eastern Europe and Germany and Poland. Today, there's just a level of ignorance where people don't know."

Chapleau, who has drawn political cartoons for La Presse since 1996, said people are overthinking the meaning of the cartoon.

"It's a caricature based on an old character Nosferatu, an old vampire who goes and invades another country," Chapleau said in French. "That's all, it's not worse than that. If you look up cartoons of Netanyahu, you'll see much worse.

"It's not antisemitic, it's not that at all."

Newcomer Jeremy Levi is the new mayor of Hampstead after beating incumbent William Steinberg.
Newcomer Jeremy Levi is the new mayor of Hampstead after beating incumbent William Steinberg.

Jeremy Levi, seen here in a photo that was taken in November 2021 shortly after being elected as mayor of Hampstead, says the cartoon depiction was 'extremely hurtful.'  (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Chapleau said he was not aware that the cartoon had been taken down.

Early Wednesday afternoon, La Presse issued an apology on its website.

In a note, Stéphanie Grammond, the paper's editor-in-chief, wrote that the cartoon was intended to be a criticism of Netanyahu's policies.

"It targeted the Israeli government, not the Jewish people," Grammond's note reads.

"It was never our intention to promote antisemitism or harmful stereotypes. On the contrary, La Presse has already loudly denounced the deplorable rise in antisemitism since the start of the war, in Quebec and elsewhere in the world."

Grammond said the cartoon had been removed from all of La Presse's platforms.

The cartoon's inscription was a reference to Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip in the wake of the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7, 2023, which left approximately 1,200 people dead and another 253 taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.

More than 30,000 people have died in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to officials there.

Netanyahu has said Israeli forces will invade Rafah, a city in the Gaza Strip, despite calls from the international community that doing so would lead to more civilian deaths.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said La Presse was right to issue an apology, but that the cartoon never should have been published in the first place.

"It is unacceptable to bring back antisemitic tropes and allusions like that," he said. "it is distasteful and exactly the wrong thing to do in these times."

Federal Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said the reaction to the La Presse cartoon was emblematic of how the situation in the Middle East was causing tension in Canada.

"As heritage minister, I'm going to be very prudent around the independence of the press," she said. "Communities are feeling this conflict very profoundly, that it's normal that there are critiques with such a cartoon."

But Ya'ara Saks, the minister of mental health and addictions, blasted the cartoon.

"Political discourse is important in this country, as is political criticism," she said. "To see that, to see antisemitic tropes used in a national publication like this, is just egregious."