A few days ago a graphic was posted on ‘The Daily Blog’ entitled ‘Don’t forget to feed Christmas.’ Beside a grotesque Santa Claus image the text read, “Remember to support the banks and corporations this Christmas in their continued efforts to enslave mankind, by spending money you haven’t got on things you don’t need.”
It was most likely intended as a satire on the rampant consumerism of Christmas. The Daily Blog is edited by Martyn Bradbury, a left-wing commentator in New Zealand, and publishes contributions from a number of left and labour-movement-aligned writers.
There was a major problem with this post, however: the evil Santa Claus in the image had some of the standard features of classic anti-Semitic caricature: the hooked nose, the greedy hand-rubbing, even the hair has recognisable payot sidelocks characteristic of Hasidic Jewish tradition.
Now, you may not recognise all or any of this in the picture; there was some discussion of these elements on Twitter when the image first appeared on the blog, whether they were even there, and whether they constituted anti-Semitism. Could not the nose be construed as a ‘witch’s nose’? I, for one, missed the payot sidelocks until it was pointed out to me.
And taken separately, it could be argued that none of these features necessarily indicates an anti-Semitic caricature. To be sure, not every picture of a person rubbing their hands is anti-Semitic. But taken together, and in connection with further clues in the text, in particular the idea of bankers ‘enslaving mankind,’ the character of the graphic is unmistakable. This is an image designed to promote one of the time-worn themes of anti-Semitic propaganda: the hoax of the conspiracy of Jewish bankers (and merchants) plotting to take over the world.
If you still think this seems somewhat cryptic, you are right. A good deal of the communication of anti-Semitic ideas takes place through just such veiled clues, codes and symbols. The rightist US politician Patrick Buchanan, for example, doesn’t talk about ‘the Jewish banking cabal’ directly – perhaps in order to evade anti-discrimination legislation – but rather refers to “the money boys up in New York, people with names like Goldstein and Rosenberg.” His audience knows very well who he is talking about.
There is one further clue as to the real meaning of the image, and that is the seemingly out-of-place ‘eye of providence’ symbol on the santa’s hat. This symbol, which appears on the reverse of the US dollar bill, has long been a favourite reference-point for right-wing conspiracy theorists.
One of the contributors to the Twitter discussion found this parallel example from an anti-Semitic newspaper in Germany at Christmas time 1929. The similarity of the message is striking: rich Jewish merchants sniggering, “Our people hung their Christ on the cross, and we do a great business on his birthday…” The image can be found on the Wikipedia page on anti-Semitism. Another found an extremely offensive anti-Semitic website where a version of the same image was used in a post entitled “The Jewish attack on Christmas.”
I can easily imagine the person who posted this image on the Daily Blog doing so unaware of the anti-Semitic connotations. However, they are much easier to see when they have been pointed out and this additional circumstantial evidence presented. One would think that the mistake would be recognised and the image removed. Various people drew the attention of the blog’s editor, Martyn Bradbury, to this evidence and asked him to remove it.
Instead, Martyn Bradbury opted to claim that “the meme was an anti-capitalism Christmas satire, and certainly wasn’t an anti-Semitism statement” and to blame the individuals who had drawn it to his attention for making accusations that he (Bradbury) was anti-Semitic. (In fact, none of them had said this). In the comments section of that post, Bradbury refused to allow critics of the image to post comments, (I know this because I tried to post one, making some of the points in this article, and it was not allowed) while allowing a highly offensive – but supportive of Bradbury – comment to be published.
This refusal to recognise and correct a mistake sets in motion a very dangerous logic. What started as a simple mistake now leads Bradbury to lean on support from highly dubious quarters, if the offensive comment is any indication.
Yes, the image was anti-capitalist. But fascists in their incipient stage are also anti-capitalist – Hitler called his party National Socialist for a reason. Fascists take the anti-capitalist sentiment generated by the economic crisis, particularly among small proprietors who are being crushed by debts, they identify with it, and then misdirect it against the ‘Jewish banking cabal,’ among other scapegoats.
Anti-Semitism is divisive, oppressive, and highly offensive in itself. It is also frequently an element in these fascist currents which will increasingly emerge as the crisis deepens. Defenders of the working class need to recognise this scourge for what it is, whenever it raises its ugly head.
Update: As I was about to post this, I saw that Martyn Bradbury has withdrawn the post where he defended the content of the anti-Semitic graphic, and apologised to those who called it to his attention. This is to be welcomed – it goes a long way toward correcting the error. I have left my post unaltered for the general points on anti-Semitism and the threat from the ultra-right.