Netanyahu family with Netta Barzilai
Netanyahu family with Netta Barzilai Haim Zach/GPO

A German newspaper apologized on Wednesday for publishing a caricature of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu dressed as Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai and holding a rock with a Star of David on it, i24news reports.

The Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s top dailies with a circulation of 1.1 million readers, printed the cartoon on Tuesday, three days after Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest and in the midst of the protests on the Gaza border for which Israel was criticized.

The cartoon that appeared in the opinion section, by veteran caricaturist Dieter Hanitzsch, portrayed Netanyahu with oversized ears, nose and lips and in the Eurovision logo the ‘v’ was replaced with a Star of David.

“Next year in Jerusalem,” the figure is saying.

Jewish organizations, as well as publicists and activists, took to social media to protest the caricature, according to i24news.

One critic, Malca Goldstein Wolf, accused the newspaper and the 85-year-old cartoonist of crossing a line.

“Can Israel enjoy its successful participation in a music competition without being demonized?” she wrote in an open later published on Facebook.

Netanyahu’s reaction to Netta’s win was no different from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal congratulations of Germany’s 2010 Eurovision winner Lena, she wrote, but his comments were depicted as political exploitation. “This is the kind of manipulative, malicious reporting that stirs up hatred of Jews,” she continued.

On Wednesday, reported i24news, Wolfgang Krach, editor in chief of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, stressed that the image was the subject of many discussions within and outside the editorial team though he also admitted that “it can be seen as anti-Semitic.”

“The cartoonist Dieter Hanitzsch says that with his depiction he only wants to hint to the fact that the next Eurovision final 2019 should take place in Jerusalem,” said Krach.

“Despite the caricaturist’s intention, one can also understand the drawing differently and take it as anti-Semitic,” he added. “Its publication was therefore a mistake, for which we apologize.”

The apology, however, did little to curb the criticism. Many pointed out that the cartoonist himself refused to retract the drawing.

“That the editorial apologized is their business. I do not apologize,” Hanitzsch was quoted as having told the Jewish newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine. He also said that the fact that some view the image as anti-Semitic “does not affect me. I did not mean it that way. I would like to be able to criticize Netanyahu’s policy, even as a German.”

In 2013, the Süddeutsche Zeitunghad to pull another cartoon that was used as illustration for a review on two books on Israel, titled “the downfall of liberal Zionism.” The drawing depicted Israel as the ancient god Moloch, being served breakfast in bed. The caption under the cartoon read: “Germany is serving. Israel has been given weapons for decades and partly free of charge. Israel's enemies think it is a ravenous Moloch.”

The newspaper later expressed regret for publishing the cartoon, saying it regretted "misunderstandings" caused by the caption and that publishing the cartoon "was a mistake."

In the days since Israel won the Eurovision Song Contest, there have been calls to boycott the 2019 contest which will take place in Israel.

One such call came from Dublin Mayor Micheal Mac Donncha, who said Ireland should boycott the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in order to show solidarity with the “horrific ordeal of the Palestinian people.”

Mac Donncha’s call for a boycott came a day after several leftist Irish lawmakers expressed support for boycotting Israel following its winning the Eurovision song contest.

Iceland’s national broadcaster, meanwhile, said on Wednesday the country would take part in next year’s Eurovision song contest in Israel despite a popular petition calling to boycott the event.