An Edmonton newspaper has publicly apologized for publishing a cartoon that many believed was anti-Semitic, and has promised local community leaders that it will take steps to avoid such a mistake in the future.
The problem began on Aug. 1, when the Edmonton Journal ran an editorial cartoon by veteran contributor Malcolm Mayes that took aim at the recent Capital One hack, in which the data of six million Canadians was potentially compromised, including social insurance numbers and bank account information.
In his cartoon, Mayes drew a wallet with a Capital One credit card, along with a man with a balding scalp and hooked nose, typing away at a laptop bearing the title “DATA HACKER.”
The image appeared blatantly anti-Semitic to many readers, some of whom wrote to the paper voicing their disgust.
Critics were especially confused by Mayes’s drawing because in reality, the hacker is alleged to be Paige Thompson, a 33-year-old former Amazon software engineer who is neither Jewish nor an old man.
“We do not understand the connection Mr. Mayes is trying to make by using anti-Semitic tropes in his cartoon,” wrote Steven Shafir, president of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, in a public letter addressed to the Journal’s managing editor on Aug. 6.
“We are disgusted with Mr. Mayes’s cartoon, with your tacit approval of it in your willingness to publish it, or, alternatively, we are astonished by your willful blindness if you did not see the harm that this cartoon would cause.”
On Aug. 9, the Journal published an apology for the cartoon’s “resemblance to anti-Semitic tropes prevalent in some anti-Jewish propaganda.
“This resemblance was entirely unintentional, but given that association, the Edmonton Journal apologizes for the publication of the cartoon.”
In an interview with The CJN, Shafir said many community members felt dissatisfied with the “weak apology.”
“Their response to date has fallen far short of what the New York Times did when they were faced with something similar not even half a year ago,” Shafir said.
Editors from the Journal met with Shafir and other community members on Aug. 14. In that meeting, the editors reiterated their apology, explaining that those who normally oversee editorial content were on vacation. They also promised to run an op-ed on the subject in the near future, communicate more frequently with the Jewish community and train their staff to prevent this from happening again.
“Overall, we’re pleased with how the meeting went,” Shafir said. “We’re hoping their actions follow in accordance with their words.”
Mike Fegelman, the executive director of Honest Reporting Canada, which broke the story on Aug. 8, noted Mayes’s history of drawing anti-Israel cartoons.
In 2010, Mayes depicted an Israeli settler dismantling a wooden peace symbol to build a home in the West Bank. More recently, in 2018, he drew co-operating hands, labelled “Hamas” and “Israel,” stuffing Palestinians into a meat grinder.
“Mayes has a track record of illustrating odious cartoons that have offended the Jewish community and supporters of Israel, and that many felt crossed the line,” Fegelman told The CJN. “As a result, we review every cartoon he creates.”
Shafir went into the meeting hoping the Journal would reprimand Mayes, but the editors made no promises to that effect.