An Arab community newspaper is apologizing for publishing a joke about Jewish people called “totally offensive” by one local leader and which has appeared online in an openly anti-Semitic cartoon.
“Please convey our message to the Jewish community that we didn’t intend to be offensive and we apologize if we did,” said Habib Osta, general manager of the Roswell-based newspaper An-Nour, which is distributed throughout metro Atlanta and the Southeast, including in some Sandy Springs businesses.
The October issue featured a “Jokes” section containing mostly old-school jokes based on stereotypes of race, religion, nationality, gender or other attributes. They include “blonde” jokes and a story whose punchline involves a black man throwing a white man off a roof “for my people.”
The criticized joke is about a “Jewish boy” asking his father for money; the father tries to get out of the loan by pretending to mishear the amount as a smaller and smaller number. It reads: “A Jewish boy asks his father for $50. The father replies, ‘$40, what do you need $30 for?’”
Dov Wilker, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Buckhead-based Atlanta regional office, said the joke is “totally offensive … It’s bad. It’s just wrong.”
Wilker, whose group organizes against anti-Semitism, said the joke is based on stereotypes of Jews as greedy controllers of money. That stereotype is the basis of conspiracy theories of global financial control spread by many anti-Semites, including the Nazis.
“The notion about Jews and money is deeply offensive,” Wilker said. “We never like to see these sorts of things perpetuated. We try so hard to strengthen relationships with the Muslim community. These sort of jokes don’t help.”
In fact, the same joke, with only slight changes, appeared online in an anti-Semitic cartoon. The cartoon featured the “Happy Merchant,” a Jewish caricature used widely by anti-Semites.
Wilker added that the same issue of An-Nour published articles by Jewish journalists and researchers, so he doubted that the paper had any intent to offend Jewish people. He said he might contact the paper to discuss the joke.
Osta confirmed there was no intent to offend and said An-Nour provides balanced coverage of the Middle East and has profiled a local rabbi.
“We are very open,” Osta said. “We are not against any group of people. We are not against Israel.”
While Osta apologized for the joke, he also said he did not understand what was offensive about it, and noted that every issue of the paper – which has published for 16 years – includes the column of jokes using a wide variety of stereotypes. An-Nour finds the jokes online or gets them from friends and readers, he said.
“I don’t see it was that bad a joke,” Osta said. When told of Wilker’s comments and the anti-Semitic cartoon, he said, “I am sorry about that, but we put jokes about the Arabs, we put jokes about the Muslims, we put jokes about blonde girls, we put jokes about Syrian people. We put jokes about everybody … But we are not trying to attack anybody or have any bad faith … They are only jokes.”
He said An-Nour has received complaints before about other jokes. In one example, the paper published several jokes stereotyping residents of the Syrian city Homs as stupid or uptight at a time when the city was being bombed in the ongoing civil war.
Adding to the eyebrow-raising about the Jewish joke was the use elsewhere in the column of an illustration of a large-nosed older man. A large nose is a common element in anti-Semitic caricatures, like the “Happy Merchant.” Wilker said he was not sure what the illustration’s meaning was and that it was likely innocuous, but added that if it had been next to the Jewish joke, he would have found it offensive.
Osta said the illustration “doesn’t mean anything” and was a cartoon he found online. An image search on Google found it used several years ago on a Christian minister’s site, apparently as a cartoon of an older preacher.