Picture not so perfect

Picture not so perfect

Column for Jewish News August 6 2021

I’ve commented in this space before about people choosing their battles in the Jewish world, and how sometimes, it seems to me, people get aerated over complete nonsense.

Let us, for the sake of all our sanity, draw a veil over the latest ice-cream farrago, sufficing it only to say that, in my opinion, calling a decision to stop selling Ben and Jerry’s products in the West Bank does not amount to terrorism. Everyone needs to stand back, take a deep breath and put this whole episode into context.

However, I have seen two examples this week where perhaps it is worth making a fuss, one home-grown and the other in south America.

We have often viewed the lazy use of images of strictly Orthodox Jews to illustrate even the flimsiest of articles relating to the Jewish community, the apparent problem being that national newspaper picture editors can’t seem to get their heads round the fact that most Jews look like everyone else.

How dull, therefore, to use a picture of “quite a lot of ordinary-looking people”, when a much “sexier” alternative beckons in the form of shots of observant people in Stamford Hill, complete with beards, peyot, tsitsit and many children.

Perhaps those in charge at the London business paper, City AM, were having an off-day when they were looking for an image to go with a story about an unfortunate libel case lost by another Jewish newspaper, about the alleged activities of a Labour campaigner.

Rather than use a picture of the editor of the paper, or the campaigner, City AM bizarrely chose to use a picture of… Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Apart from the inconvenient fact that he had nothing to do with the case in the story, what was the paper thinking? That he usefully fits the bill of “generic Jew”?

Fortunately, should he choose, the chief rabbi is more than capable of complaining to City AM about this inappropriate use of his picture.

However, someone utterly incapable of complaining about the use of her image — because of inconveniently being a Holocaust victim — is the teenage diarist Anne Frank, who famously spent just over two years in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, dying in Belsen just before liberation in 1945.

Last week in Buenos Aires, a hugely popular reality talent show called “Showmatch” featured a singer, Sofia Jimenez, performing “I’m Not That Woman”, which namechecks women who cannot leave their house.

Jimenez sang “I’m not the type of woman who doesn’t leave the house”, in front of a giant image of Anne Frank.

I simply cannot imagine what the show’s producers or the singer thought they were doing here. Although, as they say on social media, that word “thought” is doing a lot of heavy lifting.

There is an Anne Frank House in Buenos Aires, a recreation of the original in Amsterdam, and its administrators, rightly, reproached the show. They said: “To use Anne Frank as the background for a song by a woman who refuses to stay at home is to bring the banalisation of the Holocaust to its extreme expression. Anne Frank did not stay at home because she was a submissive woman, but had to hide to escape the persecution of the Nazi machinery.”

After the complaints, the singer and some of Showmatch’s producers visited Anne Frank House in Buenos Aires, but I believe that the damage was done. Anne Frank was reduced to a caricature for millions of Argentinian viewers, all for the sake of a lazy image.

It’s too easy to reach for the nearest Holocaust trope or picture to illustrate anything these days. I profoundly wish more consideration could be applied, but I’m not holding my breath.

  • 1 August, 2021