How I was accused of anti-Semitism by the American right, and how I lost my job as drawer at the CNN
On June 10, after the New York Times decided it was no longer to publish political cartoons because of the scandal that hit the publication of the cartoon by the Portuguese illustrator António Moreira Antunes, the cartoonist Patrick Chappatte published a statement on his website and gave some interviews in which he said:
“The newspapers are powerless in the face of storms on the social networks, storms that, at least in part, are organized. Instead, we must be brave and remember that retreating proves those who attack us right.”
Antunes’ cartoons, considered as anti-Semitic, ended up at the heart of a tough protest by readers and Israel. The cartoon showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu represented as a guide dog with the star of David, held on a leash by President Donald Trump, blind and with a kippah. After the protests of the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, publisher of A.G. Sulzberger, wrote: “We have decided to change some procedures, so as such episodes are not repeated”. Furthermore, disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the person responsible for the edition who had chosen the cartoon.
Chappatte’s words gave me the strength to tell what recently happened to me with another top-level American news channel: the CNN, the channel I worked with throughout 2018, following major sporting events such as the Winter Olympics in Korea, the Football World Cup in Russia and the Parisian tennis tournament Roland Garros, plus other cartoons for the networks of CNN Sport. However, since October 8, the report has ended irrevocably.
On October 8, the twitter profile “Partisangirl”, retweeted my 2016 drawing, in which I depicted an Isis terrorist taking off the mask of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the hashtag #JSIL. I admit that the drawing was strong and provocative, but it was part of the very complex geopolitical situation of 2016, and of a broader story of drawings related to what was happening at that time in Gaza, and in general in the complex Middle Eastern framework. Extrapolated and published in this instrumental way, it could be read in a totally different way.
Maram Susli , also known as: Mimi al-Laha, PartisanGirl, Syrian Girl and Syrian Sister, is an Australian/Syrian commentator who publishes YouTube videos on the Syrian civil war and on the wars involving the U.S. in the Middle East, videos on conspiracy theories and on the Gamergate (Gamergate was a controversial harassment campaign mainly organized through the use of the homonymous hashtag on Twitter). Ms. Susli is a conspiracy theory advocate, and creator of fake news for the InfoWars website or for podcasts hosted by former Ku Klux Klan chief David Duke and holocaust denier Ryan Dawson. Of course, ParisanGirl is also a supporter of the Assad government in Syria.
After his retweet, I deleted the tweet as something smelled phishy, and especially fraudulently exploited. However, a few hours later, PartisanGilr’s tweet was retweeted and commented on by Arthur Schwartz (Schwartz had accidentally already made a screenshot, and memorized the old tweet), and his tweet clearly revealed where it all was about to end up. It’s easy to see that the two profiles are connected.
The operation had to hit the CNN and accuse it of anti-Semitism or of working with anti-Semites.
Mr. Schwartz had been Senior Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of Corporate Communications at the MWW Group since 2014. Mr. Schwartz is responsible for the MWW consulting and communications strategy, government affairs, crisis management and litigation strategy for the MWW clients. It is not entirely clear what Schwartz has done since he left MWW: he has worked as an advisor to the Republican Party at the state and federal levels, and tweeted his support for Anthony Scaramucci, as well as his disgust with the democratic politics.
In the last two years since he arrived in Washington, he has earned a reputation as a “fixer”, behind-the-scenes operator and social media agitator with a specialty: information about his enemies’ shopping and battles against journalists. This has helped him to forge close relationships with numerous Trump-related officials and family members such as Donald Trump Jr. The two are so close that they spent the Super Bowl together last year. This is the person who calls me an anti-Semite.
“I don't work in the government, I don’t work in a campaign.
I’m basically a fucking troll on Twitter”,
Mr. Schwartz told The Daily Beast.
But let’s go on with the issue, after Mr. Schwartz’s tweet – directly involving Matt Dormic of CNN Comunications. The reaction of the CNN journalist was: “I can't tell you why he has deleted his tweet, but Gianluca Costantini is not our employee."
I wasn’t one of their employees, I was one of their collaborators though.
The CNN Sport editor I was working with told me that, until he spoke to his boss in person, I couldn’t work with them anymore.
On November 9, he wrote me: “We can no longer use your drawings. There is a lot of concern about the CNN reputation. I’m sorry, because it was great working with you. Sincerely.”
This was my answer:
I’m really sorry for what happened, and in particular for exposing you in this mess. I’m sorry, but I’m also a bit upset about the CNN decision, because I find it really unfair. I have never been attacked by any Jewish organization for my work, I have very often worked for the rights of the Jewish community, of the past and of the present. And I find it unfair to disengage from me, even if I am a freelancer, just because a single person, whose identity is far from being clear, attacked a drawing made 3 years ago, which – taken out of context – could be misunderstood. Perhaps, it was a mistake to include in my profile that I work for the CNN sport, but this is how we do it in Italy, and this doesn’t mean that you are a permanent employee.
Then, I don’t want to bore you, this is just to clarify my position, it has been a real pleasure working with you and I think this collaboration was fascinating and also very experimental. I hope to see you around one day and have a drink together!
I do not feel guilty for my drawings, as I am convinced that there is no racism, anti-Semitism or prejudice in them, only criticism against a government. However, it is indeed a fact that striking at freelance collaborators, or even employed journalists, with this mafia-like accusation is quite easy – as the subtle hypocrisy of reputation is used: no matter whether an accusation is true or not, what is “said on the Internet” does.
Gianluca Costantini, 17 July 2019
Translation of Sarah Tuggey