I’m a Jew, not a pig

Today’s Mail and Guardian carries the following (what appears to be a) plea to Pick n Pay to stand against cruelty to pigs.

It is supposedly an advertisement, because the newspaper apparently knows nothing about it. Chris Roper, the editor, placed an apology on their website. In it he states:  “Owing to a lethal confluence of ill luck and human stupidity, this week we published a crude advert that likens the slaughter of pigs to the extermination of Jews in concentration camps.” When I engaged him on Twitter, asking what the picture was advertising, he replied: “No idea. Except our own internal failings, unfortunately.”

What worries me is not so much the M & G’s internal system, which allowed this to happen – although that definitely needs sorting out and heads should roll. It’s also not the M & G’s initial response, which was swift and sincere, if a bit misplaced. (I believe the paper owes it to the Jewish Community to issue more than a mea culpa and have suggested it cooperate with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies to consider appropriate redress.) 

What I find so difficult to accept is that someone – presumably outside of the M & G – conceived of this ‘advert’ and someone else – presumably inside the M & G – conspired to slip it into the paper. In the case of the latter, it is likely this is not the work of a single person but rather a group.  I’ve never worked at the M & G but know that publishing involves a series of sign-offs. On the publications I’ve worked for, no one person could insert something without it being seen by at least one other person before going to print.

So, a group of people out there think that it is acceptable to compare the suffering of pigs bred for human consumption with the six million Jews who were murdered by the Third Reich in World War 2. Even an animal anti-cruelty activist, which I’m not (I’ll worry about animals when there is no more human suffering), must surely appreciate the distinction. Pigs are bred so that (non-Jewish) people can enjoy bacon and pig farmers can earn a living. They are born to be killed. And while there are ways of slaughter that are more and less humane, the fact remains – these pigs are raised and fattened for the sole purpose of becoming the bacon in someone’s breakfast. I do agree, by the way, that every effort should be made to reduce the suffering these poor creatures endure. But, whichever way you look at it, that little piggy is going to market.

In the Second World War, Hitler’s minions systematically murdered six million of my ancestors. These men, women and children were not bred to be killed, they were born to love and be loved. They were people like you and me – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, grandparents, cousins, friends, husbands, wives and lovers. To compare their suffering to that of a pig born to be eaten is both ill-conceived and offensive. While their aim may be noble – to ensure better living conditions for pigs – their execution is a slight on the people who were murdered for no other reason than their religion. Their deaths served no purpose other than the attainment of Hitler’s racist racial ideology.

That there are people who conflate the suffering of pigs with that of Jews treated as vermin in Nazi Germany is what astounds and upsets me. And from my Twitter timeline I can see I am not alone. The outrage is clear and it doesn’t only come from Jewish people. All who value human life and dignity are incensed, whether or not the cause of animals is close to their heart. South Africa, of all places, should understand the dangers of comparing humans to animals. Because that is exactly what this ‘advert’ does.

Like Raymond Ackerman, I am a Jew, not a pig.