The Israeli “satire” show Latma TV produces an animated cartoon that depicts African people as apes.
Latma TV – a tax-exempt project of the US-based Center for Security Policy – has become notorious for its racist videos, including one which spread a libel that Muslim men were responsible for a “rape epidemic” in Norway.
The main character of the Latma TV cartoons is a baboon called “Professor Na’or Lobongelo” who is described as a “lecturer in political science at the University of Tel-Zanav, a small corner of light and intelligence in the jungle that surrounds us.”
He gives lectures to other dancing, screaming apes as drums beat in the background. In the episode above, he describes himself and his audience as “enlightened baboons” as he caricatures the position of Israeli liberals who oppose the deportation of non-Jewish children, born to migrants, many from Africa.
“Na’or” means “enlightened” – the professor is a caricature of the “left-wing” intellectual despised by the Israeli far-right.
“Tel-Zanav” – literally “Hill of Tails” is a play on Tel Aviv. It is a reference both to animals, and perhaps to being wagged.
An African character as an ape
While the “Lobongelo” character mocks Israeli leftists, he is also clearly an African as indicated by his name. This is a direct reference to a 1935 Hebrew-language children’s book by Nachum Gutman called “In the land of Lobongelo, King of the Zulus.”
Dena Shunra observes that, “The book is a colonial-style adventure which was hugely popular in Israel and was read by pretty much every child growing up in Israel from 1935 to at least the mid-seventies, as there were not very many children books available in Hebrew at the time. It’s a cultural trope that everyone who grew up Israeli will be familiar with.”
According to the Hebrew Wikipedia entry, Gutman, who was born in what is now Moldova and emigrated to Palestine as a child, traveled to South Africa in 1935 to draw the portrait of Prime Minister Jan Christiaan Smuts. Smuts, the racist colonialist ruler of South Africa was an ardent admirer of Zionism. After the 1994 fall of South Africa’s apartheid regime, Smuts’ name was removed from Johannesburg airport, which was renamed for anti-apartheid leader Oliver Tambo. Yet many places in Israel – streets, parks and a kibbutz – still bear names in honor of Smuts.
Children’s books that denigrate people of other cultures have by no means only been a feature of Israel or Hebrew literature, but in many countries such literature has been repudiated as outdated and offensive. Latma seems perfectly content to carry on the tradition adapting it to new racist needs.
“In the jungle”: Fuelling hatred against Africans
The use of an “African” character by Latma is no mere coincidence. Recall that the “Lobongelo” cartoon speaks about Tel Aviv (“Tel Zanav”) being “a corner of light and intelligence in the jungle that surrounds us.”
But by likening Africans to baboons, it also recalls the claims by some Israeli members of parliament that Tel Aviv is turning into “an African city” due to the influx of migrants and refugees from Africa.
The Lobongelo cartoons are particularly disturbing amid increasingly racist Israeli laws targeting Africans and shocking hate rallies such as one recently caught on video.
Latma in blackface
The racist “Lobongelo” cartoons are bad enough (in another episode he begins his lecture by saying “As I sat down for my morning bananas…”), Latma does not shy away from using actual blackface, as in this video where a white actor blacks up to depict an African sneaking across the border.
A Latma actor, as Phan Nguyen has shown, also blacked-up in another video where he played a grotesque caricature of an African chief called “Kazabubu” claiming to be Jewish so he and his tribe could come to Israel.
Mocking and persecuting black people in Israel while using them in the US to promote Israel
What makes this raw racism all the more sickening is that it is flourishing in Israel as AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, is recruiting black students on US college campuses to front for Israeli apartheid.
With thanks to Dena Shunra for assistance with translation and contributing analysis.