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I’m a Jew, not a pig

By Caryn Gootkin

Today’s Mail & 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 II. 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.

Caryn Gootkin, chair of the Southern African Freelancers’ Association in the Western Cape, is a freelance writer, sub editor and plain language enthusiast.

Originally published on


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  1. Suzanne Ackerman - Berman Suzanne Ackerman - Berman 4 July 2014

    thank you for this brilliant response to the highly offensive ad in the paper – you are not alone in your thoughts and eloquently expressed the concerns of millions.

  2. David Robert Lewis David Robert Lewis 4 July 2014

    I am one of South Africa’s undesirable Jews, relegated to sub-human status by the legal system because of my intolerance to the Christian idea that race segregation is natural or divinely inspired by God. That our legal system continues to discriminate unfairly is an indictment on the Christian normative values underpinning both apartheid and the current dispensation. Is it asking too much to demand that we are equal before the law? South Africa’s race classification system was adopted from Nazi Germany and the countries history of discrimination against Jews, beginning with the anti-immigrant hysteria of D F Malan and recent pronouncements by various ANC ministers shows us that once again we are unfit vermin, nothing more than chattel in the eyes of the law.

  3. Bridget Bridget 4 July 2014

    What a horrible story, how could this have happened and how could so many people’s feelings have been hurt in such a cruel way!!
    Quite understandably, the writer of this comment is very upset.

    But to start caring for animals when “all human suffering has ended” might actually be leaving it a little too late. And no, there is no ‘humane’ way of slaughter, every living thing on this earth will be fighting for its life until the very last breath.

  4. Harry Harry 4 July 2014

    Why single out Raymond Ackerman when ALL supermarkets are selling pork from similar sources.

  5. Granny Weatherwax Granny Weatherwax 4 July 2014

    Thank you, Bridget. You said that far more graciously than what I was going to type! While I agree with the writer’s stance on that atrocious ad, any support I may have had for the writer herself disappeared when I read “I’ll worry about animals when there is no more human suffering.” It is possible to care about animals, the environment and people – all people – at the same time. In fact, if we don’t, soon we won’t have anything to care about left…

  6. Clifford Bestall Clifford Bestall 4 July 2014

    JM Coetzee’s novella, The Lives of Animals makes a similar analogy. The central character Elizabeth Costello gives two lectures at Appleton College, then contributes to a debate with Appleton philosophy professor Thomas O’Hearne. Her first lecture begins with an analogy between the Holocaust and the exploitation of animals. Costello makes the point that, just as residents in the neighbourhoods of the death camps knew what was happening at the camps, but chose to turn a blind eye, so it is common practice today for otherwise respectable members of society to turn a blind eye to industries that bring pain and death to animals. This turns out to be the most controversial thing that Costello says during her visit, and it causes a Jewish professor of the college to boycott the dinner held in her honour. In her first lecture, Costello also moves to reject reason as the preeminent quality that separates humans from animals and allows humans to treat animals as less than the equals of humans. She proposes that reason might simply be a species specific trait, “the specialism of a rather narrow self-regenerating intellectual tradition . . . which for its own motives it tries to install at the centre of the universe.”

  7. Brian Brian 4 July 2014

    To Harry,

    Clearly Raymond Ackerman was singled out because he is Jewish.
    What a wonderful coup for the anti-Semites lurking in the woodwork.

  8. Kalahari Doringboom Kalahari Doringboom 4 July 2014

    Harry # This has little or nothing to do with Raymond Ackerman or any other enterprise that may sell pork. This is about an advocacy group, or an individual straining to propose a common context for animal welfare on the one hand, and the Jewish holocaust on the other. It had never really occurred to me that we’d allow ourselves such an ahistorical conclusion about what might be construed as the lowest point of our inhumanity. Buchenwald and the pig pen? Who would’ve thought?

  9. n. ashby n. ashby 5 July 2014

    Plain language enthusiast this writer may be, but she clearly is not a plain reader. Is there anywhere in the ad’s anti-atrocity message that says she or Jews are pigs?

    Perhaps all this proves is that comparisons are odious. But it would be interesting to know what the writer would say is a closer comparison when considering the plight of tens of billions of animals on factory farms.

    That she will care about the suffering of animals only once human suffering ends sounds like a mind locked in the apartheid though that allowed one group to take care of itself at the expense of another. Slave-owning societies created their moral reasoning in similar supremacist constructs.

    By all means memorialise human-inflicted horrors of the past. Protect their victims from denialism. But don’t be so blind to those being currently perpetrated (perhaps shown up in the ad with questionable tact) that renders a response not in plain language produced by clear thinking, but rather a sensationalist howl of cognitively dissonant confusion.

    There are dozens of strong reasons, from human health as well as environmental, to urgently encourage people to refrain from treating non-human beings as consumer items. By far the most important reason is compassion. It is the lack of any sincere compassion apparent in the above post that will horrify future readers who look back on our treatment of non-human animals.

  10. Johan Burger Johan Burger 5 July 2014

    Homo homini lupus est – man is a wolf to his fellow man! What does it say about mankind that we run each other down and then display the stupidity and insensitivity to use horrors of the past to try to make a point? The link between pigs and Jewish people is clearly not accidental! The advert is one of the most insensitive I have ever seen! Had the population group been one other than the Jewish population, how big would the outcry have been? I stand ashamed!

  11. Llewellyn Kriel Llewellyn Kriel 5 July 2014

    Bravo, Caryn, for standing up against hubris, carelessness, low standards and the mercenary mindlessness of ad agencies & media placement types. When it comes to prejudice, this yet again shows, with apologies to George Orwell, that some bigotry is less odious than others.

  12. Thijs Thijs 5 July 2014

    I concur with Bridget i.r.o. your highly insensitive – and irrational – interjection of “I’ll worry about animals . . . has ended”.

    I would suggest that such a remark casts serious doubt on your capacity for compassion, undermining the sincerity of your own article.

    How would you like to distinguish between human suffering and animal suffering?

    People – through cruelty and injustice – inflict suffering on others (including animals).

    You should rather reverse your argument completely: the people who are cruel and inconsiderate towards animals – betraying their lack of compassion – should be your prime concern!

  13. Daniel Daniel 5 July 2014

    I too am a Jew and I do not know what the fuss is all about.

    We systematically, inhumanly kill far more than 6 millions pigs and other animals.

    Because they were are breed to eat, is not an excuse to hide behind. Can i breed people to work? I believe we have lost our humility (estimating one’s own importance in this world). Our arrogance is unfounded.

  14. Tom Evans Tom Evans 5 July 2014

    Thank you for a well written article Caryn. The advert is in incredibly bad taste and M&G owes more than the flippant apology so far given. Any decent editor would have a full-on investigation of how, who and why the advert was placed. Somebody must take responsibility.

  15. rmr rmr 5 July 2014

    David Robert Lewis. Your ideas about Christianity are wrong, biased and, had they been expressed against any one race, would be racist. As a Christian I have had to endure racist views expressed against me by Jews because of my race and ancestry. And no – I am not anti Jewish. I have climbed Massada, I have walked through Auschwitz, through Yad Vashem and many more. Do not comfort yourself that any one group is free from racism. The Palistinians may, for example, have a view.

  16. Leonard Leonard 5 July 2014

    It was not only Jews who were exterminated in the concentration camps. There were 6 millions Jews who were exterminated and 5 million people who were of differing heritage. So, to associate the words “concentration camps” in the advert, with Jews only, is incorrect.

  17. rmr rmr 5 July 2014

    Leonard, this is true of the concentration camps in WWII. Of course those were not the first concentration camps. 30% of the female and infant population of the Boer replublics died in English concentration camps at the turn of the 1800/1900s, with about 90 000 Kenyans dying in English concentration camps in Kenya. Many souls are destroyed in Guantanamo Bay right as I type this. Somehow they do not matter so much. I have yet to figure out why.

  18. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 5 July 2014

    I am of Afrikaner heritage and my ancestors were in rather inhumane concentration camps too. Why should they not apologise to us? Gays, Gypsy and unionists were also put into concentration camps. Are they not worthy of an apology?

    I have no idea what Mr Alan Friedland was thinking when he put this advert in. I do, however, take my hat off to Mail and Guardian for reacting so decisively once this farce was discovered.

  19. Conrad Conrad 5 July 2014

    What is the point of listing other examples of inhumanity in the context of this response to an obviously inappropriate advert?

  20. Aragorn Eloff Aragorn Eloff 5 July 2014

    Firstly, I agree that the advert in question fails dismally as a form of outreach. I also understand why some people might find the comparison deeply troubling (albeit for more subtle reasons: However, it is worth considering that at least two Nobel prize winners (Isaac Singer and JM Coetzee) have argued with great depth and clarity that the analogy between our exploitation of other animals for food, entertainment, science, etc., and the decimation of millions of innocent people in the holocaust (and similar events) is one worth reflecting on.

    We can balk at the comparison if we wish, and we surely will if it is delivered with as little nuance and merit as the advert above, but that does not undo the unspeakable, unnecessary suffering experienced by *billions* of other animals every single year, a suffering that is, yes, similar in at least some salient ways, to the suffering of humans during the holocaust.

    “In relation to animals, all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jewish author

    “I believe as long as man tortures and kill animals, he will torture and kill humans as well—and wars will be waged—for killing must be practiced and learned on a small scale.” – Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, Holocaust victim

    Worth reading:


  21. Jon Jon 5 July 2014

    rmr & leonard

    there is a difference between concentration camps and extermination camps.

    treblinka, sobibor, belzec, and other camps were designed and built for the sole purpose of murdering jews.

  22. Charlotte Charlotte 5 July 2014

    I’d would have thought the M&G would monitor their Facebook posting, as the comments in response to this article are amongst the nastiest and most deranged I’ve ever read.

  23. Eric Eric 5 July 2014

    It doesnt specifically refer to German concentration camps…… should the Afrikaans not also take offence and the millions of other nations who have died in concentration camps across the world over the years? (Concentration camps were not only used by Germany) Free speech is going to mean you will feel insulted sometime. It is the price we pay for free speech.

  24. rmr rmr 5 July 2014

    I am deeply offended by the views expressed by Lewis. As a white, Afrikaans, Protestant, I have a black son. Today, because I raised him in the values of Protestantism – hard work, egalitarianism, gratitude to God, he has a B Com Hons degree and a good job. I fund the education of 3 other black children each of whom I am raising equally. We are all multi lingual and try to speak the language of whomever we encounter in a spirit of mulit – cultuarlism. I have really had enought of this type of knee jerk racism directed against us! I insist on an apology.

  25. r. irwin kehler r. irwin kehler 6 July 2014

    … well, that sure compares a lot to the way some people in other countries think of their indigenous people, like Canada… ‘vermin that must be slaughtered’…
    … the Americans did a good job of physically slaughtering Natives in North America… and … the Canadian government, is doing a good job of financially and administratively trying to ‘wipe out’ Natives in Canada…
    … but it is not working…
    … that advertisement is also not working…something is WRONG with it… only difference, in Canada, the action is not so swift to resist the ‘slaughter’…
    … but there are the just people in this world that will not allow the ‘slaughter’…
    … the silent majority…

  26. rmr rmr 6 July 2014

    Jon – Roman Dutch law recognises dolus eventualis as murder. You foresee the possibility of death as a result of your actions, you reconcile to it and proceed regardless. By incarcerating large numbers of women and children in concentration camps without sufficient food, shelter and sanitation, the English ensured the outcome. It matters little that they foild their hands and sigh that they never intended it.

  27. Previous MG Fan Previous MG Fan 6 July 2014

    I trust Mail and Guardian Exco will be sending each and every employee to the Holocaust Centre to better understand what tragedy befell the Jewish People as well as other groups of people during the Holocaust. Nothing can be compared to it.

    Nothing like this should ever be published in any newspaper again.

  28. Previous MG Fan Previous MG Fan 6 July 2014

    Eric – does the photograph not make it obvious that advert is referring to the concentration camps of the Holocaust!!!!

  29. Previous MG Fan Previous MG Fan 6 July 2014

    Charlotte – I agree with you!

    Charlotte #

    I’d would have thought the M&G would monitor their Facebook posting, as the comments in response to this article are amongst the nastiest and most deranged I’ve ever read.

  30. Robyn Burger Robyn Burger 6 July 2014

    That it took at least two other people to have this ad published in the M&G, I want the names of those people (and any others) to be published alongside any M&G apology. Bland editor accepting of responsibility is necessary but not sufficient. Those who seek to stimulate religious animosity and interpersonal hatred must be exposed for who they are and their communities need to know what these members of their neighbourhood are doing in their name.

  31. Grant Codron Grant Codron 7 July 2014

    I’m Jewish too and I thought the ad was incredibly stupid. Just stupid. The two photos only very tenuously resembled one another. Really poor piece of work from a creative perspective.

    As for the can of worms it’s inadvertently opened, I find your comment about “caring about animals once human suffering is sorted out” extremely short sighted. In many ways, these two incidences go hand in hand. Your not having considered this is quite alarming and exposes a stark lack of philosophical consideration and thoughtfulness.

  32. Graham Graham 7 July 2014

    David Robert Lewis

    Wow, that has to be one of the most racist comments I have read in a long time.

    “Christian normative values underpinning both apartheid and the current dispensation” – please highlight the passages in the Bible that condone apartheid.

    Editor – really??

  33. C. Enoch C. Enoch 11 July 2014

    Each in their own context, is disgraceful. The reference to the Jews that died in the Holocaust in comparison to pigs being treated in this way, is disgraceful. The sight of pigs going to be slaughtered in this barbaric way, is disgraceful.

    But speaking of pigs (which are animals and sentient) what happened on Thandi Modise’s pig farm is beyond disgraceful. Left to die, starve and eat other animal carcasses … Shame on her! She is a disgrace to the whole nation and should not hold any position of responsibility or accountability. She should have been sacked!

    The major problem under ANC rule, is the presumption that owning a farm, makes you a farmer; being given an office and driving a big car, makes you a CEO; and sitting in parliament, being exorbitantly paid for doing nothing (all the while, lying through your teeth and rubbing your itchy palms) makes you worthy of being an M.P.

  34. max max 7 September 2014

    Holocaust is a perfectly appropriate image to invoke if one is to talk about the way humans treat animals. At all the Nazi extermination sites there were Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, the Disabled and Animals. These were slaughterhouses. When the Germans referred to Jews eating in the concentration camps they used the word “fressen” not “essen”. Fressen is for animals. Essen is for human beings. Nazis saw Jews and others as animals.This allowed them to slaughter them. In order to oppress others, humans must first denigrate them. This is the pattern in all racism. When the allies arrived to save the human victims of the holocausts, they left the animals behind to die. The animal holocaust is an ongoing horror that gained in catastrophic proportions with the onset of industrialized factory farming in the early 20th Century. All Hitler did was to augment the slaughter of animals with the slaughter of certain classes of human beings.

    Furthermore, the appellation of hitler as “vegetarian” is a longstanding propaganda lie invented by Goebbels. Albert Spier and Robert Payne wrote independent biographies of Hitler and both noted that Hitler especially loved liver dumplings and pigeon. Htler was not vegetarian. Goebbels invented the vegetarian Hitler myth in an effort to soften him, make him seem peace loving, to liken him to the most loved world leader of the time, Gandhi who was in fact vegetarian.

    The advertisement is a very clever bit of provocation. My ideas here are…

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