Manu Koenig and Trail Now PAC Apologize for Anti-Semitic Cartoons Featuring John Leopold
The cartoons all focus on one subject: the rail-trail. They were illustrated by cartoonist Steven DeCinzo and commissioned by Trail Now to oppose use of the rail system and the re-establishment of train service along the coastal trail in Santa Cruz County. It is not clear how many of the cartoons were used directly by Koenig's campaign. At least one of Koenig's television ads prominently features a DeCinzo rail-trail cartoon with Leopold in it (see video below).
One of the images that has generated particular outrage in the community shows Supervisor Leopold wearing a large, flamboyant fur coat (see photo above). In addition to wearing a business-style hat, and fancy shoes, Leopold's nose is also caricatured. Community members have compared the image to other racist and anti-Semitic images that have been created historically to disparage Jewish people, going back thousands of years. The caricature of Leopold's nose can be compared to the set of historical stereotypes collectively referred to as the Jewish nose. Another clear stereotype in the cartoon is that of the dishonest Jewish business person, who values money above all else.
In addition to Leopold, the cartoon also contains a cast of supporting characters who provide the following commentary about the Supervisor: "I suppose his family has money...or his wife. Maybe he won the lottery," "He sure does live well for a public servant," "Yeah - I wonder how he does it," and "You should see how much he spends on his dog." The statements play into the stereotype that Jewish people are financially "greedy," and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) states that this stereotype seeks to communicate that Jewish people are underserving of their success. "Sometimes the accusation of Jewish greed comes from observations or assumptions about Jewish wealth, perceived as inherently undeserved," the ADL states.
The image of Leopold in the fur coat can be compared to other racist images from the past, such as a cartoon of a Jewish merchant published in 1927 in a mainstream family picture magazine from Finland called "Suomen kuvalehti" (see photo), or the illustrations from "Der Giftpilz," a racist German publication aimed at children that was widely distributed in 1938 (see photo), or in a cartoon created in 1973 by Vechernaya Moskva to discredit Jewish activists in Russia, implying they would betray their country for the love of money (see photo).
According to Brian Peoples, Trail Now paid for the cartoon series and there were, "over 30 Trail Now supporters collaborating on cartoon versions". Documents filed with the County of Santa Cruz over the summer indicate Trail Now paid $2800 dollars for "DeCinzo cartoons" (see photo and PDF file).
When interviewed through email, Manu Koenig stated that he has, "never been directly involved with Trail Now." Koenig once served as the Executive Director of Santa Cruz County Greenway, but did step down some time ago. Greenway is another organization that opposes the re-establishment of the rail system and the creation of the rail-trail.
Although Koenig has said he is not directly involved with Trail Now, the lines between that group and Santa Cruz County Greenway, as well as Koenig's campaign, become blurred at times. Apparently, Koenig and Peoples met together with Rabbi Shifra Weiss-Penzias of Temple Beth El in Aptos to discuss the anti-Semitic cartoons. Brian Peoples met with the Rabbi, according to Jack Brown, who is a longtime opponent of the rail system and advocate of electric automobiles. "Brian manned up and openly apologized for the cartoon after speaking to Rabbi Shifra Weiss-Penzias," Brown said about Peoples on social media. In a separate post, Peoples said he was accompanied by Koenig at the meeting. "Manu did the right thing and talk[ed] to [the] Rabbi," Peoples said.
The only public apology for the cartoons has been from Trail Now, on Facebook.
"It recently came to our attention that a few of the DeCinzo cartoons, created for the Santa Cruz Coastal Trail campaign, are construed by some Santa Cruz County residents to be anti-Semitic. If any of the cartoon illustrations gave any sense of discrimination toward any community member, it was unintentional and is unacceptable," the Trail Now apology reads in part.
Following the apology, Brian Peoples stated that Trail Now has removed some of the cartoons from their website. "The DeCinzo cartoons that are publicly available are not anti-Semitic," Peoples stated. "We removed the ones with anti-Semitic tropes."
"We are not working with DeCinzo right now," Peoples also said. "I do not see any reason to do more cartoons."
Some community members have stated that all of the DeCinzo cartoons should be removed from Trail Now's website and social media accounts. As of the publication of this article, ten of the cartoons remain on the Trail Now website, and countless remain on their Facebook page.