LORTON, Va. (ABC7) — A Fairfax County high school student’s artwork that received national recognition is being criticized as anti-Semitic.
The county superintendent apologized to a local rabbi who found it offensive, but the student’s teacher accused the rabbi of “vilifying” her and the student.
Meanwhile the student’s father tells ABC7 the work was meant to be against stereotypes, not to perpetuate them.
The controversial drawing was done as part of an art assignment at South County High School in Lorton. It contains the title “Jewish People,” and the words “no Jew in the world understands the importance of money.”
Critics say the “hooked nose” of the man in the drawing and the bag of money he’s holding are offensive.
“This is a classic anti-Semitic stereotype,” said Mike Ginsberg with the Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition, which issued a statement condemning the art.
Ginsberg says he’s also concerned about the response given by the student’s teacher after a local rabbi emailed his concerns to her on Saturday.
The rabbi, who asked ABC7 not to give his name, had seen the work on display at the Richard J. Ernst Community Cultural Center on Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus.
“This drawing is an example of bigotry and anti-Semitism,” he wrote to the student’s teacher Justyne Fischer. “How can it be displayed by you, let alone, win an award? That this is taking place right in my own backyard is deeply deeply painful.”
The next morning Fischer wrote an unapologetic reply criticizing President Donald Trump, whom the rabbi had not mentioned. Using her official FCPS email account, she wrote:
“When people brought a realistic, reasonable concern to her, she shot them down rudely, condescendingly, and frankly inappropriately,” Ginsberg said.
Fischer did not reply to multiple emails sent to her by ABC7.
ABC7 is not naming the student since she is a minor. We reached her father by phone on Wednesday. He said the art had been approved by both Fischer and South County High School.
He told us all eight drawings together make up a work his daughter called “Racial Irony,” and the “Jewish People” drawing was only one of the eight.
“It was part of a larger artwork,” he said. “She didn’t mean to offend anyone. It was against stereotypes, showing that stereotypes were silly.”
“Racial Irony” received recognition from the Scholastic Art Awards, a national organization.
Although the “Jewish People” drawing was just one of the eight drawings that made up “Racial Irony,” it was the only drawing displayed publicly.
The student artist’s teacher did not apologize to the rabbi who was concerned about the drawing, but the Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent did apologize.
“I understand how, out of context, this piece of art was offensive to you in that it appears to portray Jewish individuals in a negative light,” Scott Brabrand wrote in an email to the rabbi.
“It is my understanding that it was not the intent of the artist to offend anyone, but rather to bring to light how the exaggeration of stereotypes spreads ignorance,” he added.
Brabrand wrote since the display included no statement of what the student artist intended, he understood why the rabbi thought it was a negative portrayal of Jewish people.
“Therefore, we will request that the event organizers consider making changes in how student artwork is displayed during the exhibition and include the artist’s statement along with the artwork. As part of our response, we will be re-examining our process for submissions to this contest and reinforcing with our art teachers the need for cultural awareness and responsiveness along with the importance of emphasizing those skills with their students.”
An employee at the Ernst Center where the artwork was displayed told ABC7 on Tuesday that the drawing had been taken down a few days earlier.