Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, March 25, 2018. (Abir Sultan, Pool via AP)

Munich - Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper says it has fired a cartoonist whose caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was criticized as anti-Semitic.

Dieter Hanitzsch, who has been with the liberal paper for years, earlier denied any anti-Semitic intent in the cartoon, which referenced the Eurovision Song Contest and was published on Tuesday.

The Munich-based national daily said the reasons for his dismissal were "unbridgeable differences between Mr Hanitzsch and the editorial staff on what constitute anti-Semitic cliches in a cartoon."

"This came out not only in the published cartoon itself, but also in conversations with Mr Hanitzsch," Sueddeutsche said in a statement.

Hanitzsch has not responded to a request for comment from DPA.

The offending cartoon showed Netanyahu posing as Eurovision winner Netta, who sang for Israel, while holding a missile marked with the Star of David. It also has the Israeli national symbol replacing the V in the words "Eurovision Song Contest," shown in the background.

A speech bubble emerging from the prime minister's mouth says in German: "Next year in Jerusalem." These words are traditionally uttered at the end of Passover every year, and were used by Netta herself in response to her win.

Sueddeutsche editor-in-chief Wolfgang Krach initially said on Wednesday that Hanitzsch had indicated he merely wanted to point out that the next Eurovision finals in 2019 would take place in Jerusalem.

Krach nevertheless acknowledged that the drawing could be interpreted differently and be seen as anti-Semitic. "Its publication was for this reason a mistake for which we ask forgiveness."