Forward Thinking

The Cartoon and Anti-Semitic 'Mission Creep'

By Eddy Portnoy

When it comes to cartoons, it’s usually Muslim fundamentalists that throw hissy fits. But, in a turn of events, some of our storied communal defenders, Abraham Foxman and Marvin Hier among them, have been taking the lead. Indiscriminately tossing around accusations of anti-Semitism, our fearless leaders have attacked at least three editorial cartoonists over the past few months on charges that they have defamed the Jewish people.

Representing important institutions, you’d think that Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, and Hier, who represents the Simon Wiesenthal Center, might have figured out how to differentiate an anti-Semitic cartoon from an editorial cartoon that criticizes Israeli policy. Although both are undoubtedly experts on anti-Semitism, they both seem to take leave of their senses when it comes to criticism of Israel. And yet both claim to be ardent supporters of free speech. Except when it comes to that one thing, that Israel thing.

So when the London Times published a cartoon showing Benjamin Netanyahu cementing Palestinians between bricks of a wall, it was a perfect opportunity for Foxman to pipe up, accusing the cartoonist of evoking the blood libel. Britain’s Chief Rabbi opined that the cartoon caused “immense pain to the Jewish community in the UK and around the world.” The Israeli ambassador to Britain, who also chimed in on behalf of the International Jewry, argued that the cartoon added insult to injury, as it was published on European Holocaust Memorial Day.

Okay, so the cartoon and its timing were a bit ham-handed, for which Acting Editor of The Sunday Times Martin Ivens apologized. Gerald Scarfe, who has been visually excoriating British politicians since the late 1960s, was the artist behind Pink Floyd’s, The Wall. It appears, walls are, when all else fails, his fallback metaphor.

Sure, his cartoon wall dripping with Palestinian blood references the separation wall, which incidentally, isn’t particularly newsworthy right now, so it doubles as a symbol of Netanyahu’s recalcitrance vis-à-vis the peace process and how it crushes Palestinian life. Netanyahu comes in for some harsh criticism here, but so do all the other public figures Scarfe has drawn over the years. In fact, compared to Margaret Thatcher, Bibi gets off easy. It’s an obnoxious cartoon, but it’s not anti-Semitic. It’s also been removed from the Times website.

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More on Eli Valley's Controversial Comic

By Jane Eisner

Eli Valley’s provocative comic about the controversy caused by Bnai Jeshurun’s rabbis continues to garner controversy of its own. I’ve been reading comments and posts like this one that are sympathetic to Eli’s scathing look at the rabbis and their stand on Palestinian statehood, and try to grapple with the larger issue of when and how rabbis should speak their minds.

But there are other readers who continue to be dismayed by Eli’s message. Here is another one of those letters.

The point of the Eli Valley cartoon is that Rabbi Rolando Matalon, the main target, planned a groveling apology as he drafted his original statement. In other words, the point of the cartoon is that Roly is a hypocrite and a liar. There is no other reading of the text of the cartoon. The Forward would never run an op-ed saying, “Rabbi Matalon is a liar and a hypocrite” because the Forward knows that is not true. So why publish an editorial cartoon saying the same thing? Even if blog standards are lower than print, they cannot be that low. This cartoon should not have been run. Kathleen Peratis

And a second:

I was shocked and dismayed to see the Forward pile on to denigrate the BJ rabbis in this awful cartoon. With friends like you, progressive Jews, trying to love both Israel and express their Jewish social justice values. certainly need no enemies which as you know are not in short supply. With sadness and disappointment. Deborah Sagner

More thoughts? Send them to us.

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Guardian's Old-Is-New Cartoon Canard

By Liam Hoare

steve bell

For a cartoonist, how to say “Jews are controlling international affairs” without actually having to say it?

Well, the creation of Israel has made it very easy in this regard. Just replace ‘Jews’ with ‘the Israel lobby’ (or ‘Israel’ itself) and substitute ‘the United States’ or maybe ‘the United Nations’ for the usual ‘international government’ or ‘global finance’, and you’re good to go. And, if you can throw in an image of a prominent Israeli looming large over the scene, perhaps controlling world events as a puppeteer might work his instruments, even better.

The Guardian’s Steve Bell in today’s paper has done just that. His creation portrays an oversized, slightly hunched image of Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by a phalanx of rockets decked in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, standing at a lectern with his hands mastering two small dolls. On the left is William Hague, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary who has said that Hamas bears the “principle responsibility” for ending the violence in the region, and Tony Blair, the Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet, on the right.

Bell’s canard has been swiftly condemned. The Community Security Trust – the organisation responsible for the protection of the UK’s Jewish community – stated, “What is striking about Bell’s cartoon is that he seems to have reached for the ‘puppeteer’ trope to explain that fact that William Hague’s statement on the conflict was presumably not critical enough of Israel for his liking, as if this is the most plausible explanation for Hague’s view.” The Jewish Chronicle is reporting that the barrister Jeremy Brier has already lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, labelling the drawing “plainly anti-Semitic.”

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