We had some some, er, “lively” discussion the other day about a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in the Sunday Times showing Benjamin Netanyahu cementing a bunch of screaming, bloody Palestinians into a wall. The cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial Day, and here it is:
According to a report on the BBC News today, editor Rupert Murdoch has apologized and so, in a way, has the artist:
The Jewish Chronicle said that in a message denying it permission to reprint the cartoon, Scarfe said he “very much regrets” the timing of the cartoon.
He had apparently been unaware that Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day.
Mr Murdoch wrote in a tweet: “Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.”
(BTW, I am no fan of Rupert Murdoch.)
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the cartoon was “shockingly reminiscent of the blood libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently anti-Semitic Arab press”.
The term “blood libel” refers to myths dating back to the Middle Ages that Jews murdered children to use their blood during religious rituals.
. . . In a statement, the Sunday Times said the cartoon was aimed at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel or Jewish people.
But Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said it had “caused immense pain to the Jewish community in the UK and around the world”.
“Whatever the intention, the danger of such images is that they reinforce a great slander of our time: that Jews, victims of the Holocaust, are now perpetrators of a similar crime against the Palestinians,” he said in a statement.
The news report details other Jewish criticism of the cartoon, but also a statement by an Israeli journalist that, while the cartoon was offensive, it wasn’t antisemitic.
Well, I thought the cartoon was in poor taste, and catered to—if it was not inspired by—antisemitic feelings, but I didn’t feel “immense pain”. I felt the need to combat the cartoon with speech.
I am a bit worried, though, that the Jewish community may become too easily offended at legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy. I have some of those criticisms myself, but don’t think this cartoon expresses any of them. Criticism of Israel is not automatically criticism of the Jews, though one has to be careful about crossing that line—which this cartoon did. And its publication on Holocaust Memorial Day was insensitive.
But I don’t think people are aware at the extent of antisemitism out there, especially those who aren’t Jewish. Although I’m not at all religious, I have been sensitized to the issue by having myself been called antisemitic names in my youth, including “dirty Jew” and “Yid.” Jewish cemeteries are still vandalized, and antisemitic slogans spray-painted on synagogues. When I was in Lisbon a few months ago, I saw one Holocaust memorial defiled in this way. I have heard too many academics, discussing the question, refer to me, Jerry, as “you people.” Now what does that mean?
As one commenter pointed out, it’s a bit offensive to tell Jewish people how they should or should not feel in such a case l if you’re not one of them.
But this brings up the Danish cartoons making fun of Mohamed. Was I—were we—telling Muslims that they shouldn’t be offended when they were published? I don’t think so. What speech there was in favor of publishing those cartoons (and many venues didn’t say anything out of cowardice) made the point that it’s ridiculous to adhere to a religious dogma that Mohamed should not be depicted in a picture. That’s not the same thing as saying that Jews shouldn’t be offended by pictures accusing them of blood libel, of taking over the media, and so on. (Such cartoons, as I hope we all know, are daily fare in Islamic countries.) I was in favor of publishing the Danish cartoons, but also strongly opposed to that stupid anti-Islamic film “Innocence of Muslims,” which attacked not religious belief, or the behavior it inspires, but Muslims themselves.
At any rate, do note the different reactions of the two faith communities. Did Jews go on murderous rampages after the cartoon was published, killing British citizens, storming their embassies, and threatening the life of Scarfe? No: they filed formal protests. That’s the civilized way to do it. No fatwas, bounties on Scarfe’s head, and so on. Defamatory speech is met with counter-speech. I doubt that Scarfe has gone into hiding, or has armed guards protecting him.
And Scarfe’s cartoon has been reproduced widely, unlike the behavior of the many cowardly publishers (including Yale University Press) who refused to reprint the cartoons of Mohamed. That’s because publishers fear violent reprisals from Muslims but not from Jews. Once again, a real difference in the behavior of the two religious communities is ignored, and Islam given a pass. Why are Israelis held to higher standards than Palestinians?
I don’t think we should rehash the whole issue in the comments, but I can’t prevent that. What I’d prefer is a discussion contrasting the Danish cartoons with Scarfe’s.