The European origins of the 'New York Times' antisemitic cartoon

A look at the recent history of antisemitic caricatures that has consistently plagued European newspapers.

Jewish Community protesting antisemitism in Manchester demonstration (photo credit: RAPHI BLOOM)
Jewish Community protesting antisemitism in Manchester demonstration
(photo credit: RAPHI BLOOM)
The antisemitic cartoon that ran in the New York Times International Edition was not printed by accident. It comes in the context of historic antisemitism that is common across Western Europe and is part of more than a thousand years of anti-Jewish stereotypes and caricatures. The cartoon originally was drawn by a cartoonist who is known for his work at a Portuguese media outlet. Cartoons similar to this that have appeared in European newspapers have not led to the kind of controversy that the Times cartoon has.
In 2016, author Mario Vargas llosa wrote an article condemning Israel in Spain’s El Pais daily. The illustrative photo showed a man dressed in a black hat of the kind worn by religious Jews, wearing a blindfold, as if he was “blind” to the suffering of Palestinians. Anti-Jewish caricatures and tropes, conflating Israel with all Jews and using images of religious Jews whenever Israel is condemned, or Jewish symbols such as the Star of David, are too often the norm in European cartoons and illustrations. Unlike with the New York Times controversy where these images, caricatures and tropes were at least questioned, they appear consistently across Europe and rarely lead to the kind of controversy that the Times cartoon has elicited.
For instance, the cartoonist behind the Times cartoon appears on a website called “Cartooning for Peace.” One of the other cartoons from 2006 depicted on the website shows a foot with an American flag for pants and a Star of David as spurs. The Star of David is dripping blood. Why is it dripping blood? Why is the US depicted wearing spurs of a Jewish symbol? Next to the Star of David is another leg with an Islamic crescent. The cartoon’s symbolism appears to imply: The Jews are the US weapon against Islam.
Similarly, the current cartoon depicts a dog with a Jewish Star of David, leading the US blindly, with its president wearing a yarmulke. From the 1930s until today, very little has changed in aspects of antisemitic imagery – only that Israel is sometimes the stand-in for “the Jews,” with the same use of Jewish symbols or traditional clothing.
Today, antisemitic imagery across Europe sometimes tries to both tap into historic antisemitism while also seeking to depict Israel as a new “Nazi” country, projecting historic German Nazi crimes onto the Jews as the new “perpetrators.”
In 2003, the UK’s Independent was accused of antisemitism for a cartoon showing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon eating children. In 2008, a cartoonist in Italy drew a caricature of Jewish politician Fiamma Nirenstien with a Star of David and “fascist symbols” that appeared in a left-wing publication. In 2012, an Austrian politician posted a photo of a banker with a hooked nose and Star of David “gorging himself at the expense of a thin man representing ‘the people.’”
In 2013, Norway’s Dahbladet ran a cartoon depicting Jews torturing children, which was supposedly a critique of circumcision. In Sweden, the newspaper Aftonbladet ran a cartoon in 2014 showing two Orthodox Jews with a Star of David and the commentary “Hitler gassed the wrong Jews.” The paper removed the cartoon. In 2018, the German Suddeutsche Zeitung also pulled a cartoon after it showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dressed as Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai, throwing bombs at a Eurovision audience, the Eurovision V symbol being replaced with a Star of David.
In Belgium, a school teacher entered Iran’s “Holocaust cartoon contest” in 2016 drawing an image of a wall in Israel with the Nazi slogan “work makes you free (Arbeit Macht Frei)” on it.
Cnaan Liphshiz of JTA wrote that “Luc Descheemaeker was able to pass off antisemitic imagery as legitimate criticism of Israel in a way that I had thought impossible in an established Western democracy in the heart of Europe.”
In 2016, the youth group of Switzerland’s Social Democratic Party ran a cartoon showing the Swiss economy minister “feeding” a large, Orthodox Jew who is labelled the “international finance lobby.” The group apologized.
In April 2018, Volkskrant in Holland ran an issue showing an Israeli soldier lining up people one by one to be gunned down, with a Star of David on the back of the soldier. The soldier had written “happy birthday to me” in bullets, apparently a reference to Israel’s Independence Day. This January, in the UK tweeted a cartoon showing the Grim Reaper wearing an American gown and holding a Star of David for a scythe, going door to door to murder people in Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and Venezuela.
This isn’t a “trope” – it is a historic form of antisemitism where European antisemitism blames Jews for all of the world’s problems. They single out one of the smallest minorities in the world and always blame them. When they can’t blame the Jews, they use Jewish symbols to imply the US is controlled by Jews.