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The phenomenon of demonizing Israel and the Jews through cartoons in the Arab press is neither new nor recent. It has been part and parcel of its mode of editorial conduct since the establishment of the Jewish state more than 57 years ago.
Indeed, reviewing many Arabic-language publications over the years, one cannot escape the conclusion that caricatures have always been perceived by Arab regimes - which own or control the media outlets of their countries - as a legitimate tool that need not and should not be restrained or refined in the no-holds-barred fight against Israel.
Anyone entertaining the notion that the demonization of Israel and the Jews is a thing of the past need only look at recent publications in the Arab press. Daily, weekly and monthly papers, periodicals and magazines are loaded with cartoons containing the worst kind of anti-Semitic content.
This is true of most, if not all, Arab countries, even those far away from our immediate vicinity. And it is regrettably true of places like Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, all of which have concluded peace agreements with Israel.
These cartoons are always rude and brutal, with a bloodthirsty punch. All of the cartoonists and their editors seem to treat the subject in the same way: through denial of the Holocaust; the Jew as a repulsive stereotype; Israel as a Nazi-like entity; and the Jews as a whole as the greatest existing threat to mankind.
It is important to reiterate that in most cases, the indigenous Arab media does not exercise freedom of speech. It is state-owned or state-controlled. In Egypt, for example, all major dailies and weeklies follow the government's policy lines, and its editors are hand-picked by the president. Hence, editorial cartoons cannot run contrary to state-directed guidelines.
In other cases, such as in some Gulf states or in Lebanon - or even in London and Paris, where certain Arabic-language publications originate and are circulated in the Arab world (Al Khayat and Sharq-al-Ausat are examples) - although their outlets are privately owned, have invisible strings attached to certain regimes. In other words, their supposed editorial freedom is often questionable.
WHAT IS most amazing is the lack of any positive cartoons related to Israel - even at the height of peaceful negotiations (such as Camp David, Oslo agreements, the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty or Israel's disengagement from Gaza). None. Not even in the Gulf states that are regarded as having higher journalistic standards, being more open-minded politically and less antagonistic toward Israel.
There are no signs of restraint when it comes to anti-Semitic images - ranging from Jews as a satanic force trying to undermine Islam, to Jews being an international cabal seeking to dominate the world to Jews controlling the American government, to equating Jews and Israelis to Nazis.
This is a practice which can inflame dangerous passions in countries where many illiterate youth are fed distorted visual impressions of Jews and of Judaism.
The result of such unrelenting anti-Semitic onslaughts is that an entire generation of Egyptians, that has come of age since the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, is constituting a major setback in the normalization process with Israel. It also contradicts the peace treaties between Israel and its immediate neighbors, which call for "prevention of incitement and hostile propaganda as specified in the Interim Agreement" (the Hebron Protocol of 1997), and in the 1998 Wye River Memorandum stating that "the Palestinian side will issue a decree prohibiting all forms of incitement to violence or terror."
So far, not only have the above not been eradicated, but they are being perpetuated.
In his book, Semites and Anti-Semites, distinguished Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis writes: "The demonization of Jews goes further than it had ever done in Western literature, with the exception of Germany during the Nazi period."
The question posed by Lewis, against the background of the ongoing practice of editorial cartoons on this issue in most Arab media outlets, is of great importance: "Given the scale on which all these activities are taking place, the question is no longer whether Arab governments are pursuing anti-Semitic policies; the question is: Why were these policies adopted, how far have they gone, and how deep is their impact?"
The writer, a veteran researcher of editorial cartoons, is the curator of a series of cartoon exhibitions inside and outside of Israel (among them a comprehensive collection of the history of Israeli cartoons in 11 European capitals, 1994-97), as well as the recent exhibition of The Year 2005, in the eyes of 30 Israeli cartoonists.
This article is an abridged version of his presentation at the recent Jerusalem International Cartoon Conference.
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