Gerald Scarfe told Britain’s Jewish Chronicle this week that he “very much
regrets” the timing of his cartoon captioned “Israeli elections – will cementing
peace continue?” published in this past weekend’s Sunday Times. Scarfe says he
was unaware that January 27, the date the cartoon appeared, was International
Holocaust Memorial Day.
Maybe so. But when he drew our prime minister as
a hulking figure, trowel raised menacingly, cementing a brick wall with the
dripping blood and crushed bodies of agonized Palestinians, is it possible he
was unaware of the classic blood libel invoked against Jews across two millennia
of anti-Semitism? And if he was aware of it, did he really seek association with
his virulently anti-Semitic counterparts in today’s Arab world who delight in
splashing Israel’s image with Palestinian blood at every opportunity? Or to risk
mention in the same breath as the illustrators of Julius Streicher’s notorious
Der Stürmer? After gazing at the Sunday Times cartoon for some minutes, I took
the time to leaf through a portfolio of the Stürmer’s offerings, and was led to
the unhappy conclusion that the racist Nazi newspaper would, mutatis mutandis,
likely have included a cartoon similar to Scarfe’s.
It’s hard to believe
that any self-respecting contemporary artist would invite such wretched
comparisons. The paper’s claim that Scarfe’s cartoon was aimed only at Binyamin
Netanyahu and his policies feels disingenuous, given the perfidious and
widespread history of the blood libel and the untold numbers of innocent Jews
slaughtered throughout history on account of it.
WAS SCARFE in his
cartoon opining on Netanyahu’s stated plans for future housing construction in
the E1 zone between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, and their effect on
Palestinians; as well as/or referencing Israel’s security barrier (“the
apartheid wall”)? If it was the former, placing building on a level with murder
is, or ought to be, beyond the pale for any honest commentator, his political
sympathies notwithstanding. And if it is the latter, the security barrier – most
of which is a fence, not a wall – has saved many Arabs as well as Jews from the
horrors of terrorist infiltration and the resultant suicide and other bombings.
Scarfe’s gory depiction sounds much like a case of his not wishing to be
confused by the facts.
Or, just perhaps, the temptation to portray
Israelis as “the new Nazis” – so trendy among modern Europeans, while usefully
helping to absolve them of guilt connected to the Holocaust – was simply too
strong for the cartoonist to resist.
THAT SAID, as a former Jerusalem
editorial staffer who held one or two responsible positions over a number
of years, I know only too well where the buck stops when a blunder is made. It
stops first with the section editor, and finally with the editor-in-chief. Thus
the fallout generated by the Scarfe cartoon has, rightly, been directed at the
top of the editorial hierarchy.
Initially, the newspaper brazened it out,
staunchly defending the cartoon as a “typically robust” example of Scarfe’’s
work. As for its timing, the paper told the German Algemeiner, the cartoon
“appears today [on Holocaust Remembrance Day] because Mr. Netanyahu won the
Israeli election last week.”
Never mind that his win was a narrow one,
and the results far from a victory for the right wing – which make the cartoon’s
monstrous Netanyahu-figure, the blood and the tortured Palestinian faces an odd
response to our recent polls.
The paper invoked the hallowed concept of
journalistic balance as evidence that “The Sunday Times condemns anti-Semitism,
as is clear in the excellent article in today’s magazine which exposes the
Holocaust-denying tours of concentration camps organized by David
A day later, however, the powers that be were clearly
discomfited by the reaction to the cartoon, with media baron Rupert Murdoch,
publisher of the Sunday Times, writing on Twitter that while Scarfe did not
reflect the paper’s editorial line, “nevertheless, we owe (a) major apology for
[the] grotesque, offensive cartoon.”
“The last thing I or anyone
connected with the Sunday Times would countenance would be insulting the memory
of the Shoah or invoking the blood libel,” Editor-in-Chief Martin Iven told The
Jerusalem Post. How sad, then, and how clumsy of the paper, to have succeeded so
well in doing both.
In a tacit admission of having done wrong, Iven is
slated to meet with British Jewish community leaders later this week in an
effort to repair the damage.
WHAT IS striking about this whole incident
is how it highlights the knee-jerk, uninformed, unintelligent way in which
Israel – and can anyone who saw the Scarfe cartoon really think Netanyahu
himself was the sole target? – is denounced, again and again, by the media and
others in the “enlightened” international community who studiously ignore the
challenging realities of our existence.
It’s the stark, black-and-white
nature of the condemnation, with no shades of grey in between, that gets
There seems to be virtually no desire to comprehend our history and
the enormous complexity of our relations with the Palestinians; no care for the
delicate, incredibly nuanced manner in which we must maneuver in the face of a
proven, all-tooactive Arab enmity, and only grudging lip service paid to our
country’s imperative to defend its population from rocket and missile
Does this blithe disregard of our side of the conflict by the
“Christian” world lie, as I once surmised in these pages, in a deeply rooted,
often subconscious conviction that we are guilty of an original sin of biblical
proportions – The Occupation – that cannot be wiped out except by our utter
humbling and submission? Much of the West no longer practices Christianity. And
modern Westerners do not go around openly blaming Israel for the Crucifixion.
Yet the age-old belief that the Jews are culpable for the original Original Sin
– the killing of Jesus – and thus doomed forever to wander the earth, stateless,
may well lie buried deep in many people’s psyches and mold their inflexible view
of the Israel-Palestinian conflict in which Israel is forever
“Could this ingrained conviction of the Jews’ ‘preordained
condition’ as perpetual wanderers – a notion turned on its head by the
flourishing State of Israel and its outstanding achievements – help explain why
a near-cosmic level of Evil has been attributed to it?” I asked in a column
titled “Original Sin” (April 4, 2011).
Can it help explain the
viciousness of the Scarfe cartoon – and others of its ilk – and the fact that it
saw the light at all, in a mainstream publication, never mind on a solemn day of
Holocaust remembrance? So thoroughly has the world bought into the perception
that Israel “stole the Arabs’ land” that virtually nothing Israel concedes to
the Palestinians will earn it lasting approval, and almost everything the
Palestinians do will be excused on the grounds of their
Amid the enormity of this perceived Original Sin, the
documented facts surrounding Israel’s birth, the history of Arab-initiated wars
and rejectionism, and the fact that the Palestine Liberation Organization was
founded in 1964, well before the West Bank came under Israeli control, all fade
into irrelevance. The only “fact” that resonates loudly is the sin of Israel’s
existing within any borders at all.
‘YOU KNOW, outrage against the Scarfe
cartoon has come mainly from Jewish organizations,” remarked a
“Yes,” I responded, “that’s how it was immediately after
publication of the cartoon, and perhaps that is natural.”
But I was glad
to read, as reported by The Jerusalem Post
on January 29, that 25 “shocked”
Conservative MPs had signed a letter to Sunday Times editor Ivens the day before
saying the paper’s decision to publish the cartoon was “objectionable enough” on
its own, without the fact that it was done on Holocaust Memorial Day, and
calling for a printed apology in the upcoming edition.
They were joined
by Labor MP Louise Ellman, who talked about “gross insensitivity” and rejected
the excuse that the cartoon “was somehow a reference to Israel’s
Quartet envoy Tony Blair “also expressed strong reservations
about the cartoon and the timing of its publication.”
LET US, here in
Israel and in the wider Jewish world, value every expression of sanity and
honest, outspoken appraisal of Israel’s situation. And let us continue to
believe in the justice and morality of our being in this land, even while we do
our utmost to respect human life – ours and others’.