No dogs or Jews allowed

Many on the Left have been quick to dismiss criticism of this cartoon as overdramatic and another example of how people unjustly equate antisemitism with anti-Zionism.

By MICAH THAU
May 11, 2019 21:58
SWASTIKAS ARE SEEN painted on the main door of a former synagogue turned into a cultural center in M

SWASTIKAS ARE SEEN painted on the main door of a former synagogue turned into a cultural center in Mommenheim near Strasbourg, France, in March. . (photo credit: VINCENT KESSLER/ REUTERS)

 No dogs or Jews allowed” was written on a sign my grandmother regularly passed on the streets of New York as a child. What always struck me about the sign was less its discriminatory intent but more how the sign placed Jews after dogs, as if the order indicated that dogs would be more welcome than Jews at said establishment. 

While signage like this is far less ubiquitous in modern day America, it seems the imagery is not. Last week, The New York Times found it appropriate to run a cartoon depicting Netanyahu as a dog pulling none other than the president of the United States by a leash with a Magen David on the collar.


Many on the Left have been quick to dismiss criticism of this cartoon as overdramatic and another example of how people unjustly equate antisemitism with anti-Zionism. On the other hand, those on the Right see this as yet another painful illustration of rising left-wing antisemitism. However, few have approached the core issue of this cartoon – which is why the graphic is antisemitic in the first place and how the same point could have been communicated in an appropriate manner.
The content’s antisemitic nature is clear. First of all, for centuries Jews have been compared to all sorts of animals such as pigs, rats, insects and dogs in an effort to dehumanize Jewish people; the choice to draw Netanyahu as a canine is part of that sad historical pattern. 


Additionally, a deeper look at the cartoon exposes another antisemitic cliché – Jewish manipulation. The cartoonist sees the US president donning black sunglasses as a way to convey his blindness to Netanyahu’s supposed intentions and even goes as far as to Judaize the president with a kippa. The kippa is used here not to show Trump’s religious nature, as, after all, he identifies as a Christian, but rather as a way to show he is Netanyahu’s ally – in antisemitic terms, painting Trump as a pawn in the “Jewish conspiracy.” 


The cartoon’s choice to portray Netanyahu as a controlling and even inhuman influence on the president is an example of classic antisemitic propaganda that many have correctly pointed out recalls antisemitic cartoons dating back to 19th century Europe and of course the Nazis. 


The graphic’s point, however, was not an unfair one. The relationship between the controversial president and the Israeli prime minister is a close one. In fact, Netanyahu’s own election campaign featured an ad glorifying the prime minister’s relationship with President Trump. 


In a free press, the choice to comment on foreign policy is not frowned upon; it is a right to be guarded and cherished. Rather, the problem lies in the decision to express his point in this form that was so deeply troubling. 


IT IS TRUE that had the subject of the graphic been nearly any other world leader the cartoon would not have caused such backlash, but that is precisely the point: Netanyahu is not like other world leaders. As a Jew, there is a level of sensitivity that must be demanded when Netanyahu and Israel are being criticized in print. 
Like any other group with a history of oppression, certain journalistic devices are off limits because they amount to racial epithets that carry with them that troubled history. This is why past graphics that have depicted Netanyahu with blood on his hands or covered in blood also amount to antisemitism as they play off of the blood libel that has haunted the Jewish people for hundreds of years. 


This is the same reason why Ilhan Omar’s choice to frame support of Israel as “all about the Benjamins” was so concerning. Like this cartoon, it is a part of a long and bloody history of framing Jews as wealthy manipulators that secretly control the world. It is not the choice to call out lobbying in politics that is problematic, but rather the connection between money and Jews that reeks of an antisemitic narrative that has ended in pogroms, the Holocaust and even the recent terror attacks rocking synagogues and Jews across the nation. 


A free press is the jewel of any democracy and no truthful article should be stopped on account of sensitivity concerns. If a prominent Jew, for example, is involved in a monetary crime there is no expectation by the Jewish community that the story not go to print. However, there is an expectation that the article be written with a level of fairness and sensitivity. 


It is incumbent upon anyone criticizing Jewish leaders and the Jewish state to ensure that their criticism is not overshadowed by demons that have terrorized Jews for millennia. All that means is being sensitive, thoughtful and considerate when making these criticisms and taking extra care with language and imagery. 


Unfortunately, this seems to have been more than a simple case of lack of oversight. Like the choice to refuse to use the word antisemitism in describing the horrible events of Pittsburgh, depicting Netanyahu as a dog is a refusal to recognize the continued existence of antisemitism. 


The New York Times, with its hundreds of staff members and editors trained to be racially sensitive allowed this cartoon to go to print and that is no accident. In spite of the retraction, it represents an almost willful blindness on the part of the Times to print this in the first place and is a part of the premature burying of antisemitism as a concept that died with Hitler. 


The tragedy in Poway is yet another painful reminder that antisemitism is alive and is as ethnically motivated and deadly as any other form of prejudice. Whether it’s a cartoon by a major publication or a shooter with an antisemitic manifesto, we have an obligation to call it out because they are all symptoms of the same terrible cancer – and while cartoons can be retracted, death cannot. 


The writer is an author of the Eshel Pledge, has written in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and has a blog for the Times of Israel. He recently emigrated to Israel and lives in Modi’in as he prepares to enlist as a lone soldier in the IDF.


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