Too far, or legitimate critique of US-Israel ties?

Cartoon on Israeli blog shows ‘space traveler’ Netanyahu cannibalizing, raping Obama.

The Hater in the Sky_370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Hater in the Sky_370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama are in space when suddenly, Netanyahu gets a case of the space munchies, so he eats the limbs of the servile Obama. He then sexually assaults his dismembered body and leaves the president in space.
That’s the storyline of a political cartoon that has sparked controversy in recent weeks. It was not published in an Arab newspaper, but rather in an Israeli media outlet.
Published on the English-language Israeli online “972 magazine,” the comic “The hater in the sky” was drawn by The Forward’s artist in residence Eli Valley earlier this month. The cartoon parodies the US-Israel “special relationship,” a common subject of Valley’s work, by showing Netanyahu and Obama in space, where the prime minister has pressured the US president to install an anti-meteor “intergalactic robot ray gun” to protect the West Bank settlement of Ariel, no matter the cost.
In the cartoon, every moment of hesitation by Obama, either in installing the ray gun or in feeding his limbs to the prime minister, is viewed by Netanyahu and US pundits and politicians as an abandonment of Israel.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview with the website Algemeiner earlier this month that “cartoonists usually have much greater leeway of criticism because they are cartoonists, but even within that framework it crosses the line.”
Foxman himself was the inspiration for a Valley cartoon published by the Forward and titled “Abe Foxworthy: The Redneck Who’s Paranoid About Anti-Semites,” in which Foxman is in a limousine that crashes into one carrying comedian Jeff Foxworthy, and the two men merge into a being railing about how, among other things, “if you criticize Israel’s settlements but don’t criticize Wal-Mart when they run out of tackle and bait you might be an anti-Semite!” When asked what would be going too far in satire, Valley said, “I draw the line at mocking the powerless or celebrating corruption. That would be offensive.”
“A cartoon that said all Jews are innately predisposed towards eating Gentiles would be anti-Semitic. A cartoon that pillories Netanyahu’s repeated humiliation of the United States president, and that pillories certain American politicians, journalists, organizations and activists for aiding Netanyahu in the way he has treated his country’s greatest ally, is not,” Valley continued, when asked if the cartoon could be seen as anti-Semitic.
Valley said a cartoon depicting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sexually assaulting Obama would not cross a line but that such a cartoon “either fails to understand satire or shows a vastly different reading of Abbas’s influence over United States policy and of regional history.”
He then described a scenario wherein Palestinian armies had occupied Ramat Gan for 45 years, and Abbas had flouted US wishes regarding the occupation or a two-state solution, saying if that was the situation “then yes, I would draw a cartoon featuring Abbas instead of Netanyahu.”
Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward, told The Jerusalem Post, “The Forward had first rights to the cartoon and declined to publish it. We have received a few complaints under the mistaken impression that we are somehow responsible for the cartoon. We are not. It did not run in our publication, because I did not think it was appropriate to publish.”
Valley’s work has also appeared in Jewcy, Haaretz, New York magazine and Gawker.
He often tackles Jewish themes and the US-Israel relationship, such as in “Evangelical Tours of Israel!” which depicts American Protestants visiting Israel and pining for the Apocalypse, while taking in “an animatronic presentation of the future “mother of all Holocausts for Jews and Muslims who don’t convert.”
A recurring character of Valley’s is “Stuart the Jewish Turtle,” who in one comic sits in an aquarium and spouts clichés such as “the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” in response to whatever the other characters in the comic say. He also drew a comic called “Israel Man and Diaspora Boy,” which parodies Jewish concepts of masculinity embodied in Israeli-born Sabras, as opposed to effeminate Diaspora Jewish men.
Valley also penned the 1999 book “The Great Jewish Cities of Central and Eastern Europe: A Travel Guide and Resource Book to Prague, Warsaw, Cracow, and Budapest”, written while he was living in Prague for 4 1⁄2 years and working as a tour guide in the old Jewish quarter.
When asked about the decision to publish the comic, Noam Sheizaf, a writer and editor at 972 magazine (which operates as a collective), said, “+972 Magazine is a platform for bloggers and guest contributors whose work is often critical, thought-provoking and in general aims to broaden the conversation. We believe that journalism as a whole and satire in particular isn’t and shouldn’t be aimed at pleasing the reader. Having said that, I see nothing in Eli Valley’s work that’s not well within the wild world of comics.”
In regards to whether “Hater in the Sky” could be seen as anti-Semitic, Sheizaf said, “I also think we should lay to rest the anti-Semitism battle cry when criticism of Israeli politics is involved. This particular form of siege mentality does no good to the Jewish people or to Israelis.”
Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist and former president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, said that in comics “there is no consensus on whether there is a [red] line or not, in my opinion there isn’t, there are simply good cartoons and bad cartoons. They don’t have to be nice and respectful or take into account anyone’s religion or political beliefs.”
Nevertheless, Rall who is no stranger to controversy, including a 2004 cartoon in which he lampooned former NFL star and US Army Ranger Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, said that “a controversial cartoon isn’t necessarily a good cartoon, they’re often bad cartoons.
I’ve had a lot of controversial cartoons, and I’d say most of my most controversial ones weren’t my best work, they were quite mediocre.”
He added, “Really the best cartoons are clear and what you don’t want is one that inadvertently comes off as racist or anti-Semitic, and if that’s not the point of the artist that makes it not the best cartoon it can be.”