Quick on the Draw (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. A portrait of Israel through six decades of political cartoons and satire "Nobody ever died from a cartoon, but if it's good enough, it will shake you up," says Dan Pattir. And he should know. As Israel's most prominent political cartoon historian, Pattir, 77, has spent the last 25 years collecting and documenting the works of hundreds of local cartoonists and is currently completing a book on the subject. The Israeli-born Pattir, a prominent journalist who became a diplomat and adviser to three prime ministers, has been an avid follower of political satire since the mid-1950s in London, where he worked for the BBC's Hebrew service and as a correspondent for the now defunct Hebrew daily, Davar. He credits two political cartoonists in particular with sparking his interest in the field. One was Victor Weisz, born to Hungarian-Jewish parents in Berlin, whose anti-Nazi stance led him to flee Germany for England in 1935. He signed his cartoons "Vicky" and worked for many leading London newspapers, the Daily Mirror, the Evening Standard and News Chronicle before becoming a Labor member of Parliament. Vicky took his life in 1966. Pattir calls him a "sharpshooter," for his attacks on Nazism and its attacks on Jews. Pattir's other inspiration was the American cartoonist Herbert Block, or "Herblock," who worked for The Washington Post until his death at the age of 91 in 2001. "Herblock was Jewish," notes Pattir, "and he took on anyone who would spout anti-Semitism, including some of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy's attacks on liberalism, which included many Jews." It was Herblock who coined the term McCarthyism in 1950. "Herblock taught me the power of the cartoon, how influential it could be," Pattir tells The Report. "A cartoon is like an editorial, worth somewhat more than a mere thousand words," says Pattir during an interview in his comfortable apartment in Tel Aviv's upscale Ramat Aviv neighborhood, its walls choc-a-bloc with family photos, a collection of naive art and bookcases overflowing with books on cartoon art. Today, Israeli newspapers and magazines are flush with cartoonists of all stripes, nationalities and political persuasions, Pattir notes, but in the first years following statehood, there were only a few prominent political cartoonists: Kariel "Dosh" Gardosh (1921-2000), Ya'akov "Ze'ev" Farkash (1923-2002) and Shmuel Katz (born 1926) - all of whom were Holocaust survivors born in Hungary. Their works would appear in the much-read Friday newspapers. Together with the sharp humor of fellow Hungarian-Jewish writer and dramatist Ephraim Kishon (1924-2005), the three illustrators carved a place in Israeli journalism by attacking cant and hypocrisy for half a century, focusing primarily on the folly of the political elite. "Hungarian satire, like goulash, is biting, appetizing and makes you want to come back for more," says Pattir. The beginnings of Israeli satire were apparent even before the establishment of the state, he notes. "Our satirists developed a real bite in calling for the expulsion of the British and the birth of the State." Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.