Armed with a sense of humor

(From left to right) Ilan Siboni, owner and chef of Darna restaurant, Liat Fink, artist Uri Fink and Yossi Klar, director of TICP social networks (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
(From left to right) Ilan Siboni, owner and chef of Darna restaurant, Liat Fink, artist Uri Fink and Yossi Klar, director of TICP social networks
Uri Fink is credited with founding Israel’s comic and cartoon culture. He is an inspiration to aspiring artists and creator of dozens of best-selling comic books, which in turn inspired TV series based on his works. A regular contributor to the Hebrew daily and The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Ma’ariv, Fink is a much sought-after figure for interviews and lectures.
His most recent project is The Israeli Cartoon Project, a cooperative of artists who are battling BDS with pens in the international arena.
At Jerusalem’s famed Darna restaurant, known for its delicious Moroccan food, we sought to figure out what keeps Fink so cool and where his creativity stems from.
Goal: To learn the secret behind, and what drives, the creative genius of Uri Fink.
Means: A gourmet meal at Jerusalem’s Darna restaurant, and Odem Mountain Syrah 2011.
What was an embarrassing moment in your career? In the 1990s I created an extremely blatant cartoon about Zevulun Hammer [education minister, from the National Religious Party] in which, well, there’s no nice way to put it… he died. A short time later, he did die! It was a very disconcerting and awkward situation...
The problem is that sometimes cartoons are removed from their context. In fact, my friend, the late Uri Orbach, told me that at the National Religious Party Congress, they used it as an example to demonstrate how disgusting secular Israelis can be by making fun of the deceased. But that wasn’t the case. The cartoon was drawn before Hammer died, but go explain that to a fuming crowd with torches and pitchforks, so to speak. Of course, I would never do such a thing as poke fun at the deceased.
Have any of your comics or cartoons gone through unusual twists or turns? Since the 1990s I’ve been putting out an amusing daily planner for youth called Zbeng Diary. Illustrating the daily planner since 1997, every character in it has suggested adding some fictitious festival. One character was a political leftist named Sigal who suggested adding a national day of mourning when Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister. That kind of thing is part of the character’s DNA. Politicians were enraged, and in no time a public storm erupted. I was interviewed in the media about it. The action peaked when I was invited to the Knesset to participate in a discussion about Sigal’s comment!
Was Sigal apologetic about her comment? You should ask her that. On the other hand, that year I sold a huge number of daily planners, more than any other year!
Who was your first cartoon character? She was called Lulu from Honolulu. At the time, the TV series Hawaii 5-0 was a hit, and it inspired me. The very word “Honolulu” made me laugh – it has such a great ring to it. After that, when I was 13, I created Sabra Man with David Hermann. Sabra Man was the first Israeli superhero.
You’re a known aficionado of superheroes, and right now you’re wearing a Batman T-shirt. What is the source of your attraction to superheroes? That’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s something in our genes as a people...
Superheroes are a typically Jewish phenomenon.
There’s an entire book analyzing it. Did you know that Superman was Jewish?...
His creator is Jewish, and the story is based on Moses.
He was also found in an ark and was raised by “foreigners.”
And so on. By the way, Spiderman, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, is based on a classic Jewish motif – blame. That’s what drives him. But never mind that.
Have you noticed their Jewish names? Superman, Spiderman.
Don’t be surprised if in the future you come across superheroes named Kauf-man or Finkel-man!
That’s a bit hard to imagine...
The link with the Jewish People is the essence of the matter. Beneath the sad and sorry exterior hides a superhero.
For example, Clark Kent as a human becomes Superman in times of trouble. And the Jewish story longs for a redeemer. You’re small, worthless, until the moment when someone comes along and saves you.
Actually, thinking about it, Batman isn’t very Jewish.
How so? He’s tough from the outset. That’s not the Jewish stereotype.
But on the other hand, he doesn’t have too many superpowers.
Don’t get mixed up on that one. The essence of a superhero is not the superpowers he has. It’s more like a job description. It’s work. The superhero takes on a new identity and voluntarily sets out to save humanity.
Numerous superheroes lack superpowers.
It sounds as though here in Israel we could do with some superheroes.
Superheroes can only be American. That’s a cultural trait. And it didn’t catch on anywhere else in the world. If we’re already talking about it, what can an Israeli superhero do that humans haven’t done? Fly to the end of the world to save passengers on a hijacked plane? Been there, done that.
And of course we’re a small country, so there isn’t a great deal of airspace for superheroes to fly through.
Yes, that would be a very tough one to handle.
Imagine flying through airspace above Bar Refaeli’s wedding! You’d be stopped immediately. Things can’t work that way!
Of our various sectors – religious, secular, right wing, left wing – who has the least humor?
Unequivocally, the Leftists. And I say this with great sadness because I’m part of that camp, too. As soon as you get too close to any sacred cows on the Israeli Left, you encounter tremendous waves of deflection. We show such lack of humor, it’s astonishing.
Can you give an example
? Not long ago I drew a cartoon of [US President Barack] Obama presenting an illustration in the style of Bibi Netanyahu with his bomb sketch and speech at the UN. But in this case, instead of the sketch of the bomb, it was a sketch of Obama reaching the red line. In other words, Obama was infuriated with Bibi. The problem is that the cartoon didn’t come out as successfully as I’d hoped, and some people, especially on the political Left, interpreted it as though I had drawn Obama as a monkey, even though that wasn’t my intention, of course. Not one of those airing their complaints related to the cartoon itself and its message. Suddenly I’d become “racist” and “disgusting.”
People with a sense of humor should be able to make the right interpretation. By the way, terrorists also have no sense of humor.
Sounds logical, but please elaborate.
In recent months I joined a group of artists fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement through the use of cartoons.
The project is called The Israeli Cartoon Project, or TICP. About a month ago we learned from Hillel Neuer, who’s from a UN Watch organization, that one of the Hamas ministers in Gaza, Dr. Bassem Naim, shared a TICP cartoon from our Facebook page on his Twitter account. The cartoon very clearly demonstrates UN hypocrisy towards Israel. Dr. Naim is considered a prominent Hamas representative vis-à-vis the international arena but apparently did not understand the punchline of that cartoon or even the concept of our Facebook page. He turned himself into a standing joke.
Did you send him flowers to acknowledge his achievement?
We really wanted to, but then we discovered that he hadn’t credited the work and our fabulous Vladik Sandler, so we let it go.
In truth, he really helped us because the entire BDS campaign is based on banning and causing connections to be broken, but no one can remain oblivious to a sharp-witted but nonetheless amusing cartoon. The fact is that a lot of BDS supporters are going to our Facebook page and reacting with annoyance, if not outrage. These cartoons break their norms of approach. But hey, they started.
When did The Israeli Cartoon Project begin?
Very recently. There was a feeling in the air that BDS was starting to gain momentum. Suddenly the British Students’ Union joined the ban on Israel after not obtaining a similar decision concerning ISIS. Then suddenly the CEO of the Orange cellphone company very bluntly expressed himself in a disproportionate manner concerning the company’s business activities in Israel, and so on. As far as we, as Israeli artists, were concerned, a line had been crossed.
TICP has participating artists from both sides of the political map. Is there any conflict among you? Not at all. By its very nature, this is a shared project.
Take, for example, Shay Cherka. He’s an amazing illustrator who happens to be right-wing and religious.
I am left-wing and secular. But we’re both diehard Zionists, we both love free speech, and we are against racism. I believe Cherka’s views are legitimate, and he thinks the same of mine. That’s what is so beautiful about Israel. There’s a broad spectrum of opinions, and we are all tolerant towards each other. Israel is not a place of ISIS rule or Iranian Ayatollah dictatorship, where anyone can be murdered just for not bowing obediently to the regime.
Within the TICP, leading Israeli artists present work alongside talented young artists making their way in the world of cartoons and political satire. But an outsider looking at these cartoons would never guess at the Israeli cartoonist’s political views for one simple reason: TICP doesn’t get into internal Israeli politics. This project is a platform aimed at fighting BDS. Shoulder to shoulder, we stand united on this, from Shay Cherka to Yaakov Kirschen, Guy Morad, Vladik Sandler or even Yossi Klahr, who has volunteered to manage TICP’s exposure on social networks with outstanding professionalism, and I have no idea what his political views are. Yes, there are differences among us regarding certain values, but that’s the exact nature of the project, that’s how we’re trying to portray Israel – as an island of tolerance and acceptance of the other.
What do you think needs to change?
Let me give you an example. I recently returned from an international cartoonists’ conference in Cannes.
The conference topic was Charlie Hebdo, and the conference took place on September 11 at the memorial site of the Normandy invasion.
It [was] amazing that at this conference too, the Israeli- Palestinian conflict held such a central place, despite their having no real concept of what is happening here. Creative ways must be found to disseminate the true information about this conflict, and that’s what we are trying to do via TICP.
Emotion is usually what drives creativity. What is your emotional motivator vis-à-vis TICP? Without a doubt, it’s the world’s sheer ignorance about Israel. People talk utter rubbish about us. Personally, it angers me even more because these are people who seemingly come from “my world,” the sector of liberal secularists, who are oblivious and yet support BDS. They have no clue as to what BDS is trying to achieve and just accept whatever they’re told. It drives me crazy how fellow cartoonists, who are a smart lot, seem to have their “logic switch” suddenly turned off.
You live with internal conflict.
Show me an artist who doesn’t! In my case, I’m very much at peace with my views and have a strong desire to help my country.
Like a true superhero…
Of a different kind. I get my superpowers from the public. The more “likes” and “shares” we get, the broader the audience we can reach as we strive to change the anti-Israel reality.
To support TICP: Check out TICP’s work, like and share at
This text is a translation and has been edited for content and clarity.