In My Own Write: Where to draw the line

Gerald Scarfe told Britain’s 'Jewish Chronicle' this week that he “very much regrets” the timing of his cartoon.

'Sunday Times' anti-Semitic cartoon 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
'Sunday Times' anti-Semitic cartoon 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 Post 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 Irving.”
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 me.
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 attack.
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 damned.
“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 “victimization.”
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 friend.
“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 elections.”
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’.