Did an Offensive Cartoon Expose Our Own Failings?

January 31, 2013 11:13 am 4 comments

The infamous Sunday Times cartoon.

With a tweeted apology from Rupert Murdoch himself and the eventual penance of The Sunday Times, what more could we ask for in the wake of Gerald Scarfe’s shocking and offensive cartoon?

Unlike certain other cartoons that have resulted in street riots, fatwas and death threats, the wholly more moderate model of protest adopted by Israel and the global Jewish community appears to have paid some dividends.

Even the Israeli government, so often unwilling or incapable of mounting any substantial counter-offensive has hit back at The Sunday Times through Israel’s Ambassador to London, Daniel Taub and a terse letter from Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to his UK Parliamentary counterpart.

In addition, over 20 British parliamentarians signed a letter of protest to The Sunday Times. Of course, one cannot understate the effect of thousands of outraged members of the public who took their own action on the urging of grassroots organizations such as my own HonestReporting.

But what would have happened had this same cartoon, portraying a crude caricature of Israeli PM Netanyahu building a wall using blood for mortar while crushing Palestinians, been published on any other day than International Holocaust Remembrance Day?

Over the years, those of us involved in media monitoring have seen countless cartoons that have been deemed offensive, inaccurate, libelous, and sometimes arguably anti-Semitic. Yet the reaction to these has been muted in comparison to the outpouring of anger that greeted Scarfe’s Sunday Times penmanship.

Of course Scarfe’s cartoon, published on a day when the world remembers the victims of the Holocaust, quite rightly touched a collective raw nerve. But should the timing of its publication have been the overriding factor in the level of response?

As Jews, we have often complained of the abuse of Holocaust memory – where Israel’s critics make false and hurtful analogies between Israeli actions and those of the Nazis. Accusations that the victims of the Holocaust are now meting out the same treatment to the Palestinians as was inflicted upon them by the Nazis. Descriptions of Gaza as a concentration camp; charges that Israel misuses the Holocaust to immunize itself from legitimate criticism.

The list of examples goes on, either trivializing the Holocaust or fraudulently serving to magnify the suffering of Palestinians to the level of genocide.

But has Scarfe’s cartoon also exposed an inverted form of Holocaust abuse on our own side? Why should the demonization of Israel be any more or less acceptable when it doesn’t happen to occur on a particular day of the year that is loaded with historical and emotional memory?

After all, would all of those British MPs have put their names to a letter critical of an anti-Israel cartoon if they hadn’t had the “moral cover” of a linkage to the Holocaust? Perhaps I am being overly cynical but it is undeniably rare for Western politicians to put their heads above the parapet for Israel – a cause that is increasingly unpopular and, as in the case of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, potentially politically damaging.

The bottom line is that Scarfe’s cartoon was offensive on any day of the week and it shouldn’t need a linkage to the Holocaust to prompt our own organizations or decent people everywhere to take action.

If Scarfe crossed a red line, where did we draw that line? Was it the content or the timing of the cartoon? If it was the timing then it’s behooves us to coherently mark out where we place our red line and at what point should appropriate action be triggered when it comes to anti-Israel demonization in cartoons or, indeed, anywhere in the media.

And what if the same cartoon had appeared in another media outlet with more obvious ill feeling towards Israel? While some media such as The Guardian and the BBC appear to be virtually immune to criticism when it comes to Israel, The Sunday Times and many of Rupert Murdoch’s News International titles have traditionally trodden a more balanced and even occasionally sympathetic line. Did the view of The Sunday Times as a “soft target” play any role in pushing some to take action with the increased prospect of a satisfactory outcome?

At my organization, HonestReporting, we are careful over where to draw the line. This doesn’t mean reacting to every piece of criticism of Israel and it doesn’t mean trying to squash legitimate debate on the very complex issues surrounding Israel’s position in the Middle East. It does, however, mean going into battle when the line from legitimate discourse is crossed into unacceptable language or imagery.

Does the Scarfe cartoon represent a “teachable moment” both for us and for the wider public as to what is and what is not acceptable discourse on Israel? Does this mark a more assertive posture from the Israeli government when it comes to defending its corner? And will British MPs be quite so forthcoming on the next occasion when Israel or Jews are unfairly treated in the mainstream media?

Only time will tell but I suspect that, assuming a printed apology appears in the next edition of The Sunday Times, this episode will simply be added to the pantheon of offensive anti-Israel material that has appeared in the UK press on an all too regular basis.

Simon Plosker is Managing Editor of HonestReporting – www.honestreporting.com

4 Comments

  • Way to go Sarah

  • I filed a complaint with the PCC and was then told in the light of the “apology” did I really want to proceed with my complaint. You bet I said,incitement to racial hatred is an offense whatever day it is published and in whatever publication.I just hope the other people who complained to the PCC do not withdraw and call is a closed matter.

  • Dr B I Hoffbrand

    Scarfe’s cartoon is factually incoherent. Israel’s security barrier cum wall has saved the lives of Israelis both Jewish and non-Jewish. That leaves Scarfe having the Israeli PM using Palestinian blood for his own purposes a frank reflection of the hoary antisemitic blood libel. Scarfe has reportedly apologized for the timing of the cartoon not the content. Grossly offensive and prejudiced works any day of the year

  • “The bottom line is that Scarfe’s cartoon was offensive on any day of the week and it shouldn’t need a linkage to the Holocaust to prompt our own organizations or decent people everywhere to take action.” Well said!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.