Cartoons, ‘Criticism of Israel,’ and Jew-Hatred
JNS.org – The publication in the The New York Times International Edition of a classically antisemitic cartoon ignited a firestorm of criticism (see also here). The ADL, American Jewish Committee, Israeli ambassador to the United States, US ambassador to Germany, Israeli Foreign Ministry, US Vice President Mike Pence, and US President Donald Trump joined in. Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism criticized the Times on the URJ’s Facebook page (although as of this writing, J Street has made no comment).
The cartoon is an example of a genre going back at as far as the Middle Ages, through the Dreyfus affair and Nazi period, and common today. Ask the Internet. Ugly, hook-nosed Jews look back at you, grinning as they drain blood from their victims, ravish blond women, hoard gold coins, entrap the world in octopus tentacles or spider webs, enslave world leaders, exploit the poor, and, more recently, dress in Nazi uniforms and eat Palestinian children.
Today one can find such images regularly in the media of Europe and the Muslim world, unremarked. The cartoonist responsible for the Times drawing, Antonio Moreira Antunes, produced the usual explanation: it wasn’t antisemitic, just anti-Israel.
It doesn’t fly: It was not only anti-Israel, it was anti-Jewish, in ways reminiscent of Arab and Nazi propaganda. Trump wore a yarmulke, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was portrayed as a dog with a Magen David attached to its collar, and the message — that world leaders are blindly led around (even hypnotized) by international Jewry — is a traditional antisemitic proposition.
I believe that, as a European, Antunes genuinely did not see the problem. Jew-hatred is part of the daily intellectual diet in Europe, only a little less so than in Egypt. They’re used to it. But in America people are still a bit shocked, although now that shooting Jews in synagogues seems to have become almost as common as shooting children in schools, the milder forms of antisemitism may become less upsetting.
Another cartoonist, the Brazilian Carlos Latuff, has produced dozens, perhaps hundreds of viciously anti-Israel cartoons. While his cartoons carry unsubtle messages — the Israel Defense Forces are murderers, Israel is like the Nazis — he mostly avoids the dogs and big noses. Latuff too claims that he is only a political opponent of Israel, not a hater of Jews.
These cartoonists, and writers like Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, often argue that antisemitism and anti-Zionism — hatred of the Jewish people and hatred of the Jewish state — are fundamentally different, and that while the former is unacceptable the latter is perfectly legitimate political speech.
They are wrong. We don’t need to waste time looking for hooked noses, dogs, spiders, octopi, dollar signs, and so on to draw a line between traditional antisemitism like the Antunes cartoon and the sanitized but still obsessive demonization and persecution of the Jewish state that Latuff and the Times regularly engage in, because they are two closely related forms of the same thing.
Today, the Jewish state is home to more Jews than any other country, in fact to almost as many as all the others put together. The Jewish population in Israel is growing, while it declines in other places. It is the heart of Jewish culture, religious and secular. Today’s North American Diaspora is moribund. The few hundred thousand Jews that still survive in Europe may find refuge in Israel, North America, or other places when conditions in Europe become worse, as they surely will.
The Jewish state today is the real, concrete expression of the Jewish people. Destroy the former, as its enemies have not ceased trying to do since 1948, and you destroy the latter. The protestations of Latuff, for example, that he is not anti-Jewish, only critical of “Israel as a political entity,” are comparable to someone insisting they have nothing against Brooklynites, they only want to destroy Kings County and kill or drive out its inhabitants.
The obsessive demonization of Israel, with its associated double standard according to which only one state in the world — which happens to be the one belonging to the Jewish people — is singled out for obloquy and persecution, is not conceptually identical to antisemitism, which singles out and ill-treats the Jewish people. They differ because the targets of these two parallel, violent, and irrational hatreds are different. One is a state and the other is a people. But almost everything else about these ideologies of hate is the same. And someone who professes one of them is usually in the grip of the other, whether or not he admits it.
It’s difficult to understand this phenomenon without noting its historical origins. Until 1973, Israel was treated like a normal third-world state, more or less, buffeted by the struggle between the West and the Soviet Union, with the United States as its patron and the Arab states as local enemies. But in the late 1960s, the Soviets developed a narrative for the Arabs, more sophisticated than the ethnic and religious prejudice and damaged Arab honor that had previously served them — and that did not work in the West. In this new narrative the Russians presented the Palestinians as an oppressed indigenous people, complete with a national liberation movement, the PLO.
Nothing really changed, except for the extreme left welcoming the PLO into its pantheon of liberation movements. But after the 1973 war, the Arabs activated their oil weapon, tripling oil prices. Markets crashed, fuel prices shot up, shortages of gasoline, heating oil and diesel fuel became common. The Arabs made sure the entire world understood that it was Israel’s fault.
In 1975, the United Nations punished Israel by declaring Zionism a form of racism, and the PLO carried out several high-profile acts of international terrorism to emphasize the point made by the oil embargo — that Israel was the problem. Governments and other institutions around the world understood. These practical actions combined with the “appealing” Soviet-developed Palestinian narrative facilitated the mutation of traditional European antisemitism into obsessive anti-Zionism. It has only grown stronger since.
In 2001, the Durban conference on racism became an anti-Israel hate fest, focusing on the alleged Israeli denial of human rights to Palestinians; the outlandish idea of “Israeli apartheid” was introduced, and it proved to have legs. In a manner similar to the events of the 1970s, it was immediately followed by the 9/11 attack, with kinetic terrorism driving home the ideological point.
Recently, the traditional “extreme right-wing” style of highly violent Jew-hatred has become more visible in the United States. It is aided by internet communications, and fueled by a general breakdown in social structures. It is more violent and frightening (at least in the United States) than the anti-Zionist movements, but the latter are far more dangerous to the Jewish people in the long run.
Back to the cartoon: Personally, I’m tired of listening to excuses. I don’t accept the Times’ apology. Let them apologize for years of continuous negative focus on Israel, as well as the stupid cartoon. Or they could just admit that they would prefer there were no Jewish state. It’s always best to know who one’s real enemies are.
Vic Rosenthal is a retired software developer. He studied Philosophy and Computer Science at Harpur College and the University of Pittsburgh, and lived in Israel for nine years in the 1980s. This column first appeared on AbuYehuda.com.