Is this Political Cartoon Anti-Semitic?

cartoon of baby-eating Prime Minister

Letters from Gotham points out a grossly anti-Semitic cartoon from The Independent which draws on the old “Jews eat gentile children” blood libel. She also provides an email address for The Independent’s news editor, in case folks would like to share their thoughts.

Needless to say, I do think cartoonists have the right to criticize Israel as harshly as they want – even cartoons like this one, which cross the line into anti-Semitism. But we readers have the corresponding right to tell newspapers what we think; and newspaper editors have the right to choose not to publish anti-Semitic dribble if they don’t want to.

Update: As Kip pointed out in the comments – and as I should have spotted myself – the cartoon is a riff on a famous Goya painting of Saturn eating his children, which suggests that the cartoonist may have had something more, or something other, in mind than just blood libel. (For those of you who don’t know, the blood libel is a centuries-old anti-Semitic myth that Jews eat gentile children. It’s a good deal better-known in Europe than it is in the US).

So does that change anything? Well, it brings up the possibility that this may have been accidental anti-Semitism; perhaps the cartoonist was just tasteless, insensitive, ignorant. But I never said that the cartoonist himself (herself?) is an anti-Semite. I don’t know or care what was in the cartoonists’ heart; all I know is what was drawn in the cartoon. And what was drawn was one of the most pernicious and vicious anti-Semitic myths in history; a slander that is still current in parts of the Arab world.

(It’s on a par with an American newspaper editor printing a cartoon showing Colin Powell raping white women. It’s not just tasteless; it’s drawing on a specific, deeply-felt cultural image of bigotry. And it draws on that racist imagery regardless of intent.).

Look, somebody could, in theory, grow up miraculously ignorant and not know the word “kike,” or think the word is just a fancy, non offensive word for “Jew.” They could then write a perfectly reasonable petition calling for Jewish settlers to lay off of Palestinian olive groves, all without a trace of anti-Semitism in their heart. But if the petition they wrote used the wording “the kike settlers should lay off,” then I’d call that an anti-Semitic petition. That there is a theoretical possibility that the writer is not an anti-Semite is just a distraction; it doesn’t call the anti-Semitism of the petition’s wording into question.

In this case, the cartoon was drawn by the cartoonist and approved by an editor. If it was by some miracle an innocent mistake, then it is still a mistake that shows a staggering tastelessness, ignorance and insensitivity. And regardless of motive, the result was the printing of an anti-Semitic cartoon; at the very least, The Independent’s editors owe all their Jewish readers an apology and an explanation.

Also in my comments, Jake writes:

I dunno. I mean it’s disgusting, and it’s certainly anti-Sharon, but I think that’s all it is. I didn’t interpret it as anti-semitic. And I know Amp’s often the first to point out that anti-Sharon != anti-semitic, so I’m wondering why you feel this is.

Consider again my hypothetical example of a racist cartoon about Colin Powell. Does it cease to be racist because it is using racist imagery against one particular black person, rather than against black people as a whole?

Look, I hate Sharon; I think he’s a war criminal, a bigot, and an enemy of peace. I’ll gladly call him terrible names and draw him doing horrible things. But I will never draw him eating babies; because that’s a traditional way anti-Semites attack Jews. It’s fair game to criticize Sharon for being a warmonger or even a murderer; but bringing in “blood libel” imagery turns the cartoon into a criticism of him for being a Jewish warmonger, and that’s anti-Semitic. There’s a big difference between criticism of Sharon and anti-Semitic criticism of Sharon.

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12 Responses to Is this Political Cartoon Anti-Semitic?

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  3. 3
    Andrew says:

    I know that it’s possible to grow to adulthood without knowing about the meaning and implications of “kike”; I did. But I don’t believe it’s possible to do so and then use the word innocently, because you have to learn the word to use it.

  4. The cartoon is so clearly antisemitic, it isn’t funny.

  5. 5
    Paul R. says:

    This cartoon is anti-semitic for the same reason that the NY Post “monkey” cartoon is racist. It’s not a question of the cartoonists’ intent, but instead of the cartoons’ effect.

  6. 6
    Elkins says:

    Weirdly enough — “weirdly” because I am a Jew and because anti-semitism is an issue of importance to me — I didn’t even see the anti-semitism at first. Possibly because I’m a huge fan of that particular Goya painting, I was far too caught up in trying to understand the analogy between Saturn devouring his children and Sharon being a warmonger. I mean, the Palestinians are not Sharon’s children at all, so…huh? And also, one of the most striking things about the Goya painting in question is that “Saturn’s children” aren’t babies at all: they’re grown men. So how did the “eating babies” comment figure in? Again, huh? And–

    And then Amp brought up ye olde blood libel, and I went: “Ohhhh. OH!”

    So, yeah. Definitely anti-semitic, even if I was too dim (or possibly too obsessed with Goya and Saturn) to get it at first. Much like the New York Post cartoon also featured this week, which made no comedic sense outside of a racist context, this cartoon doesn’t make the *slightest* bit of sense without the anti-semitism. It only starts to cohere at all once you factor in the blood libel.

  7. 7
    Kerela says:

    It’s blatently anti-semitic. And it’s very different from the Goya painting – in the painting Saturn is eating his own children, where in this instance Sharon is depicted eating Palestinian children.

    Disgusting.

  8. 8
    Joe says:

    Israeli soldiers brutally murder and torture Palestinian children.
    Not anti-Semitic.
    Period.

  9. 9
    Simeon Beresford says:

    I dont think the Blood Libel has an relevence to most people in the UK, I would not have heard of it if it were not for Sarah Palin, I would be most surprised if the editor the artist or the vast majority of Independent readers made any connection between that cartoon and the libel. I knowI did not make it.

    The protocols and such like trash just do not register enough in the national psyche.

    Rascism in the UK is centred around other misrepresentations.

  10. 10
    Mr. Nice says:

    Can somebody please slowly explain to me why drawing an Israeli politician -known to be in power when there were civilian killings due to Israeli military offensive on Palestine- eating Palestinian babies is antisemitic, i.e. contains racist &ethnically discriminatory implicit statements about the Jewish people, basing on the fact that they are Jewish.

    Note: You have to show that Jewish people is the isomorphism of the Israeli politician in the context in order to do that.

  11. 11
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Mr Nice – because the nature of the image matters, not just the target of the criticism.

    If someone who disagreed with Obama’s decisions regarding Afghanistan drew a cartoon in which has was dressed in a loincloth and standing besides a big stew pot with an Afghani person inside, that would be a racist cartoon, because that image is one that has been used repeatedly throughout history to represent the idea of African black men as savages. Similarly here – this cartoon is anti-semitic because it uses anti-semitic imagery. That’s totally independent from the criticism of Sharon.

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    For the same reason saying “That’s so gay” in response to something bad is homophobic.