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.