YES: Mark Gardner
On Holocaust Memorial Day 2013, the Sunday Times ran a cartoon by its famously acerbic cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe, that depicts Binyamin Netanyahu using blood to cement a wall that he is building, that has parts of bodies trapped within it. (See it here, on the Commentator website).
The bodies trapped in the wall seem to be more living than dead. They appear to be of various religions or ethnicities, with the youth at the bottom looking as if he could well be Jewish, perhaps wearing a kippah. Women in headscarves can be clearly seen.
The blood drips off Netanyahu’s trowel and oozes between the laid bricks, like wet concrete. The blood is so central to the image that it will, inevitably, bring many Jews (and non-Jews also) to think of the antisemitic Blood Libel: the infamous medieval charge that Jews take the blood of others for religious purpose.
The blood imagery, sometimes explicitly as Blood Libel, is commonly found in obscene anti-Israel propaganda in Arabic and Iranian media. Scarfe’s image comfortably fits within this canon of extreme contemporary anti-Israel hatred.
In response to initial complaints, the Sunday Times pointed out the obvious – that the cartoon is typical Scarfe, that it depicts Benjamin Netanyahu rather than all Jews and that it has been run following Netanyahu’s Israel election victory: This is a typically robust cartoon by Gerald Scarfe. The Sunday Times firmly believes that it is not antisemitic. It is aimed squarely at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people.
It appears today because Mr Netanyahu won the Israeli election last week. The Sunday Times condemns antisemitism, as is clear in the excellent article in today’s Magazine which exposes the Holocaust-denying tours of concentration camps organised by David Irving.
As ever, we are immediately drawn into the old “is it antisemitic, isn’t it antisemitic” routine – as if anybody could ever prove what actually goes on in Gerald Scarfe’s head; and as if what goes on in his head is the most important thing in all of this.
For sure, Gerald Scarfe has “a thing” about blood. It is a theme that repeats in his cartoons. For example, his Sunday Times cartoon of 26 February 2012, literally shows Syria’s President Assad guzzling blood from a cup that has “children’s blood” written on it. So, he has not singled out Benjamin Netanyahu for the blood treatment and he is perfectly capable of drawing a full-on blood libel should the mood take him. Neither has Scarfe singled out Netanyahu for physical disfigurement. This is how he draws people, regardless of their nationality or religion.
Unfortunately for Jews – and for satirists — antisemites and antisemitism also have “a thing” about blood; and especially about the allegation that Jews murder others (children in particular) in order to use their blood or organs for heinous purpose. It is a harsh fact that blood has long played a profoundly disturbing part in the history of antisemitism, and this has obvious consequences for Jews and antisemites today. The actual intentions of Gerald Scarfe and the Sunday Times count for very little within this broader context of history, and its contemporary emotional and racist impacts.
So, the cartoon, regardless of the wishes of Scarfe and the Sunday Times, regardless of it specifically being anti-Netahyahu rather than anti-Jew, will seriously distress many Jews and will give pleasure to many antisemites. (Indeed, CST has already received many calls and emails on this cartoon from upset and angry members of the public.) This is, after all, how antisemitism actually works, for its victims and its proponents. For those practical reasons, this cartoon will (like the Dave Brown/Independent cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating babies) be perceived as part of the canon of contemporary antisemitic imagery, as are the many other cartoons that associate Israeli leaders with blood in hideous ways.
And, with the cartoon having been published on Holocaust Memorial Day, its power to offend and upset the emotions of Jews is greatly worsened.
(For more information about the grotesque use of blood in contemporary anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda, see the book “Cartoons and Extremism: Israel and the Jews in Arab and Western media”. Written by Joel Kotek and published with the support of CST, European Jewish Congress and Anti-Defamation League. Some of its images may be viewed here).
• This article originally appeared on the Community Security Trust blogand is republished with permission
NO: Anshel Pfeffer
A cartoon that appeared in this London’s Sunday Times this week depicting Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, building a wall with blood-red-coloured cement, trapping in between the bricks Palestinian-looking figures, is causing the latest “is-it-or-is-it-not-antisemitism” furore.
The usual suspects have all weighed in: the Anti-Defamation League, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, clamouring for the venerable cartoonist Gerald Scarfe’s head and asking how the pro-Israel Sunday Time’s proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, could allow such a travesty.
The accusation is straightforward enough. Scarfe’s drawing is classic antisemitism using typical motifs of judeophobia, and is doubly hateful for having appeared on international Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It is hard to argue that 68 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the hatred of Jews has disappeared from the civilised nations of western Europe, but there are more than enough real manifestations of racism and xenophobia, directed at Jews and other religious and ethnic groups in Britain and the rest of the continent, for us to be spending our efforts confronting. Pillorying Scarfe and his cartoon cheapens a noble cause, as this was not antisemitic by any standard. Here are four reasons why.
1. It is not directed at Jews: There is absolutely nothing in the cartoon which identifies its subject as a Jew. No Star of David or kippa, and though some commentators have claimed Netanyahu’s nose in the cartoon is over-sized, at most this is in line with Scarfe’s style (and that of cartoonists) of slightly exaggerating physical features. Jew noses are prevalent in truly antisemitic cartoons that routinely appear in Arab newspapers – you can find them easily on the web. They are big, bulbous and hooked snouts, and look nothing like Netanyahu’s nose a-la-Scarfe. Furthermore, Netanyahu is an Israeli politician who was just elected by a quarter of Israeli voters, not a Jewish symbol or a global representative of the Jews.
2. It does not use Holocaust imagery: It has become generally accepted – justifiably I think – that comparing Israel’s leaders and policies to those of the Third Reich is borderline, if not full-on, antisemitism. Not only because there is no comparable genocide in human history, but because choosing it to describe the actions of the Jewish state is a nasty slur identifying Israelis as the successors of the Holocaust’s victims turned into perpetrators of a second Holocaust. But there is nothing in Scarfe’s cartoon that can put the Holocaust in mind. Perhaps someone thinks that the wall should remind us of the ghetto, but don’t forget, Scarfe is the original designer of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
Should the Sunday Times have not published the cartoon on International Holocaust Memorial Day? Only if one believes that is a day in which Israeli politicians have immunity from being caricatured. Such a belief would certainly cheapen the memory of the Shoah. The Sunday Times, as it names indicates, appears only on Sundays and this was the end of elections week in Israel – when else did you expect them to feature a cartoon of Netanyahu?
3. There was no discrimination: if Gerald Scarfe had been a benign and gentle artist, treating the subjects of his cartoons with due respect and reverence, sharpening his pencil only on Israeli and Jewish figures, there would be grounds here for assuming he was tainted by the most ancient of hatreds. Anyone who has had even a casual glance at Scarfe’s oeuvre of over half a century knows that is not the case. Netanyahu’s depiction is grossly offensive and unfair, but that is only par for the course for any politician when Scarfe is at his drawing-board. Scarfe has spent his entire career viciously lampooning the high and mighty – Netanyahu is in illustrious company.
4. This is not what a blood libel looks like: Some have claimed that the blood-red cement Netanyahu is using in the cartoon to build his wall indicates a blood libel motif. Well of course it’s blood but is anyone seriously demanding that no cartoon reference to Israeli or Jewish figures can contain a red fluid? The classic European blood libel, like many other classic European creations, had a strict set of images which must always contain a cherubic Gentile child sacrificed by those perfidious Jews, his blood to be used for ritual purposes. It was a direct continuation of the Christ-killer myth.
Scarfe’s cartoon has blood-cement but no blood-libel components – it almost seems he was careful not to include any small children among his Palestinian figures (one of the eight is arguably an adolescent) so as not to have any sort of libel scenery. The blood libel was a terrible feature of Jewish life in Europe up until the beginning of the 20th century, and the myth still occasionally emerges from between the cracks in some east European backwaters to this day. To ascribe Scarfe’s cartoon with any of its features distorts another chapter of Jewish history.
• This article originally appeared on the Haaretz website and is republished with permission