Cartoons, “criticism of Israel,” and Jew-hatred

The publication in the International Edition of the New York Times of a classically antisemitic cartoon ignited a firestorm of criticism (see also here) against the paper. The ADL, American Jewish Committee, Israeli Ambassador to the US, US Ambassador to Germany, Israeli Foreign Ministry, Mike Pence, and President Donald Trump joined in. Even Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism, whom I suspect rarely met an anti-Israel article in the Times that he didn’t like, criticized the Times on the URJ’s Facebook page (although at this writing, J Street has had 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 blonde 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 you will find them regularly in the media of Europe and the Muslim world, unremarked. The cartoonist, Antonio Moreira Antunes, produced the usual explanation: it was not 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 kipa, Netanyahu was portrayed by a dog, the dog had a Magen David attached to his 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, Moreira 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 are 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 IDF 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 NY 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 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 in order to draw a line between traditional antisemitism like the Moreira cartoon and the sanitized but still obsessive demonization and persecution of the Jewish state that Latuff and the New York Times regularly engage in, because they are two closely related forms of the same thing.

Today, the Jewish state is the home of more Jews than any other country, and 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. Many of the “Jews” that live there are Jews in name only, having abandoned the Jewish people for a progressive “one world” ideology, with or without a pseudo-Jewish religion based on “tikkun olam.” They can’t be accused of dual loyalty: they will consistently place their progressive politics above the good of the Jewish people whenever there is a conflict. The few hundred thousand Jews that still survive in Europe are irrelevant, and may find refuge in Israel, North America, or other places when conditions 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 as if someone insisted that he had nothing against Brooklynites, he only wanted to destroy Kings County, and kill or drive out its inhabitants.

The obsessive demonization of Israel, with its associated double standard by 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, in which the Jewish people itself is singled out and ill-treated. 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 more or less treated like a normal 3rd world state, buffeted by the struggle between the West and the Soviet Union, with the US 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 did not work in the West. The Palestinians were presented as an oppressed indigenous people with a national liberation movement, the PLO.

Nothing really changed immediately, except for the extreme Left, which welcomed 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 UN 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. The combination of these practical actions 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 was turned into an anti-Israel hatefest, 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 US. 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 US) 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 NY Times’ apology. Let them apologize for years of continuous negative focus on Israel as well as the stupid cartoon. Or not apologize; they could just admit that they would prefer that there were no Jewish state. It’s always best to know who one’s real enemies are.

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2 Responses to Cartoons, “criticism of Israel,” and Jew-hatred

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    There will be lots of Jewish readers of the Times happy to see the apology so that they can continue to subscribe. If they had any real Jewish historical awareness they would understand that the apology is just ‘covering up’ a shameful historical record which is added on to all the time. The unfairness to Israel, the systematic obsession with it is an extension of its anti-Jewish policy, the same which directed its putting all news about the Shoah on its back pages.
    Of course you are absolutely right about anti- Israelism as the most important form of anti- Semitism in the world today.
    The attempt to undermine and destroy the state of Israel is the most significant threat the Jewish people face.

  2. A zsidók bajnoka says:

    In its disingenuous “apology,” the lead editorial of The New York Times on May 1st stated that the newspaper is a “steadfast” supporter of the State of Israel’s and then conflated its hatred of President Trump with the anti-Semitism that it purported to condemn. Attempting to pass the responsibility for all this to some obscure “production editor” who was presumably chained to a stool in some G-d-forsaken office would be insulting if it were not deliberate avoidance of responsibility. As others have pointed out in letters to the editor published in the May 2nd edition of the newspaper, implementation of “new processes and procedures” and so-called sensitivity training will not grant the newspaper the absolution that it seeks. Its relentless assault against the choices made by the majority of the Israeli electorate, cloaked adeptly in self-characterized journalistic objectivity and editorial integrity, are the result either of orders received from, or condoned by, the publisher of this newspaper, namely, Mr Sulzberger. If there ever were a self-hating Jew, he must surely be the prime example.

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