Richard Silverstein

Scarfe’s Cartoon Is Grotesque. So Is the Occupation

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page


Rupert Murdoch has opened up a can of worms by attacking the award-winning cartoonist for his flagship Sunday Times, Gerald Scarfe.  Murdoch called  “grotesque and offensive” a cartoon called “Israeli election: will cementing peace continue?”  It depicts a brutish Bibi Netanyahu as bricklayer building the Separation Wall with the blood of Palestinian victims who are entombed within it.

First, let’s set the record straight: the cartoon is grotesque and offensive.  But so is the Occupation.  I would maintain that despite the jarring, horrific emotions it instills in the reader, it is within the tradition of the great cartoonists from Thomas Nast to Honore Daumier.  Revisit some of their cartoons and how they depicted Boss Tweed and the villains of their era.  They made them out to be porcine brutes swilling on the blood, sweat and tears of their victims.

Now let’s address the accusation of blood libel made by pro-Israel standard bearers like Stephen Pollard of the Jewish Chronicle.  The charge is nonsense and based on a total misapprehension of Jewish history.  The traditional blood libel involved accusing Jews of drinking the blood of Christians or baking the blood of a child into Passover matzo.  This is a classic anti-Semitic trope which had no basis in reality.  Rather, it was a fraudulent charge meant to justify baseless hatred of Jews.

Let’s examine the record of Bibi Netanyahu.  Have his decisions not caused the gruesome deaths of Palestinians, both young and old?  Has he not enthusiastically endorsed building not just the West Bank Wall but a new wall to insulate Israel from African refugees fleeing oppression in their homelands?  Is there no validity to Scarfe’s view that the Israeli elections will only ratify this murderous status quo as far as Palestinians are concerned?

So is Scarfe’s image repulsive.  Is it deeply troubling?  Does it paint Israel and its leader in the most repellant light?  Yes it does.  Will it cause viewers to hate Israel any more than they might already?  Will it provoke acts of anti-Semitism?

These questions are formulated backwards.  The real question is will Bibi’s murderous acts not provoke such hatred toward Israel and Jews?  It is these which are most offensive.  Scarfe is merely doing his job as artist to reflect the horrifying reality of Israeli Occupation.

Israel, if you don’t like what you see in this cartoon you can do something about it.  Don’t call the Times of London.  Don’t ask for Scarfe’s head on a platter.  End the Occupation.  End the killing of children as happened in Gaza recently when a Netanyahu-ordered bloodbath killed 180, mostly civilians.

Another factor worth considering is that the cartoon was published on Yom HaShoah.  This of course offends the pro-Israel crowd to no end.  It supposedly indicates a Jewicidal impulse in Scarfe.  Or it means he’s promoting pogroms against the world’s Jews by pointing out Israel’s sins.  The truth of the matter is that most of the world doesn’t know on what date Yom HaShoah falls.  Most editors don’t check their calendars to make sure they don’t criticize Israel on this day.  I know that Holocaust-obsessed pro-Israel Jews find it convenient to drum up the Holocaust when it suits their political purposes.  These are the same people who hardly care about actual Holocaust survivors like the ones whose welfare Bibi’s government is abandoning in Israel.

Stop abusing the Holocaust for political advantage.  It’s repugnant and offensive to the memory of the 6-million and the few survivors who remain.  Before you attack me for this sentiment you’ll have to attack the survivors themselves who’ve adopted this viewpoint.  And before you tar and feather me in the comment threads, calling me a heartless Holocaust denier, go back and search through this blog for my own posts about the Holocaust.  I will not allow anyone here to question my bona fides on that score.

Prominent Jewish cartoonist, Eli Valley, writing at the Daily Beast has bravely embraced the cartoon, displaying a list of truly anti-Semitic images from the historical archives. When he comes to the Scarfe cartoon he notes: “This is an image critical of Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies in the West Bank.”  He goes on to attack the UK Jewish Board of Deputies, displaying their own ad attacking on the cartoon. Valley’s caption reads: “This is an exploitation of Jewish historical trauma.”  He then displays the image of Netanyahu in the cartoon and writes: “This will not lead to anti-Semitism.”  Then he shows an image of the Separation Wall with the caption: “This might lead to anti-Semitism.”  Valley’s entire series of images is brilliant and precisely right.

Martin Rowson writing in the Guardian echoes some of my views.  My opinion ironically runs counter to Rachel Shabi, a regular contributor to Comment is Free.  The liberal Zionist Haaretz was only too happy to feature her attack on the cartoon in its pages.  Curiously, it chose to censor the image by cropping out the Palestinians entombed with the Wall.  This act of excision precisely mirrors the liberal Zionist need to white out the most troubling aspects of Occupation and Israeli reality.

Personally, I think Shabi had a failure of nerve.  The Occupation is ugly.  It is obscene.  So is this picture.  Deal with it.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login