A certain British society thinks antisemitism is comic — or at least cartoonish.
A collection of 300 political cartoonists from newspapers throughout Great Britain are being accused of antisemitism for awarding a controversial cartoon of the Israeli prime minister first prize in their annual competition.
The cartoon in question portrays a ravenous Sharon — clad only in a “Vote Likud” ribbon covering his loins — biting the head off of a Palestinian child. The cartoon’s creator, Dave Brown, an artist for the London newspaper the Independent, said the image was a nod to Francisco de Goya’s painting “Saturn Devouring One of His Children.” The cartoon takes place in the desolate wasteland of a razed Palestinian city, with Israeli helicopters swooping overhead blaring, “Sharon … Vote Sharon … Vote …” over loudspeakers. Sharon, with the headless child in his arms, asks: “What’s wrong? … You never seen a politician kissing babies before?”
The cartoon originally appeared in the Independent shortly before Israeli elections earlier this year, but only generated real controversy when it was awarded first prize in the Political Cartoon Society’s annual competition late last month.
According to Dr. Tim Benson, the president and founder of the Political Cartoon Society, 37 different cartoonists were invited to pick their best political work over the year, and the best cartoon was chosen by a consensus of those who showed up at the awards ceremony. “It’s [the artist’s] choice” which cartoon is voted on, said Benson. “We can’t censor the material.” Brown’s cartoon was among the most popular and best known of the cartoons competing because it had been reprinted in the Society’s newsletter earlier in the year.
Within days of the announcement that Brown’s cartoon had won the competition, dozens of Web surfers left angry messages on the Society’s Web site. “Congratulations for your showing the real face of the British elites by giving the first prize to a Nazi-like stereotype of a Jew,” said one.
Comparisons to Nazi imagery abounded in the criticism that followed. The Jewish Chronicle, a British weekly journal, called the cartoon a “Sturmer image,” and The Jerusalem Report likewise said in an editorial that it was “a cartoon that would have been right at home in Der Sturmer.”
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, “It is shocking that such a cartoon, which clearly crosses the line between fair criticism of Israel and unfair criticism that is deeply offensive to Jews, would be awarded a prize by a cartoon association.” Foxman said that the depiction of Sharon was reminiscent of the medieval blood libel, which accused Jews of killing non-Jewish children and using their blood in secret rituals.
The recent backlash against the cartoon has not been limited to criticism; according to Benson a stone was thrown through one of the Society’s windows sometime over the weekend.
Brown refused to comment on the controversy, but in a statement posted on the Society’s Web site he denied that his cartoon was antisemitic or even anti-Israel.
“Do I believe, or was I trying to suggest, that Sharon actually eats babies?” Brown wrote. “Of course not. … My cartoon was intended as a caricature of a specific person, Sharon, in the guise of a classical myth.”
Brown went on to say: “I also omitted certain things. I might have drawn Israeli insignia on the tank or helicopter to set the scene. But not only did I have no intention of being antisemitic; I had no desire to make an anti-Israel comment.”
Benson said that Brown was unaware of the history of the blood libel before he penned the cartoon. “It was election time,” Benson explained. “All politicians are kissing … or cuddling babies,” so Brown was trying to turn this tradition on its head.
Benson, who is himself Jewish, said that the cartoon stayed away from stereotyped drawings of Jews. “To look at Sharon [in the cartoon], he hasn’t got a huge, hooked nose,” Benson said, or any other stereotypes one might see in an antisemitic cartoon. “It’s very hard — cartoonists, by nature” exploit stereotypes.