A recent cartoon published in the Philadelphia Inquirer criticizing Israel’s security fence is creating a tempest among Philadelphia’s Jewish community and major Jewish organizations.
Tony Auth, a Pulitzer Prize winner and staff editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer since 1971, illustrated a cartoon depicting Arabs cordoned into jail-like sections of a Jewish star. A number of readers and observers inferred a comparison between Israel’s security fence and a concentration camp in the cartoon, with many offended by the use of a giant Star of David as a restrictive symbol — rather than its representation as the national symbol of Israel and the Jewish people.
“Mr. Auth has the First Amendment right to express himself and is entitled to have his views about the Middle East conflict…. however, the imagery used to communicate this message is very problematic, very offensive and highly insensitive,” said Barry Morrison, the regional director of the eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware chapter of the Anti-Defamation League.
A representative from the Zionist Organization of America went further. “Tony Auth took our symbol of our people and turned it into a slur and a distortion and instead of a symbol of freedom, which it is, he was turning it into a symbol of imprisonment, which it is not,” said Steve Feldman, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia district of the ZOA. “Tony Auth has a history of drawing antisemitic cartoons, and the Inquirer has a history of being anti-Israel and distorting the news.”
The ZOA held a news conference on Monday demanding an apology from the paper. “We are hoping the Inquirer will not only apologize for this cartoon, which is deeply offensive to all Jewish people and all supporters of Israel, but will use this opportunity to present balanced and accurate coverage,” Feldman said.
Auth shot back at his critics. “No one who’s familiar with the body of my work can cling to this fantasy that I am an antisemite,” he told the Forward. “The Star of David is the symbol of the Israeli state. The cartoon clearly says that the State of Israel is building a fence in such a way that it separates Palestinians and is an obstacle to peace. That’s all it says. A drawing like that one I did is not done with glee; it’s done with sadness.” Auth added that he has been critical of Yasser Arafat, suicide bombings and both intifadas.
In response to the uproar, Amanda Bennett, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, defended her paper’s actions. “I believe that it’s possible, particularly for a cartoonist, to take a critical position on a matter involving Israel without being labeled as antisemitic,” Bennett told the Forward.