For the Jewish humorist, satire and a dose of self-deprecation have long proved to be a dependable formula for easy laughs and subversive social commentary. In celebration of this tradition, the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest announced this week a winner in its drive to find a Jewish artist who could produce “the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew-hating cartoon ever published.”
Earning the dubious honor was “September 11” — a cartoon that depicts the iconic figure of a Jewish fiddler watching somewhat mysteriously — if not downright conspiratorially — from the Brooklyn Bridge as the Twin Towers burn.
“The idea is very simple,” explained Amitai Sandy, a graphic artist and comic book publisher who created the contest with fellow Tel Aviv resident Eyal Zusman. “By joking about ourselves, we wanted to show how ridiculous all these images can be.”
The pair envisioned their award as a response to another competition — the call for Holocaust-themed political cartoons, issued by an Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri, in the wake of the controversy triggered by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had run in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper.
Sandy emphasized the educational power of the more than 150 intentionally provocative — and in some cases downright disgusting — entries submitted. “My hope is that the next time someone in Iran, for example, sees an antisemitic cartoon in their daily paper, they will see it for what it is: absurd,” he told the Forward.
Not all have shared the organizers’ belief in the positive impact of the irreverent contest. “We don’t think this is the right way,” a spokesperson for Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem memorial said. The Simon Wiesenthal Center dismissed the competition as “gallows humor.”
Acclaimed cartoonist and contest judge Art Spiegelman found himself feeling ambivalent after reviewing the submissions. The proposition of Jews drawing antisemitic cartoons was a “great conceptual idea,” an act of “sheer chutzpah,” he wrote in a letter to his fellow jurors. “I found many of the entries as blood-curdling as the contest literally asked for; but if one erases the Jewish names below the cartoons, they pretty much just reinforce the stereotypes they mock.”
Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt, who was involved in the early stages of the contest’s organization, lauded the idea as a “stroke of brilliance,” drawing an analogy with her own battle with Holocaust denier David Irving. “The worst thing that happened to David Irving,” she told the Forward, “was not just the defeat of his ideas, but that he was made to look stupid and ultimately really silly.”
The contest winner, 24-year-old Aron Katz of Los Angeles — whose cartoon is a nod to the rumor that Israeli spies were somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks — has decided to donate his $600 prize to Jewish charities working on human rights issues. Taking second place in the competition was “Studio 6,” a drawing made by Australian artist Ilan Touri that spoofs the claim championed by some Holocaust revisionists that Auschwitz was actually a film location.
According to Sandy, “My personal favorite was actually ‘The Jew Monster,’” a cartoon by New York’s Eli Valley depicting a Jew with two penises — “so he could rape both Muslim and Christian girls at the same time.”
“It is not all that difficult to joke about others,” Sandy added in a moment of seriousness. “It takes a lot more self-confidence to joke about yourself.”