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What’s up with the anti-Semitic imagery in British cartoons this week?

Two political cartoons published this week in the UK have shown that anti-Semitic imagery is alive and well in the British imagination.

Christian Adams’s drawing for the Evening Standard (the newspaper edited by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne) depicts the new Labour Party Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, welcoming back former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, to his shadow cabinet team.

Miliband, who is Jewish, is drawn in profile, with an over-exaggerated hooked nose while clutching a bacon sandwich. This refers back to the infamous incident when, on the campaign trail, he was photographed eating such a sandwich as a cack-handed attempt to woo the British electorate.

Following an outraged response, Adams chose to defend the cartoon by posting a picture of Miliband’s profile with the words, “Dear everyone. Here’s Ed Miliband’s nose. #cartoon #Caricature.”

The responses to this tweet were predictably angry. They heavily suggested that Adams was guilty of the sort of anti-Jewish propaganda that one would find in the Nazi publication Der Sturmer.

What was missed, though, is that Miliband, presumably, chose to eat the bacon sandwich surely to show how down-to-earth he is. By consuming this staple of the British breakfast diet, it was meant to convey he was just an ordinary bloke.

However, the stunt backfired and attracted a storm of hilarity. The tabloid newspaper, The Sun, not known for subtlety, plastered it on its front page, together with a slew of porcine-related puns: “Save our Bacon”; “This is the pig’s ear Ed made of a helpless sarnie,” and “Don’t swallow his porkies.”

At the time, British-Jewish commentator, Keith Kahn-Harris, pointed out how The Sun’s reaction had more than “a whiff of antisemitism about it.” He wrote, “There is a long history of taunting Jews by associating them with pigs.” For example, the Judensau, which depicted Jews in an unholy, and often obscene, relationship with a sow.

Of course, Jews are forbidden from consuming pork and even the most ignorant person probably knows this. But perhaps what is less well-known is that the association of a well-known Jewish figure with a pork product continues such anti-Semitic slurs.

At the same time, whether Miliband knew it or not, perhaps his decision to eat the sandwich was motivated by a deep-seated desire to pass, to overcome the hindrances of his Jewish (and hence “foreign” and “not-quite-British”) birth. Much Jewish media from “The Jazz Singer” onward has depicted Jews eating bacon as a means to rebel, to reject their immigrant roots, and to be accepted into the mainstream. In fact, a whole British movie, “Leon the Pig Farmer,” was devoted to this topic.

The second cartoon, by Steve Bell, appeared in The Guardian It shows Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is currently deputizing for hospitalized Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

He is drawn with an oversized pair of horns and a cloven hoof for a hand beneath which runs the tagline, “Greatest Of All Time.”

Like the pig, the association of Raab, whose father was Jewish, with a goat also carries anti-Semitic baggage. An eighteenth-century woodcut, again from Germany, shows Jews riding around on goats (and pigs) with the Devil.

By depicting Raab in this manner, the cartoonist has also given him Satanic connotations, another anti-Semitic accusation with a long history. Jews have been accused of being in league with the Devil or even the Devil incarnate. Through the Middle Ages and early modern period, Jews were demonized as sorcerers and ritual murderers.

The cloven hoof also suggests the deformity of the Jewish body, particularly the foot, rendering them unfit for service as foot soldiers in the infantry of the armies of the newly established nation states of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Bell’s cartoon, though, has attracted less ire perhaps because the goat connection is less well-known, as is Raab’s Jewish heritage. Or maybe it’s because, unlike bacon, goats are at least kosher.


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