The casual anti-Semitism of the woke cartoonist

The New York Times’ publication of a racist cartoon is a shocking sign of the times.

Frank Furedi

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Topics Politics UK USA

I’m not sure what I find more disturbing: the publication of an anti-Semitic cartoon in the New York Times or the fact that similar disgusting images have been appearing in the media, and on social media, for a long time without causing very much fuss.

Of course, the NYT has apologised for publishing the cartoon, which shows the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a guide dog wearing a Star of David, leading a blind President Trump in a kippah. It’s a classic trope: powerful Jews leading the world’s politicians astray.

But the apology had an air of calculated indifference to the harm that the cartoon caused. ‘The image was offensive, and it was an error of judgement’, said the insincere statement. For me, the use of the term ‘error of judgement’ to describe the publication of an anti-Semitic cartoon is more significant than the hateful image itself. For what the NYT is really saying when it uses this term is that the publication of the cartoon was not a big deal.

For some time now, I have wondered why cartoonists, journalists and public figures who describe themselves as leftists or progressives are so cavalier about circulating anti-Semitic images. It first hit me in 2002, when the editor of the New Statesman had to apologise for a front cover which featured a Star of David imposed on the Union flag next to the headline: ‘A Kosher Conspiracy.’ The accompanying article was devoted to exposing the supposed machinations of Britain’s pro-Israel lobby. That the NS could publish such a hideous cover image indicated that journalists were increasingly relaxed about crossing an important line. It was the first of many ‘errors of judgement’ regarding media promotion of anti-Semitism.

Another example, one of the worst, was the dreadful motif of Jewish infanticide that appeared in a 2003 cartoon in the Independent. The cartoon showed Ariel Sharon eating the head of a Palestinian baby and saying: ‘What’s wrong? Have you never seen a politician kissing a baby?’ This time there was not even a perfunctory ‘error of judgement’ apology for a cartoon that played on racist prejudices of Jews sacrificing non-Jewish children. Instead, the cartoon won the 2003 Political Cartoon of the Year Award.

And it isn’t just media people who think it is okay to publish anti-Semitic tropes. Earlier this year, the UK Green Party’s deputy leader, Amelia Womack, half-apologised after tweeting an anti-Semitic image. She tweeted a picture that suggested Jews were to blame for the violence and bloodshed in countries such as Libya, Ukraine and Iraq. She later wrote: ‘Yesterday I tweeted a picture which, in my ignorance, I thought was satirising US imperialism. It wasn’t; it was in fact anti-Semitic and I apologise wholeheartedly for tweeting it.’

Her apology, as is usual these days, was accompanied by the claim that she had been ignorant. In short, she too made an error of judgement. I wonder how she, or the NYT, would react to someone who claimed to have published an anti-black or homophobic cartoon as a result of an error of judgement? It is unlikely they would buy this excuse. Yet when it comes to anti-Semitism, the most shallow kind of apology becomes acceptable. The muted, even cynical reaction of so-called progressives to the NYT’s ‘error of judgement’ exposes their inclination to look the other way when leftist anti-Semitism rears its ugly head.

In my view, sections of the media have become indifferent to the threat of anti-Semitism. At times they appear to take the view that Jews are fair game – after all, aren’t ‘these people’ working to promote the cause of Israel and the Trump presidency? They are so ready to condemn Israel for all the evils of the world that they are not even aware that they have crossed the line that separates criticism of Zionism from racism against the Jewish people. No matter how many apologies they issue, their casual anti-Semitism is no less destructive than that of the old-school Jew-haters who cast a dark shadow over the 20th century.

Frank Furedi’s How Fear Works: the Culture of Fear in the 21st Century is published by Bloomsbury Press.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

Steve Varcoe

23rd June 2019 at 3:35 pm

“It’s a classic trope: powerful Jews leading the world’s politicians astray.”
Alternatively it’s a cartoon representing the PM of Israel getting the President of the USA to do his bidding.
If free speech is something worth fighting for then what’s the appropriate way for the media to portray a powerful Jew leading a foreign politician astray?

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