The London Sunday Times found itself charged with anti-Semitism over the publication of a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu building a blood-stained wall using what appeared to be the bodies of Palestinians along with the caption, “Will cementing peace continue?”
The cartoon, printed on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, drew an outraged reaction from Jewish leaders in Britain. Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, called it “appalling” and “shockingly reminiscent of the blood libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently anti-Semitic Arab press.”
Benjamin said that the cartoon was “all the more disgusting” because it was printed on Holocaust Memorial Day.
British Jews, an elected group representing the Jewish community, said it had complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the cartoon.
Former British Prime Minister and current Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair also expressed “sharp reservations” over the cartoon during a meeting with Netanyahu on Monday, according to a statement from the prime minister’s office.
Israel’s ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub said the cartoon could not be defended as legitimate political comment. “Israelis have a longstanding commitment to free speech and a high threshold for tolerating strong and even provocative criticism,” he said. cartoon, however, bears no relation whatsoever to legitimate political comment.”
The Sunday Times denied that the cartoon was anti-Semitic. In a statement, the News International title described cartoonist Gerald Scarfe’s imagery as “typically robust,” adding: “It is aimed squarely at Mr. Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people. It appeared Sunday because Mr. Netanyahu won the Israeli election last week.
“The Sunday Times condemns anti-Semitism, as is clear in the excellent article in yesterday’s magazine which exposes the Holocaust-denying tours of concentration camps organised by David Irving.”
Martin Ivens, the acting editor of the Sunday Times, said: “The last thing I or anyone connected with the Sunday Times would countenance would be insulting the memory of the Shoah or invoking the blood libel. The paper has long written strongly in defense of Israel and its security concerns, as have I as a columnist. We are, however, reminded of the sensitivities in this area by the reaction to the cartoon and I will of course bear them very carefully in mind in future.”
The Sunday Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a long-time supporter of Israel.
On Monday, The Jerusalem Post said that Ivens, who is the incoming Editor-in-Chief, will meet this week with Jewish leaders to try mend fences.
The Community Security Trust, a non-profit that monitors and works with the police to curb anti-Semitism, said its offices had received numerous calls and emails from people upset and angry about the cartoon.
“The blood imagery, sometimes explicitly as Blood Libel, is commonly found in obscene anti-Israel propaganda in Arabic and Iranian media. Scarfe’s image comfortably fits within this canon of extreme contemporary anti-Israel hatred,” CST’s communications director Mark Gardner said on Monday.
In Israel, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin wrote to his counterpart John Bercow to deplore the cartoon: “For the people of Israel, this is a cartoon which recalls the dark journalism from one of humankind’s darkest periods.
“If a cartoon had been published in Israel showing Britain in a monstrous light and hurting the feelings of the British people in such a mean and nasty way, you wouldn’t hesitate to complain to me, and rightly, about crossing the legitimate boundaries of freedom of expression,” Rivlin wrote.
Rivlin said Israel was “disappointed” that such images could be published in modern-day Britain, suggesting the cartoon exposed “certain unhealthy undercurrents.”
However, Haaretz defended the cartoon, asserting that it “was not anti-Semitic by any standard.”
The paper enumerated four reasons why: It is specifically aimed at Netanyahu, not at Jews, and contains no Jewish symbols; uses no Holocaust imagery; Scarfe viciously depicts all kinds of public figures, a non-discriminatory poison pen; the cartoon was attacked for being a “blood libel,” but was devoid of the classic blood libel images, such as Christian children being killed by Jews.
A careful examination of the picture, for those who can stomach it, reveals at least one youthful Palestinian victim, however.