Offensive Cartoons

There’s been much media coverage about cartoons which are apparently so offensive that people feel compelled to kill the cartoonist or even those who publish or promote such cartoons. It is therefore instructive to reflect on how Jews react to cartoons they find offensive. I will just select a few among the multitude.

Let’s start with the cartoon of the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon devouring a Palestinian baby, which won first prize in the British Political Cartoon Society’s annual competition in 2003.

Haaretz reported:

Dave Brown’s Goya Ariel Sharon. Credit:

A cartoon of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eating the head of a Palestinian baby against the backdrop of a burning Palestinian city has won first prize in the British Political Cartoon Society’s annual competition.

There were 35 entries in the Cartoon of the Year competition, sponsored by the British Independent newspaper, from some of the country’s leading cartoonists.

Dave Brown’s winning cartoon was published in the Independent a few months ago, when it was claimed that it was inspired by a Goya painting.

In his acceptance speech, Brown thanked the Israeli Embassy for its angry reaction to the cartoon, which he said had contributed greatly to its publicity.

Interesting to note that, although the cartoon was malevolent and anti-Semitic, nobody was physically attacked and Dave Brown happily accepted his award, secure in the knowledge that he had no need of personal security.

Closer to home, Leunig is notorious for propagating anti-Semitic vitriol. He’s on safe ground with Jews knowing that, however offended they might be, they will never threaten harm or revenge, but just write sorrowful or angry letters to the media.

Leunig started out drawing whimsical teapots and ducks, and then inexplicably changed tack, lambasting those who were defending civilisation against barbarity – Israel being the number one target – instantly endearing him to the ABC and the chattering classes.

Leunig has published many cartoons offensive to the Jewish community, but one in particular caused such outrage that even The Age refused to publish it, as it was openly anti-Semitic, comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. The cartoon achieved international notoriety after it was entered into an Iranian newspaper competition to find the ‘best’ cartoon about the Holocaust. Leunig was mortified, decrying the person who submitted the cartoon (but not the cartoon itself) as “malicious and horrible”.

It later emerged that the cartoon had been entered as a prank by Richard Cooke, who writes for The Chaser.

Cooke said he received an email reply from an employee at the Iranian newspaper saying:

“Thanks a lot for sending us your nice cartoon …”

Leunig said he was dreading the next few weeks

“because the spotlight has moved from this mischief to the content of the cartoon. I’m expecting hateful criticism”.

The first frame of the cartoon, set in 1942, depicts a man with a Star of David on his back walking towards the Auschwitz concentration camp with the words “Work Brings Freedom” over the entrance. The second frame, set in Israel in 2002, shows a man with a rifle walking towards an entrance bearing the sign “War Brings Peace”. Leunig said it was

“an anti-war cartoon not an anti-Semitic cartoon”.

Fairfax reported Leunig’s reaction to being entered in the competition:

Leunig said that he did not send the material — although he had received anonymous emails “trying to bait me into” entering the competition.

“I have gotten used to dirty tricks, dirty tactics, from the pro-war lobbyists. They want it proclaimed for all to see that Leunig is a friend of Muslim terrorists. They want to … distort my position.”

He said that since taking an anti-war stance three years ago, he had received anonymous mail addressed to “Michael Leunig — friend of mass murderers”. Death threats have arrived, too.

The cartoonist has no quarrel with those who take issue with his stance and write angry letters. He respects this as being part of the cut and thrust of public life. But he is concerned by the threatening, anonymous attacks. The war on Iraq has had an effect on the quality of our civil life, he says, and the threats against him are part of this.

The Age‘s senior deputy editor Paul Ramadge said that the paper shared Leunig’s “frustration over this blatant misuse of his illustrations and false reporting of his words”.

In 2006, Sharon Lapkin wrote in “Poison Pen: The hateful world of Michael Leunig”

In 2006, the Age published a drawing in which Leunig cast a moral equivalence between Ariel Sharon and the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The cartoonist referred to Yassin as “an old Palestinian man in a wheelchair”, conveniently omitting the fact that the Sheikh had orchestrated the mass-murder of Israeli civilians through suicide bombings.

Evan Jones added his voice in “Cartoonists and Israel — the heinous slander

The calumnies perpetrated by cartoonists against the only democracy in the Middle East, surrounded by barbarous neighbours, increases daily

On 21 November 2012, Michael Leunig published a cartoon on Israel’s seemingly perennial victimisation of the Palestinian population:

The occasion was Israel’s belated disciplining of an uncontrite Gaza, under its neo-Cast Lead Pillar of Cloud/Defence operation — to teach the cursed Hamas a lesson.

It is not the first time that Leunig has broken the rules of decorum, of balance, and, indeed, of intelligence. Leunig has, indeed, has been a serial offender.           

However, Leunig has his admirers; The International Committee of the Fourth International rushed to defend him:

 Zionists witch-hunt Australia’s leading cartoonist

Zionist commentators, aided and abetted by the Murdoch media, have seized on a malicious hoax to vilify Michael Leunig.

… his antiwar stance and hostility towards the Howard government and the so-called “war on terror” has become increasingly pronounced. His passionate opposition to Israeli repression of the Palestinian people has also made him a hate target of the local Zionist lobby.

Referring to Iran’s cartoon competition on the Holocaust:

Leunig’s cartoon… was drawn in May 2002… during the Israeli military’s bloody assault on the Palestinian towns of Jenin and Ramallah in the West Bank, which killed scores of innocent men, women and children, and its military blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Gawenda offered his own malevolent insinuations. He alleged that the cartoonist was not concerned about Hamshahri’s racist campaign and had “gone out of his way to praise the Iranians.”

These baseless slanders against Leunig are based on a simple technique…If you reject the so-called “war on terror” and its associated war crimes then you are with the terrorists…if you oppose the Israeli dispossession and repression of the Palestinian people then you must, like Michael Leunig, support Islamic suicide bombers, Muslim fundamentalism and anti-Semitism.

The witch-hunt against Leunig constitutes a fundamental attack on democratic rights…When asked to comment on the anti-Muslim cartoons, he correctly characterised them as deliberate “taunts” against “an aggrieved and traumatised spiritual community who feel at the mercy of the West’s contempt, ignorance and ruthless military might.”

In 2008, Andrew Bolt reported:

 Leunig has been interviewed by Iran’s state-owned Press TV…this propaganda arm of the Iranian regime seeks another serve of rabid anti-Israeli propaganda… And Leunig delivers it in steamy barrow-loads:

Q: Why doesn’t the West exert pressure on certain regional countries which have nuclear arsenals?

A: I don’t know. I don’t understand. It is bewildering and a significant cause of despair in the world: this question of exceptionalism and two different sets of rules. This is naked, bold, arrogant hypocrisy it seems.

I think that racism is a huge factor. Certain nations have always felt entitled by their strange sense of genetic superiority to treat other nations badly. They feel entitled to privileges but this is just infantile greed converted into foreign policy and ideology.

Imperialism is very traditional – some historically imperialistic nations are very comfortable with it and think it’s normal and proper.

 Racist, perverse, corrupted… A true friend of totalitarians is Leunig, our “National Living Treasure”. What Lenin once called a “useful idiot”.

No prizes for guessing who he’s referring to when he mentions exceptionalism, racism and imperialism!

 Through Leunig’s distorted lens, Palestinians are innocent victims of Israeli aggression:

He rages:

“Israeli aircraft bombing Gaza – the tormented little punishment space of one-and-a-half million desperate and helpless Palestinian refugees, half of them children. The Palestinians were being crushed yet again in the most cynical and brutal way – and as if this was not appalling enough, the government of Israel was also trying to tell the world that this chaotic mire of blood and rubble and burnt human flesh was a legitimate and necessary procedure in the making of civilisation and a better world.”

In 2009, Leunig spoke at a pro-Hamas rally for Gaza sponsored by Australians for Palestine.  Ignoring the fact that Israel was defending itself against a genocidal enemy, he declared:

Our Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have asked us to abandon conscience on the issue of the Gaza massacre and to submit to the idea that this crime against humanity is somehow appropriate.”

More recently, Leunig penned a cartoon comparing Israelis to Nazis, which prompted Dvir Abramovich to write:

… in Melbourne’s The Age Michael Leunig defended his cartoon “First they came for the Palestinians”, previously published in that newspaper, and attacked those who supported Israel and who found his work objectionable.

Leunig’s cartoon takes the noble words of anti-Nazi cleric Martin Niemoller decrying the passivity of bystanders in the face of Nazi evil and substitutes the Nazis referred to in the original poem with Israelis: “First they came for the Palestinians and I did not speak out”.

Leunig obscenely equates the actions of Israel in Gaza to those of the Nazis and asserts the people who were once the objects of Hitler’s extermination and their descendants are now committing genocide against the Palestinians and are thus the present world’s Nazis.

Equating Israeli policies to those of the Nazis has been identified as anti-Semitic by the EU, the US State Department, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, since it calls for Israel’s destruction.

Amazed anyone would think comparing Israeli policy to Nazi behaviour is anti-Semitic, Leunig calls Israel‘s military policy “excessively homicidal”.

Equally worrisome, Leunig implies Israel is already in the process of becoming Nazi-like, saying “all nations that throw their military weight around, occupying neighbouring lands and treating the residents with callous and humiliating disregard are already sliding towards the dark possibilities in human nature”.

Anyone with the vaguest knowledge of the Holocaust will know that by any measure comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is a kind of deliberate amnesia of the monstrous policies of the Nazis that minimises their genocidal extent and intent, and instead maligns Israel.

I wonder, did Leunig’s “duty and conscience” compel him to sound the alarm all those years while thousands of rockets systematically fell on Israelis… Did he call Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran‘s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “excessively homicidal” for wanting to wipe Israel off the map? Or is this epitaph reserved only for Israel?

…Leunig labels his critics in the Jewish community as “aggressive Israel supporters”, “cynical”, “bullying”, “lazy” … He accuses anyone who dares to see anti-Semitic tones in his cartoon as frauds who “are not really upset by any ‘anti-Semitism’ in my cartoons (there is none) but by the possible impact of a cartoon on the doubters”.

Leunig also descends into parroting another anti-Jewish screed, that of the nefarious, all-powerful Jewish lobby that is lurking behind the scenes, ready to pounce and stifle critics of Israel.

Conspiratorial stereotypes about a predatory Jewish lobby that intimidates Palestinian supporters into silence have no place in any newspaper.

It’s strange how many in the media rushed to denounce Pamela Geller’s “Draw Mohammed” contest as hate speech, yet are silent when Jews – not just their Prophet – are attacked. The New York Times pontificated:

“There is no question that images ridiculing religion, however offensive they may be to believers, qualify as protected free speech in the United States and most Western democracies… that however offensive the images, they do not justify murder…But it is equally clear that the Muhammad Art Exhibit in Garland, Tex., was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom”.

As Front Page Magazine observed:

For the pseudo-moralists who run the Times, such indignation is highly selective… Last year the paper was equally determined to defend the “principle of artistic freedom” regarding the Metropolitan Opera’s presentation of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” depicting the 1985 murder of Leon Klinghoffer by Palestinian terrorists…The Times insisted Met general manager Peter Gelb “should not have yielded to its critics… the arts can only be harmed by retreating from controversy,” the  editorial board asserted.

When PEN decided to present its Freedom of Expression Courage Award to Charlie Hebdo, some members signed a petition to oppose the award, stating:

“We do not believe in censoring expression. An expression of views, however disagreeable, is certainly not to be answered by violence or murder. However, there is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression. … [By bestowing this award] PEN is not simply conveying support for freedom of expression, but also valorizing selectively offensive material; material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.”

There were some honourable exceptions to the objectors, including Pulitzer Prize-winners Art Spiegelman, and Jules Feiffer. Feiffer said:

“I think the Charlie Hebdo courage award is… not about the quality of their work, but about carrying on in the face of mass murder. That’s probably more courage than any others who signed the petition are likely to have exhibited in a lifetime. “

Australian Booker Prize-winning author Peter Carey was among the dissenters, a stance attacked by Sir Salman Rushdie:

Rushdie… said that writers should support free speech even if they disagreed with Charlie Hebdo’s content.

Carey acknowledged that the murders were a “hideous crime” but queried PEN’s wish to champion Charlie Hebdo.

“Was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about? All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognise its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

Rushdie said that he regretted his friends’ stance. “If PEN as a free speech organisation can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organisation is not worth the name.

“What I would say to both Peter and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said

“… If freedom of expression means anything, then it’s supporting work that you don’t like.”

She said that the award was for the courage shown by Charlie Hebdo’s staff not only for publishing material that some would find offensive but also for “deciding to continue to publish when they must have been on their knees”.

It’s disappointing that the media rarely defends Jewish sensibilities in similar terms, rushing to describe any calumny against Jews and the Jewish State as “Freedom of Speech”, rather than the hate speech it invariably is.



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