Israel is planning to demand an apology for a controversial cartoon that appeared in the British Sunday Times, Israel’s ambassador to London said Monday, while one minister mulled steps against the paper.
One day after the caricature sparked outrage among Jewish groups for its depiction of a bloodthirsty Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall with the blood and bodies of Palestinians, leading Israelis joined the chorus of condemnation.
“The newspaper should apologize for this. We’re not going to let this stand as it is,” Israeli Ambassador to London Daniel Taub told The Times of Israel in a telephone interview. “We genuinely think that a red line has been crossed and the obligation on the newspaper is to correct that.”
Taub added that he was going to meet with the newspaper’s editor “at the earliest opportunity, perhaps already today,” to express the government’s concern about a cartoon that draws “on classical anti-Semitic themes.”
In a meeting Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tony Blair, the representative of the Middle East quartet who’s also a former British premier, deplored the caricature, noting the timing of its publication on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, according to a press release from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Earlier on Monday, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein told Army Radio that the government would probably refrain from filing an official complaint with the London-based paper. However, he said, “We will think about how to act against the paper’s representative here in Israel.”
The cartoon is “certainly” anti-Semitic, Edelstein asserted. “I don’t think there is any other possible way to interpret it,” he said, adding that its publication on International Holocaust Remembrance Day was particularly hurtful, a sentiment shared by Taub.
Responding to an outcry from Jewish groups — Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office, called the cartoon “absolutely disgusting” and said it “makes all the talk of fighting anti-Semitism seem irrelevant,” and Michael Salberg of the Anti-Defamation League said “The Sunday Times has clearly lost its moral bearings — a spokesman for the newspaper told The Times of Israel Sunday the cartoon was not anti-Semitic but critical of the prime minister’s policies, as it was “aimed squarely at Mr. Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people.”
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin wrote a letter Monday to his British counterpart, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, expressing the Israeli people’s “extreme outrage” at the cartoon, which was drawn by veteran caricaturist Gerald Scarfe.
“For me and for other Israelis, this cartoon was reminiscent of the vicious journalism during one of the darkest periods in human history,” Rivlin wrote. While government authorities should not attempt to control the media and must grant freedom of speech, many Israelis are “shocked that such cartoons can be published in such a respectable newspaper in the Great Britain of today, fearing that such an event is testimony to sick undercurrents in British society.”
Scarfe’s cartoon, captioned “Israeli elections: Will cementing peace continue?”, “blatantly crossed the line of freedom of expression,” Rivlin added.
Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky drew a direct connection between the cartoon and the increase in anti-Semitic violence that took place in 2012.
“There is a very tragic alliance between primitive, anti-democratic, nationalist, racist, fundamentalist forces who are committing most of the violence, and enlightened, liberal, intellectual representatives of the intelligentsia in Europe,” Sharansky told The Times of Israel. By using clear double standards towards Israel, Western intellectuals evidently accept the delegitimization of Israel and are thus “helping to justify” anti-Jewish violence, he said. While Israel respects other nations’ right to freedom of speech, it is was “necessary and important” to label people such as Scarfe, the cartoonist, as anti-Semites, he added.
Some Israelis came to Scarfe’s defense. Haaretz correspondent Anshel Pfeffer listed several reasons the cartoon was “not anti-Semitic by any standard”: the cartoon, he argued, isn’t directed at Jews, features no Jewish symbols and does not use Holocaust imagery.
Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire CEO of News Corp., which owns The Times, nevertheless tweeted a harshly worded apology.
Nissim “Nusko” Hezkiyahu, one of Israel’s most famous caricaturists, defended Scarfe. While Sunday’s cartoon turned his stomach, it is not anti-Semitic, Hezkiyahu told Army Radio. “You need to know this man. He wasn’t born yesterday nor did he start publishing caricatures yesterday,” Hezkiyahu said. “We’re talking about Gerald Scarfe, one of the world’s most famous caricaturists, who doesn’t just make fun of Bibi” but of many politicians, and he treats them all equally disrespectfully. “If you look at the other caricatures, Bibi came off easy.”
“To say that this caricature shows Bibi with a big nose — compared to all the caricatures that are published here, I think that was the smallest nose he ever had,” Hezkiyahu said.
The fact that the cartoon was published on a day on which the world remembers the Holocaust was unfortunate, but most likely not the fault of the cartoonist but of the editor, Hezkiyahu added.
Taub, Israel’s ambassador in London, acknowledged that Scarfe is famous for politically incorrect drawings but said that the depiction of Netanyahu went too far. “Scarfe is known to be provocative, but I think that even according to his own provocative standards, this is a cartoon that crosses any line,” Taub said. “What is very troubling is that fact that these are things that we have become accustomed to see only really only at the extreme end of society, the most extreme elements on the fringes. And to see them in a respected newspaper like the Sunday Times, which is really in the heart of mainstream, is very troubling indeed.”