French cartoonist rails at ‘stupid’ NYT ban, condemns removal of Netanyahu image
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French cartoonist rails at ‘stupid’ NYT ban, condemns removal of Netanyahu image

Jean Plantu of Le Monde defends caricature widely regarded as anti-Semitic, says canceling cartoons is like ‘asking children not to do drawings for Mothers’ Day’

A caricature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump published in The New York Times' international edition on April 25, 2019, which the paper later acknowledged "included anti-Semitic tropes." (Courtesy)
A caricature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump published in The New York Times' international edition on April 25, 2019, which the paper later acknowledged "included anti-Semitic tropes." (Courtesy)

Acclaimed French cartoonist Jean Plantu called on the New York Times Tuesday not to ban political cartoons from its pages after a furor involving a caricature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deemed anti-Semitic.

The cartoon, published in April, depicted Netanyahu as a guide dog wearing a Star of David collar and leading a blind US President Donald Trump — who was wearing a kippah, or a Jewish skullcap.

It prompted an uproar within the Jewish community, with Israel’s ambassador to the UN likening the drawing to the content of Nazi propaganda tabloid Der Sturmer. The paper apologized for publishing it, admitting it included anti-Semitic tropes.

The artist who founded the Cartooning for Peace charity told AFP the newspaper had been wrong to “bow to pressure” and remove the drawing by Portuguese illustrator Antonio Moreira Antunes from its site.

“Humor and unsettling images are part of our democracy,” Plantu said.

Not having biting cartoons was “as stupid as asking children not to do drawings for Mothers’ Day,” he added.

New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger announced in May that the editor who published the cartoon would be disciplined.

Opinion page editor James Bennet said the US paper had planned for a year to stop running political cartoons — which already no longer appear in the US edition.

From next month it will no longer run political cartoons, Bennet said Monday.

In this January 15, 2015 file photo, cartoonist Jean Plantureux, known as Plantu, arrives at the Pere Lachaise cemetery to attend the funeral of cartoonist Bernard Verlhac in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

Threat to freedom of opinion

Plantu, chief cartoonist of France’s Le Monde daily, said he was “worried about the future of our democracies and freedom of opinion” adding that “one cannot imagine a newspaper without political caricatures.”

The artist, who set up Cartooning for Peace with the late former UN chief Kofi Annan, is campaigning to have the UN’s cultural organization UNESCO declare political cartooning a fundamental human right.

Reporters Without Borders have thrown their weight behind the drive.

Patrick Chappatte, one of the Times’ leading cartoonists, said the newspaper’s decision was directly related to the Netanyahu cartoon.

He condemned the publication of that caricature but said he was concerned that media outlets were increasingly buckling under political pressure and criticism from “moralistic mobs” on social media.

“Over the last years, some of the very best cartoonists… lost their positions because their publishers found their work too critical of Trump. Maybe we should start worrying,” Chappatte wrote on his website.

Plantu said that he supported both “Antonio who has been censored by the New York Times… and Chappatte, who is an immense talent.”

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