Washington Post pulls cartoon highlighting Hamas use of human shields after pushback

Editor says the caricature, which showed a terror group spokesperson wearing civilians as a protective vest, was seen by many as ‘racist’

People walk by the One Franklin Square Building, home of The Washington Post newspaper, in downtown Washington on February 21, 2019. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
People walk by the One Franklin Square Building, home of The Washington Post newspaper, in downtown Washington on February 21, 2019. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

The Washington Post removed from its website a cartoon that highlighted Hamas’s use of human shields after the caricature sparked pushback within the newsroom and from readers, including claims that the depiction of the Hamas figure was “racist,” the paper said.

The cartoon, titled “Human shields,” depicted a Hamas spokesperson saying “How dare Israel attack civilians,” while a frightened woman in a hijab and four small children are bound with rope to his body.

The cartoon made it into the print edition on Tuesday before it was wiped from the news site the following day.

Israel is battling terror groups in the Gaza Strip in the wake of the devastating October 7 onslaught in which terrorists killed over 1,200 people and took at least 240 as hostages. Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and remove it from power in the enclave, and says it is striving to reduce civilian casualties but accuses Hamas of using Gazans as human shields by embedding its weaponry and military resources in civilian areas. It has provided evidence of rocket launches from civilian areas and Hamas tunnels under residential buildings, and says the terror group has a major command center underneath Gaza’s biggest medical center, Shifa Hospital.

US President Joe Biden has also said that Hamas is using civilians as human shields.

The Post’s opinions editor, David Shipley, published an explanation for the removal of the cartoon.

“As editor of the opinion section, I am responsible for what appears in its pages and on its screens. The section depends on my judgment. A cartoon published by Michael Ramirez on the war in Gaza, a cartoon whose publication I approved, was seen by many readers as racist. This was not my intent. I saw the drawing as a caricature of a specific individual, the Hamas spokesperson, who celebrated the attacks on unarmed civilians in Israel,” Shipley wrote.

“However, the reaction to the image convinced me that I had missed something profound, and divisive, and I regret that. Our section is aimed at finding commonalities, understanding the bonds that hold us together, even in the darkest times. In this spirit, we have taken down the drawing. We are also pushing a selection of responses to the caricature.”

Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee wrote an email to staffers later that day, stressing that they should pay attention to Shipley’s remarks, which were also sent in a note to staff.

“Given the many deep concerns and conversations today in our newsroom, I wanted to ensure everyone saw the notes sent out tonight by The Post’s opinions editor, David Shipley, to Post readers and to his staff in opinions,” Buzbee wrote.

Buzbee’s email to staff was first reported by The Washington Free Beacon, then later by Fox News on Friday.

The State of Israel’s official X (formerly Twitter) account responded with a post saying “The truth might hurt, but it’s still the truth.”

The Post published responses from some of its readers to the cartoon.

One wrote that “laying the deaths of Palestinian civilians at the feet of Hamas instead of the people actually killing them is a gross mischaracterization of the situation.”

Another said, “There is no topic in reporting in which word choice is as fraught as in reporting on the Gaza Strip. Why does The Post not subject the visual language of its cartoons to the same scrutiny?”

A third described the drawing as “deeply malicious and offensive” while employing “racial stereotypes.”

“Depicting Arabs with exaggerated features and portraying women in derogatory, stereotypical roles perpetuates racism and gender bias, which is wholly unacceptable,” the reader wrote.

Another said it “amounted to an attempt at excusing Israeli war crimes.”

A man sits on the rubble overlooking the debris of buildings that were targeted by Israeli airstrikes in the Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Nov. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

There was also support, with one reader writing, “Finally, an editorial cartoon that captured the essence of the Hamas terrorism. Please keep it up.”

Palestinian American poet Remi Kanazi wrote on social media: “This is the Washington Post. This is the kind of anti-Palestinian racism that’s acceptable for publication.”

Ramirez was formerly at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where he twice won a Pulitzer Prize. He began also providing content for the Post in May.

On November 2, Ramirez took a dig at the Black Lives Matter movement, which has issued pro-Palestinian statements since the Hamas attack. In a cartoon published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal he depicted a BLM activist holding aloft a banner reading “Terrorist Lives Matter.”

The Washington Post has reported on Israel’s claims that Hamas is using Gaza’s hospitals as command centers. It also reported on an October 13 incident in which Palestinians evacuating the northern Gaza Strip allegedly were hit by an airstrike.

The Israel Defense Forces said at the time it was “not aware of such an event at this location. We did not fire. We will not cooperate with the manipulations of Hamas,” the Post reported.

People search for survivors and for bodies of victims through the rubble of buildings destroyed during Israeli airstrikes, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 26, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The newspaper has drawn ire in the past from pro-Israel groups for its cartoons about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During a previous round of fighting between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the Post published a cartoon showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu punching a Palestinian baby while looking at a figure depicting a Gaza fighter.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in a statement at the time called the cartoon “disgusting.” The center’s associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, criticized the depiction as “profoundly removed from the truth.”

“It is the Hamas leadership that openly uses the people of Gaza to act as human shields to protect their weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

Israel’s intense aerial and ground offensive targeting Hamas infrastructure has killed over 11,000 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. The figure cannot be verified independently and is believed to include members of terror groups as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. Hamas has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll.

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