THE editor-in-chief of The Age has defended a series of cartoons published over the last week, one of which the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) labelled as “virulent hate-speech”, that have outraged the Melbourne Jewish community.I am not one to charge anti-semitism at the drop of a hat, but both of the Leunig cartoons clearly fit that definition.
A cartoon by Michael Leunig last Wednesday adapted German pastor Martin Niemoeller’s famous “First they came for the Jews” statement about the apathy of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power, changing it to “First they came for the Palestinians”.
The cartoon then states: “I did not speak out because if I did, doors would close to me, hateful mail would arrive, bitterness and spiteful condemnations would follow.”
ADC chairperson Dvir Abramovich said the cartoon “crossed the line”, using anti-Semitic words and themes.
“‘They’ of course referred to the Nazis. In Leunig’s cartoon, however, it is the Israelis who are the Nazis,” he said. “Leunig’s second anti-Semitic theme [is] that anyone who supports the Palestinians will immediately be besieged by the all-powerful Jewish lobby. This is the kind of hateful rhetoric you would expect on anti-Semitic websites, not The Age.”
A second Leunig cartoon on Saturday portrayed a character – presumably Jewish – at Mount Sinai receiving the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” before shooting both Moses and God dead, then standing on the mountain wearing God’s crown. Then a Bruce Petty cartoon on Monday, November 26, showed a boat of Palestinians with the banner “The Right of Return – UN” approaching a heavily fortified and armed Israel flying the banner “The Right to be Here – Bible”.
“This not only ignores the unquestionable fact that the UN created the modern Jewish State, but also overlooks thousands of years of Jewish history in the Land of Israel,” Abramovich said.
Defending the cartoons, Age editor-in-chief Andrew Holden said the cartoonists were all “very experienced, and well aware of the sensitivities around Middle East politics”.
“However, they are also entitled to express their personal opinions, even if these are challenging.”
Claiming that this could have applied to any ethnic group, as Leunig does in his response, is disingenuous. He obviously and deliberately chose to equate Jews to Nazis - not Chinese, not Syrians, not Americans. Imagine a similar cartoon about Copts in Egypt or Kurds in Turkey - it simply wouldn't work. The entire impact of the cartoon, the delicious irony, would be diminished by using anyone besides Jews as the Nazi-equivalent.
There is of course one other anti-semtiic motif at play, which is that the all-powerful Jewish lobby shuts down freedom of speech. This is rich coming from Leunig, who as far as I can tell is not worried about losing his job. In fact, he has been obsessed with demonizing Israel for years with no apparent impact to his fame or fortune. This cartoon is not only pure anti-semitism, it is a puerile attempt to make the cartoonist feel brave.
The second one is even more explicitly anti-semitic:
What can this cartoon represent except naked hate for, and incitement against, Jews? How else can it be interpreted?
Other cartoons of his, while horribly skewed, are not anti-semitic. A decade-old cartoon of his that was rejected by the same newspaper undoubtedly was.
Leunig's pitiful defense of his cartoons is taken apart by Galus Australis.