Here’s the cartoon in question… And read this link explaining what the blood libel myth is, if you don’t know already.
Trish Wilson provides a link to The Independent’s response page: it includes three defenses of the cartoon, one written by the cartoonist himself. They also publish a critique by Ned Temko which makes the primary criticism clear:
But it is not the cartoon’s skewed picture of the conflict that is at issue. It is its use of one of the oldest images of European anti-Semitism, the fuel for pogroms and ultimately for the Holocaust ‘ the classic “blood libel”, of Jews murdering gentile children for their blood.
But despite Temko’s editorial, none of the three defenses even address the “blood libel” issue. Cartoonist Dave Brown, understandably, takes the route of explaining his intentions; but (as I argued in the post below this one), even if we take his word that his intentions were benign, that doesn’t make the cartoon itself non-anti-Semitic. Philip Hensher explains the Goya connection, and argues:
What is apparent to me is that the accusation made by the cartoon, though severe, is one that ought to be within the means of graphic satire. Similar pictures were produced of Mrs Thatcher in her prime. Critics of the image should ask themselves, above all, not whether they agree with it, but how this accusation would be made, with the same legitimate force, by a cartoonist with no anti-Semitic prejudices; because, surely, everyone must concede that criticism of a specific policy of a specific Israeli government need not proceed from racial prejudice. I think the answer is that it would look very much as the cartoon actually does.
For Hensher’s argument to make sense, we’d have to believe that political cartoonists are unfairly constrained from criticising Israeli governments (or from implying that Palestinians are symbolically Israel’s children) if they have to refrain from drawing prominent Jews eating gentile children or drinking blood. Calling this argument “ridiculous” is a terrible understatement; there’s an entire universe of strong images available to cartoonists which don’t recall the blood libel.
Furthermore, because this cartoon recalls traditional anti-Semitic imagery so strongly, it shouldn’t even be claimed that this cartoon successfully criticizes “a specific policy of a specific Israeli government”; the cartoonist’s intent (accepting, for the sake of argument, Hensher’s interpretation) has not been communicated clearly, but is drowned in his insensitivity and ham-handed use of traditional anti-Semitic imagery. As ‘Journalista! puts it:
I suppose it’s a fine defense in theory, but given the “blood libel” myths flung at Jews past and present, you have to wonder just how naive Brown was being in not anticipating accusations of anti-Semitism. Aren’t cartoons supposed to communicate their ideas a little more clearly than that?
The cartoon’s defenders bring up the deplorable habit of some Israel-advocates of labeling any strong criticism of Israel anti-Semitic. In general, this is a fair point (and one I’ve made before). But it’s not true in this specific instance. I’m a left-wing political cartoonist who loathes Sharon and the Israeli government – hell, I’ve even been accused of anti-Semitism myself, for cartoons like these (1 2 3 4) – and yet even I think Brown’s cartoon is grotesquely anti-Semitic. Yes, some of the criticisms of anti-Semitism are baseless; but that doesn’t mean that every criticism of anti-Semitism should be dismissed.
That not one of The Independent’s defenders even addresses the issue – which is not criticism of Israeli policy, but the use of a traditional and vicious anti-Semitic image – is disappointing.
Update: Musings provides a cartoon from an Arabic newspaper for comparison.