So almost a year ago, British cartoonist Dave Brown caused a stir with a cartoon showing a King Kong sized Ariel Sharon eating Palestinian babies (the image was riffed from a Goya painting). It’s back in the news new, because the British Political Cartoon Society has just given it the cartoon of the year award.
A few folks have asked me what I think. My opinion hasn’t changed since I wrote about the cartoon in January. The cartoon still strikes me as anti-Semitic; and like Trish Wilson, I make a distinction between the cartoon and the cartoonist, and suspect that the anti-Semitism was unintentional.
I also think this is a mediocre cartoon; the award is apparently given for controversy, not for quality. As Dirk Deppey writes on ‘Journalista!:
Raznor of Raznor’s Rants (and frequently of Alas’ comments) disagrees about the quality of the cartoon, and also with charges of anti-Semitism:
I don’t follow Raznor’s argument here; because the image is based on Goya, he is saying, it can’t also be anti-Semitic. Why not? It’s as if Raznor believes that it is impossible for a work of art to reference two things at once; the cartoon draws from Goya, therefore (Raznor concludes) it cannot also draw on the anti-Semitic blood libel myth.
My guess is that Raznor is confusing the cartoonist’s intent with the cartoon itself; if the former isn’t anti-Semitic, then the latter must not be anti-Semitic either. But I don’t think this is always how things work. As I wrote back in January:
So does that change anything? Well, it brings up the possibility that this may have been accidental anti-Semitism; perhaps the cartoonist was just tasteless, insensitive, ignorant. But I never said that the cartoonist himself (herself?) is an anti-Semite. I don’t know or care what was in the cartoonists’ heart; all I know is what was drawn in the cartoon. And what was drawn was one of the most pernicious and vicious anti-Semitic myths in history; a slander that is still current in parts of the Arab world.
(It’s on a par with an American newspaper editor printing a cartoon showing Colin Powell raping white women. It’s not just tasteless; it’s drawing on a specific, deeply-felt cultural image of bigotry. And it draws on that racist imagery regardless of intent.).
In this case, the cartoon was drawn by the cartoonist and approved by an editor. If it was by some miracle an innocent mistake, then it is still a mistake that shows a staggering tastelessness, ignorance and insensitivity. And regardless of motive, the result was the printing of an anti-Semitic cartoon.
Look, I hate Sharon; I think he’s a war criminal, a bigot, and an enemy of peace. I’ll gladly call him terrible names and draw him doing horrible things. But I will never draw him eating babies; because that’s a traditional way anti-Semites attack Jews. It’s fair game to criticize Sharon for being a warmonger or even a murderer; but bringing in “blood libel” imagery turns the cartoon into a criticism of him for being a Jewish warmonger, and that’s anti-Semitic.