Political cartoons have always been capable of inciting several controversies and even led to marches of protest and violence in some cases (like the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad). The justification ‘package’ has always been readily available: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of press.
The newest case cannot resort to these excuses because it messes with one of the global taboos that no one wants to touch: anti-Semitism. This time the author of the cartoons is the legendary Gerald Scarfe (famous for the animations and graphics he did for Pink Floyd’s The Wall). Scarfe ventured a cartoon that caused all hell to break loose: it shows a ruthless Netanyahu building the Israeli apartheid wall over the bodies of Palestinian civilians, with the title ‘Israeli Elections: Will Cementing Peace Continue’?
This sounds purely political, where does ‘anti-Semitism’ fit into the picture? Well, two things: first, it was published on the Holocause Memorial Day (bad coincidence?) and, second, it was interpreted by the Jewish lobby(s) as alluding to the blood libel attributed to the Jews (ritual murder of kids for Jewish rituals), a horrible medieval accusation that lacked (and still lacks) any evidence.
The interesting part is how Robert Murdoch pathetically ‘washed his hands’ from the ‘crime’ of Scarfe: “Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.” I say ‘interesting’ because his reaction was the exact opposite to that of the Danish newspaper that refused to apologize over Prophet Muhammad’s cartoon (with a bomb in his head, as a terrorist, also attached below) on the grounds of freedom of expression. It has to be remembered that fostering Islamophobia is not -yet- a crime or a taboo.
Anyway, and regardless of what I think of Netanyahu and the Israeli government, I share the cartoon because, Holocaust and Blood Libel apart, it is an interesting case on the far-from-resolved clash between freedom of expression and respect for different religious, ethnic and racial groups.