The Scarfe Cartoon

Jan 29 2013 @ 11:53am

Gerald Scarfe has been a fixture at the Sunday Times since my family used to subscribe to it when I was in my teens. He’s a genius in many ways and it speaks well of the paper that runs my weekly column in Britain to maintain a diverse set of opinionators, even if it is essentially a right-of-center and sensible paper. Anyway, here’s a link to the cartoon that appeared (apparently by accident) on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s clearly about the oppression of the Palestinians by Netanyahu’s wall-building and settlement policy. Is it anti-Semitic?

I was genuinely torn about it at first blush. I don’t think Netanyahu is distorted any more than any other politician to somehow look more Jewish. And Scarfe’s brutal depictions of public figures is important context. I think Netanyahu comes off as a brutal bully, which he is – but not an anti-Semitic archetype.

The use of blood as mortar is what arguably puts the image over the edge, in my view, whatever its intent. Any depiction of Jews using the blood of other people for any project evokes the classic “blood libel” slur. On a day designed to commemorate the mass murder of millions of European Jewry? Please. But check out this recent Scarfe cartoon of Bashar al-Assadliterally drinking the blood of dead Syrian babies. I don’t think Scarfe’s intent was bigotry; I think it was outrage. In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer [pay-wall] defends the cartoon as not anti-Semitic. Money quote:

This is not what a blood libel looks like: Some have claimed that the blood-red cement Netanyahu is using in the cartoon to build his wall indicates a blood libel motif. Well of course it’s blood but is anyone seriously demanding that no cartoon reference to Israeli or Jewish figures can contain a red fluid? The classic European blood libel, like many other classic European creations, had a strict set of images which must always contain a cherubic gentile child sacrificed by those perfidious Jews, his blood to be used for ritual purposes. It was a direct continuation of the Christ-killer myth. Scarfe’s cartoon has blood-cement but no blood libel components – it almost seems he was careful not to include any small children among his Palestinian figures (one of the eight is arguably an adolescent) so as not to have any sort of libel scenery.

It’s not anti-Semitic to portray the Arab victims of Israel’s continued expansionism and religious and ethnic social engineering as somehow caught up in a wall (Scarfe illustrated Pink Floyd’s wall as well). But using their blood – even if it isn’t in the classic blood libel sense? Not a good idea. Netanyahu is not Assad. He may be misguided and dangerous, but he got elected in a democracy and is not busy killing tens of thousands of his own subjects.