by Melanie Phillips
With the row then still raging over the Lib Dem MP David Ward’s attack upon Jews for not learning the lessons of the Holocaust and oppressing the Palestinians, the Sunday Times published last weekend a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a demonic builder walling up Palestinians with cement stained red with their blood.
Today, the new acting editor of the Sunday Times, Martin Ivens, was meeting representatives of British Jews to express his contrition, while the paper’s proprietor Rupert Murdoch himself apologised for this ‘grotesque and offensive’ cartoon.
Ivens, to whom I directly worked for three years when I wrote for the Sunday Times, is a decent person without a shred of anti-Jewish or anti-Israel feeling. And the Sunday Times is more supportive of Israel than most.
Scarfe has expressed regret, but only for unwittingly publishing the cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day. Apparently, it would have been absolutely fine to publish at any other time. Scarfe’s cartoons generally reflect boiler-plate leftie attitudes. Very likely he would be outraged to be accused of antisemitism, since in his mind he was only savaging the Israeli Prime Minister as he does countless other world leaders.
Yet his cartoon did incorporate ancient motifs of Jew-hatred. So how could he draw such a thing, and how could the Sunday Times have published it?
The answer to the last question is as yet unknown; very often, however, such debacles occur as a result of decisions which fall through the cracks as part of deadline-pressured newspaper life.
Nevertheless, the assumptions behind the drawing of this cartoon flow directly from the intellectual sewage now poisoning British attitudes towards Israel and the Middle East.
The cartoon was monstrous because it portrayed Netanyahu as a psychopath using the blood of Palestinians to cement them into the evil wall he was building.
It thus fused antisemitic images and grotesque lies about Israel -- an infernal cocktail which is now the mandatory accessory of the British intelligentsia, even as this cocktail incites violence and mass murder by Arabs and Muslims across the world.
Murdering innocents and using their blood for demonic purposes is the essence of the ancient antisemitic ‘blood libel’, which fuelled the medieval Christian pogroms and is now regularly used in the Arab and Muslim world to incite its demented hatred of Jews.
As for the cartoon’s message, it is simply obscene to accuse Netanyahu of brutally murdering Palestinians. It is Palestinians who set out to murder Jews, something the security ‘wall’ – actually mostly a wire fence – aims to prevent. And in its military actions against Palestinian mass murderers, Israel goes to heroic lengths -- unknown in any other country -- to try to shield the innocent from harm.
So Scarfe’s message is a Big Lie about Israel. As I wrote here, it is these Big Lies reversing victim and aggressor in the Middle East which are so obscene.
And the fusion of such bigotry against Israel with bigotry against Jews is characteristic of Israel-hatred, which does indeed represent a modern mutation of antisemitism.
This is why.
Antisemitism has certain specific features which make it a unique form of bigotry. It is founded upon unshakeable beliefs which are in fact total lies; it is deeply irrational and immune to factual evidence; it accuses Jews of atrocities of which they are not only innocent but of which they are in fact the victims; it singles them out for double standards by expecting them to behave in ways expected of no-one else; it holds falsely that they form global conspiracies of manipulative influence; and it is utterly, pathologically obsessive about the Jews and their alleged cosmic misdeeds.
All these characteristic apply to Israel-hatred. Which is why those who give vent to it can’t seem to avoid reaching for the stereotypes and calumnies of ancient Jew-hatred. Reasoned criticism of Israel is entirely legitimate; but this pathological Israel-hatred is fundamentally anti-Jew.
That does not mean that all those who give expression to it are themselves necessarily hostile to Jews. Some undoubtedly are; others may think about Jews benignly with one part of their brain, but towards Israel they feel only an overwhelming, implacable, obsessional hatred.
Such people have unwittingly bought into a discourse about Israel based on Jew-hatred. They may well be quite unaware of this, being ignorant of the historical resonances. But that does not alter the fact they are voicing the latest mutation of Jew-hatred – from theology to race, and now to nation. And the fact that ancient antisemitic imagery bubbles up in their minds without their even realising what it is makes this no less horrifying.
A heated discussion on BBC Radio’s Today Programme this morning between the Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard and the Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell all too vividly illustrated the uniquely sanctimonious venom, ignorance and humbug of the Israel-hater.
Bell was himself at the centre of a similar controversy last year when the Guardian published his cartoon showing Netanyahu as a puppeteer manipulating both Tony Blair and Britain’s current Foreign Secretary William Hague, against the background of bombs represented as Israeli flags.
Bell’s irritated defence this morning of his own cartoon was risible – apparently Netanyahu was not a ‘puppet-master’ because the figures of Blair and Hague were merely ‘pathetic’; nor could the cartoon have presented Jews as ‘manipulative evil geniuses’ since it wasn’t about Jews at all, only Netanyahu.
It is of course possible that Bell simply doesn’t understand the enduring significance of the antisemitic image of Jews as master-puppeteers manipulating the world for their own evil ends. But then he said this:
‘The problem with the state of Israel and the Zionist lobby is that they never acknowledge the crime of ethnic cleansing on which the state was founded.’
But of course, Bell’s belief is the very opposite of the truth. It was not the Arabs who were ethnically cleansed from Palestine; it was the Arabs who tried to ethnically cleanse the Jews from there, by mounting a war of extermination against the re-established Jewish homeland. It was the Jews, not the Arabs, who were the ethnic group with the overwhelming historical, moral and legal claim to the land, as the international community had recognised. And it was Jews – some 800,000 of them -- who really were then ethnically cleansed from Arab countries and who found refuge in Israel.
But then Bell does not appear to understand the moral difference between tyrants and their victims. For he also observed that no-one had objected to Scarfe’s cartoon the previous week which portrayed Syria’s President Assad slicing the head off a baby. It is certainly true that Scarfe has often drawn such images of Assad, such as this one, or this one, and regularly depicts tyrants steeped in blood.
But the crucial point is that Netanyahu is not a tyrant who murders innocents; Assad is. Netanyahu is defending his people against mass murder; Assad has been deliberately killing thousands of his own citizens in order to suppress revolution. Bell’s comparison is morally obtuse to a quite staggering degree. He appears not to understand the difference between a crime against humanity and the protection against a crime against humanity.
Last weekend’s cartoon was the third in recent years published by a UK national newspaper to have grotesquely libelled Israel and drawn upon antisemitic imagery to do so. The first in this series of shame, by Dave Brown in the Independent in 2003, depicted a monstrous Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s Prime Minister, biting the head off a Palestinian baby. It was another blood libel – yet Brown disingenuously claimed it was merely a pastiche of Goya’s painting Saturn Devouring His Children.
In a pointed comment, Britain’s cartoon establishment honoured Brown’s drawing by designating it Political Cartoon of the Year. Today, the LibDems have merely given David Ward a mild rap over the knuckles in a yellow card censure. Scarfe and Bell will continue to have their cartoons published, and will continue to be lionised, as if nothing had happened; and Britain’s intelligentsia, BBC and other media will continue to paint Israel as brutal aggressors and the Palestinians as their victims.
When future historians come to record Britain’s tragic decline, they will surely place its sickening behaviour towards the Jewish people, first under its control in Palestine and then in the State of Israel, as both symptom and cause of its moral and civilisational collapse.
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