In regards to the anti-Jewish blood libel industry of the British news media, I am reminded of a documentary by film producer, Martin Himmel, Jenin: Massacring Truth, a story about a few IDF soldiers who visited the media in both London and in South Africa who had smeared them as having been involved in a ”massacre” in the Jenin refugee camp operation of Defensive Shield, in which a total of 52 Palestinians, mostly terrorists and 22 IDF soldiers were killed.
The soldiers demanded an official apology from the editors and staff involved, and the film crew was there to get the reactions of the media as they were being confronted. In one scene, Tim Benson, the President of the Political Cartoon Society that oversaw the awarding of its top prize to the cartoonist responsible for the infamous Sharon cartoon, was confronted by Himmel, asking him why is it that no cartoon depicting an Arab leader in a similar way has ever won the top prize?
He responded that, ”well, Jews don’t issue fatwas, now do they?”
NOTE: This articlewas published earlier today on YNet, and republished with a few minor additions, including pictures and footnotes with permission from the author.
BEYOND APOLOGIES: THE BRITISH BLOOD LIBEL CARTOON
Apologies offered by the British weekly The Sunday Times for an anti-Semitic cartoon published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day address only one, albeit major, aspect of this issue. The paper stated that publishing the drawing “was a mistake and crossed the line.” It admitted that Gerald Scalfe’s caricature had reflected, “historical iconography that is persecutory or anti-Semitic.”1 The drawing showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall using what appeared to be the blood of Palestinians as cement. The caption read, “Will cementing peace continue?” The paper’s owner Rupert Murdoch had already apologized earlier.
The general importance of apologies is that both offender and victim agree that what took place was wrong. In this case however, the apologies also underscore the need to ask several additional questions. One issue not addressed is that the cartoon inverted the truth, rather than exaggerated it. Scarfe suggested that what is mainly a security fence – presented here as a wall – was meant to kill Palestinians. However, it was constructed in order to prevent Palestinian murderers from entering Israel and killing Jewish civilians.
Furthermore the drawing reflects a major anti-Semitic motif which has its historical origins in Britain – the blood libel. It was invented in the twelfth century in Norwich. At that time, it was falsely claimed that Jews had killed a twelve year old Christian boy named William for ritual purposes. The story kept going around. A few decades later, like in many other places in England all of the Jews in Norwich were murdered. From Britain, the blood libel about the Jews spread to other Christian countries.
Another important question is, where are the apologies for other cartoons using iconography which recalls the blood libel, both in Britain and elsewhere? Perhaps the best known caricature in this genre was published by the British daily The Independent. Dave Brown drew then-Israeli-Prime-Minister Ariel Sharon as a child-eater. There was never an apology for this anti-Semitic iconography by that daily.
In answer to protests, the U.K. press complaints commission cleared Brown’s cartoon. It was further “normalized” after it won the U.K.s “Political Cartoon of the Year Award for 2003″ of the Political Cartoon Society.The award was presented to Brown in November 2003 at the offices of the prestigious Economist weekly by Labour MP and former Minister for Overseas Aid, Clare Short. 2
At the time, Zvi Shtauber was Israel’s ambassador to the U.K. He told me later, “Simon Kelner, the editor of TheIndependent, is Jewish. I asked Kelner whether TheIndependent had ever published a similar caricature of a public figure. He had to go back eighteen years to find a similar one. Tim Benson, the President of the Political Cartoon Society…saw nothing wrong in the award winning racist cartoon.”3
The Independent was not the only “progressive” paper to print blood libel cartoons. In the middle of the previous decade, Michael Howard, a Jew, was leader of the Conservative party, then in opposition. In April 2005, TheGuardian published a cartoon by Steve Bell depicting Howard with vampire teeth, one of which was dripping blood, and holding a glass of blood. The caption read: “Are you drinking what we are drinking? Vote Conservative.”4 To add insult to injury Annabel Crabb, the London correspondent of The Sunday Age praised him, in a TV interview for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, for that cartoon.5 Bell has also elsewhere drawn Howard with vampire teeth.6
Belgian political scientist Joël Kotek has a collection of thousands of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hate cartoons from Arab and Western media. He has published a selection of these in his book Cartoons and Extremism. One only has to compare the above-mentioned British caricatures with that broad selection mainly from the Arab world and some from the Nazi period, to see how their iconography fits in perfectly.7
A study by the University of Bielefeld for the German Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert Foundation found in 2011 that 42% of the British people – a percentage similar to that in some other European countries – believe that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.8 A major question should be asked – who has planted this extreme anti-Semitic world view into the minds of the British? The cartoons are thus just the tip of the iceberg of a far larger question which concerns British authorities and the population at large.
The apology by the paper gets it right by stating, “the image we published of Binyamin Netanyahu … appeared to show him reveling in the blood of Palestinians.” A question now to be asked is, which British politicians, media, NGOs, academics, church leaders and trade unions have consistently helped strengthen the genocidal image that so many British hold regarding Israel? Creating that world view was more than a mistake. It is a crime. Here, lines of an infinitely bigger magnitude have been crossed than by an anti-Semitic caricature published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Manfred Gerstenfeld is a Board member and former Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2000-2012). He is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
1 “Sunday Times apologizes for Netanyahu cartoon,” 3 February 2013.
3 Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Zvi Shtauber, “British Attitudes toward Israel and the Jews,” Europe: An Expanding Abyss,? (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2005), 188.
7 Joël Kotek, Cartoons and Extremism, (Middlesex: Vallentine Mitchell, 2009).