The New York Times apologized for an "anti-Semitic" cartoon. That creates an unwanted precedent, three cartoonists believe.
There was a cartoon riot at The New York Times. The cartoon, published in the international edition, showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog on a leash, a Star of David on his collar. The leash is held by President Donald Trump, wearing sunglasses and a yarmulke on his head, walking behind the dog like a blind person. Anti-Semitic imagery or political commentary?
Many Jewish organizations believe it is unadulterated anti-Semitism. After fierce Jewish criticism, The New York Times retracted the cartoon. The chief editors were "deeply sorry," acknowledged the "anti-Semitic tropes" in the cartoon and called them "offensive." In addition, the Times terminated its collaboration with CartoonArts International, a syndicate that offers prints from international cartoonists.
New York Times columnist Bret Stephens wrote a true “J'accuse!” in response to the cartoon. Stephens saw in the cartoon the most classic anti-Semitic caricature imaginable, an image "that, in another age, might have been published in the pages of Der Stürmer." It met so many anti-Semitic cliches (the Jew as the wily dog and in command), that "the only thing missing was the dollar sign" to make Bingo. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, this is a bad thing, according to Stephens.
The Portuguese cartoonist António Moreira Antunes told The Jerusalem Post that he does not understand the criticism and resulting commotion. He only wanted to illustrate Trump’s "destructive and often blind politics," politics that have encouraged Netanyahu’s "expansionist radicalism." Antunes did not explain why Trump wears a skullcap.
How do cartoonists look at the affair? Here are three reactions.
Lectrr, a cartoonist for De Standaard:* "The cartoon is maybe a bit too easy. I understand that the imagery can touch a nerve. But to retract the cartoon and end the cooperation with the cartoon syndicate? That is going too far.
“Plus, it is not the responsibility of the cartoonist but of the newspaper, the publisher. By terminating the cooperation with the syndicate, the blame is unjustly laid on a cartoonist collective. As such, dozens of cartoonists worldwide are denied an international stage.
“There is a growing confusion between anti-Zionism and Judaism. In a political cartoon, cliches and symbols are inevitably used. As a cartoonist, it is difficult to avoid the Star of David in prints about Israel. That does not make you a hater of Jews.
“The reaction of The New York Times is disproportionate. The open debate has been crushed to death. An unhealthy response in a democracy. The incident should have caused debate. Now the signal is that if you exert pressure, a cartoon will be retracted and apologies will be made. A sliding scale with a tremendous impact on the freedom of expression."
Ruben L. Oppenheimer, cartoonist for NRC: "I really do not understand what would be anti-Semitic about this. ‘Bibi’ as Trump's guide dog is simply a nice invention. That Netanyahu (who is drawn rather poorly, by the way) is wearing a Star of David around his neck, I cannot immediately see anything wrong in that. It is not a burdened symbol, not a swastika or anything. Trump wears a yarmulke. So what? If you ask me, it is bizarre that The New York Times has issued a retraction of this. If the cartoon did not meet the the Times’ standards, then it should not have been published. Now the cartoonist is being punished when the final responsibility is with the editors. Resign yourselves, then.
“There will always be people who feel offended by such cartoons. But that is collateral damage. Angry reactions are for the letters section.
“In withdrawing the cartoon, The New York Times creates an undesirable precedent, namely, that a cartoonist will think twice before risking a drawing about Israel. A cartoonist must be able to dare draw everything in complete freedom."
Bas van der Schot, cartoonist for the Volkskrant: "The cartoon does have some characteristics of those horrible Stürmer cartoons. That dog is wearing a collar with a Star of David. It is always tricky to do something with that. Say that collar and that skullcap were omitted, would it then still be a sensitive matter? But you can also look at it in a more neutral way, as a critique on Trump's uncritical following of Netanyahu politics.
“I think canceling the cooperation is nonsense. Better you should be critical of your own employees who apparently misjudge that type of illustration. Don't punish the illustrators.
“I have become a bit more careful, considering the history of anti-Semitic cartoons. For example, I therefore always use the entire flag of Israel as a differentiation."
*Translator’s note: De Standaard is a Belgian newspaper.