Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Political Cartoons And Satire

Posted By on May 6, 2019

When does criticism of Israel shade into simple anti-Semitism? Recent events in academia and the media show how the prevalence of the former can make it hard to see the latter for what it is.

A previous post discussed an anti-Semitic performance at a major academic conference on Gaza at The University of North Carolina. The performer, a Palestinian rapper, told the audience that he was going to sing an anti-Semitic song and that they should all sing along. He told the audience that when they sing along, dont think of Rihanna when you sing this, dont think of Beyoncthink Mel Gibson, go that anti-Semitic.

The situation was described in a letter to the conference organizers written by the Dean of the UNC School of government as follows: After [the performer] told the audience I cannot be anti-Semitic alone, it was incredibly offensive to see the attendees at your conference enthusiastically singing along with him. The mood was celebratory. Given his deeply offensive comments, I would have expected his hateful speech to be met with stunned silence. Instead, the reaction of the audience can only be described as enthusiastically anti-Semitic.

In a related story, last week the international edition of the New York Times published an anti-Semitic political cartoon that looked like something that could have been published by anti-Semitic organizations in the 1930s or by todays alt-right movement. It showed the Israeli Prime Minister as a half man/half dog with Netanyahus face on the body of a dachshund with a Star of David hanging from his collar. He was on a leash leading a blind Donald Trump who was wearing a Jewish yarmulke.

The cartoonist, Antonio Moreira Antunes, denied that his drawing was anti-Semitic, telling the Jerusalem Post: Trumps erratic, destructive and often blind politics encouraged the expansionist radicalism of Netanyahu. To illustrate this situation, an analogy occurred to me with a blind man (Trump) led by a guide dog (Netanyahu) and, to help identify him, little known in Portugal, I added the Star of David, symbol of the State of Israel and central element of its flag.

Looking at the cartoon very generously, perhaps it could have been viewed as an over the top, but not necessarily anti-Semitic critique of Donald Trump--had it not depicted him wearing the yarmulke. Hanging the Star of David on Netanyahu could, at the edge of reasonableness, be seen as associating him with Israel rather than marking him as a Jew. But what could the legitimate point be of putting a yarmulke on Trump, who is not Jewish? And, of course, the yarmulke is in no way a symbol of Israelit is a symbol of Judaism. The unmistakable implication of the cartoon is that Trump is controlled by the Jews. Tellingly, Antunes declined to make any attempt to explain why he put a yarmulke on Trumps head.

A number of things link these two incidents. First, they both were a result of decisions made by highly regarded institutions that are supposed to represent values that are the exact opposite of anti-Semitism. UNC is a top-tier university and the Times is arguably the most respected newspaper in the nation, if not the world. These institutions are supposed to be committed to careful use of speech and images, diligence regarding facts and fact-checking, inclusiveness, and a rejection of prejudice. They certainly failed to honor these values in these instances.

Second, both incidents show how slippery the idea of satire can be. The idea behind the Palestinian rappers I cant be anti-Semitic alone presentation was that it was meant as a satire of the supposed tendency to automatically accuse critics of Israel of anti-Semitism. And the political cartoon is intended to be a satire of Netanyahus supposed control over Trump.

However, taken together, the two incidents make exactly the opposite point that they were intended to make. They show how criticism of Israel can easily shade into anti-Semitism. Extremely harsh criticism of Israel is commonplace at even the most reputable universities and news outlets. Israel is regularly compared to apartheid-era South Africa and even to Nazis. It is often described as supporting genocide and ethnic cleansing.

As the New York Timess own Brett Stephens pointed out: The reason is the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism, including by this paper, which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry. So long as anti-Semitic arguments or images are framed, however speciously, as commentary about Israel, there will be a tendency to view them as a form of political opinion, not ethnic prejudice.

It is absolutely true that one can be critical of Israel or Zionism without being an anti-Semite. But the UNC and New York Times incidents show that spending time in an environment where virulent, one-sided criticism of Israel and Zionism is commonplace can desensitize people to actual anti-Semitism. At UNC, how could an audience of presumably intelligent, well-educated people fail to see the anti-Semitism in laughing and singing along with a man who just told them to think of Mel Gibson, a man famous for claiming that Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world? How could a New York Times editor not see that slapping a yarmulke on Donald Trumps head as Netanyahu leads him on a leash does not imply that Trump is controlled by the Jews? The answer in both cases is that, while the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism certainly exists, it is being rendered increasingly blurry by the prevalence of ultra-harsh, one-sided criticism of Zionism in general and Israel in particular. When comparing Israelis to historys worst villains is commonplace, it becomes harder to see anti-Semitism for what it is.

The relationship between criticizing a nation and the people associated with that nation is hard to pinpoint with exactitude. But that does not mean that the relationship can be ignored. When President Trump called various African countries shit h-le countries, much of the media was quick to condemn that as racist, rather than as mere criticism of those countries. When he banned travel from seven countries, five of which are majority Muslim, much of the media saw that bigotry against Muslims, rather than just an action taken against specific nations. So it should not be difficult to see that virulent, one-sided criticism of the worlds only Jewish nation can easily cross the line into anti-Semitism.

It is disheartening to see some of the nations finest institutions cross the line to anti-Semitism. To their credit, the leadership of these institutions has apologized for these incidents and the Times has dropped the service that provided the cartoon. The Times also just published a refreshingly frank editorial acknowledging that: In the 1930s and the 1940s, The Timeswas largely silent as anti-Semitism rose up and bathed the world in blood. Thats a good start. But to make this right, they must think more deeply about why these incidents occurred in the first place.

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Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Political Cartoons And Satire

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