The Board of Deputies of British Jews has shamed itself and marred International Holocaust Day with a false accusation of antisemitism that does a disservice to the memory of the six million Jews who perished, and indeed to Jews in Britain and elsewhere who face genuine antisemitic attacks.
The Board of Deputies yesterday lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission at a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in yesterday’s Sunday Times, which it claims:
depicts Benjamin Netanyahu bricking up Palestinians and using blood for mortar, which is shockingly reminiscent of the blood libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently antisemitic Arab press (sic – our emphasis).
The Sunday Times denied that the cartoon was antisemitic, describing Scarfe’s imagery as “typically robust“, and added:
It is aimed squarely at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people. It appeared yesterday because Mr Netanyahu won the Israeli election last week.
The Israeli liberal daily, Haaretz, today published a detailed explanation of why the cartoon is not anti-semitic:
- It is not directed at Jews: there is no Jewish imagery whatever in the cartoon, and Netanyahu is an Israeli politician not a representative of world jewry;
- It does not use Holocaust or Nazi imagery
- There was no discrimination: it is entirely in keeping with the rest of Scarfe’s imagery which, whilst always robust, does not specifically target Jews or even Israel in any way;
- This is not what a blood libel looks like: although there is allusion to blood in the red cement, there none of the usual blood-libel imagery found in traditional and even modern antisemitic cartoon.
It is hard to argue that 68 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the hatred of Jews has disappeared from the civilized nations of western Europe, but there are more than enough real manifestations of racism and xenophobia, directed at Jews and other religious and ethnic groups in Britain and the rest of the continent, for us to be spending our efforts confronting. Pillorying Scarfe and his cartoon cheapens a noble cause, as this was not anti-Semitic by any standard.
Those who campaign in support of Palestinian rights are used to false accusations of antisemitism or, in the case of Jews, “self-hatred”. These false accusations, designed to silence critics of Israeli policy and damage the reputation of Palestinian supporters, serve only to undermine criticism of genuine antisemitism (including when it occurs on the Left or in pro-Palestinian circles), or indeed of il-considered and thoughtless remarks such as those of David Ward MP.
The Board of Deputies (together with the Anti-Defamation League and Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom) also claimed that the cartoon was “all the more disgusting on Holocaust Memorial Day, given the similar tropes levelled against Jews by the Nazis“. By doing so it is the Board of Deputies and not the Sunday Times that is guilty of a crime against the memory of those who died in the Shoah.
The Chief Rabbi was sensibly more restrained in his criticism of the Sunday Times. He did not accuse them of antiseitism. However, according to the Jewish Chronicle, he said that
regardless of the intention, the danger of publishing this type of cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day in a respected national newspaper was that such images “reinforce a great slander of our time: that Jews, victims of the Holocaust, are now perpetrators of a similar crime.”
I accept that analogies are increasingly drawn between Israeli policy and that of the Nazis (including by many Israeli politicians), and that such analogies are best avoided. However, it is simply not the case that it is widely alleged (as would be necessary to create the “great slander of our time” which the Chief Rabbi alleges) that Israelis (never mind Jews) are perpetrators of a crime similar to the Holocaust. And especially not in this cartoon.