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Date posted: January 30, 2013
By Mayse Jarbawi for MIFTAH

My first reaction when I saw the cartoon was: “Really? They’re actually going to use the anti-Semitic card?” It is about time to stop associating anything that has to do with criticizing Israel with anti-Semitism. Israel is supposedly a “democratic” country- where people are allowed to inveigh against their government without being prosecuted as racist. “Freedom of Speech” became a term used by the West in order to justify their actions when they offend the Muslims. If freedom of speech is used to defend the people who disrespect the religion of Islam, then it should be used to defend people who condemn a politician like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The cartoon in question by Gerald Scarfe, a well-known UK cartoonist who has been working with the Sunday Times since 1967, and published on Holocaust Memorial Day, is not related to anti-Semitism whatsoever. The cartoon portrays Netanyahu waving a blade while cementing the apartheid wall using Palestinian blood, with Palestinians bricked into the wall. The cartoon is depicting the slow systematic annihilation Netanyahu is carrying out against Palestinians. It includes the inhumane siege on Gaza, the use of white phosphorus on densely populated areas in Gaza, illegal imprisonment of children and citizens without trial, innumerable house demolitions, the epidemic of illegal settlements and so on. The blood in the cartoon resembles the blood of the Palestinians who were murdered by the army and settlers under Netanyahu’s rule. So, rather than being anti-Semitic, it is more of a brutally candid picture of reality.

During a meeting held yesterday for the Sunday Times’ senior editorial team, representatives of the Jewish community and News International corporate affairs, the Jewish community organizations presented their adverse thoughts on the cartoon. One of the points was that the blood illustrated in the drawing “has a long and ugly tradition within the history of anti-Semitism... These historical and contemporary contexts have racist impacts upon victims and proponents alike.” Besides the overuse of “blood libel,” the fact that what Netanyahu is doing in Palestine is reminding the Jewish people of the Holocaust and bringing back horrific, despairing memories indicates that something is extremely wrong.

Needless to say, a sincere apology was given shortly after the cartoon was published. Rupert Murdoch, ex-director of News International- which publicizes Times, immediately wrote on Twitter: “We owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.” Martin Ivens, the Times’ acting editor, turned defensive and justified the cartoon by saying that “the paper has long written strongly in defense of Israel and its security concerns.” Millions of newspaper-cartoons denounce politicians everyday, yet for some reason, Israeli politicians are special.

A number of months ago, a trailer for the movie “Innocence of Muslims” was released, and basically smashed the Quran, Prophet Mohammad and the Muslims. According to Tony Blair, his problem with the issue was the Muslim world’s “reaction.” In his opinion, it was “absurd.” He found the trailer to be a “laughable piece of film work” and that the problem “is about the struggle of modernization. The good news is, in the end, the modernizers will win incidentally.”

Several years ago, a cartoon was drawn depicting the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper. The act was seen as disrespectful by Muslims around the world. However, the matter was dealt with under the basis of “Freedom of Speech,” and “newspapers across Europe reprinted cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad, saying they wanted to support the right of Danish and Norwegian papers.” Apparently, freedom of speech is offered selectively these days. While it may be used liberally in offending Muslims and Palestinians, it is stopped in its tracks when the criticism is leveled at Israel. Needless to say, Scarfe’s cartoon of Netanyahu will probably not be duplicated in the future.

Mayse Jarbawi is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.

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