The New York Times’ most recently hired columnist, quintessential Zionist and Israel booster (and not coincidently or insignificantly Israeli citizen) and former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post Bret Stephens, whose engagement in my opinion was a terrible mistake, recently got his bowels in an uproar, his shriveled heart thumping, his palms all clammy, his teeth clenched with righteous indignation, his brow sweating and his self control all aflutter, after his employer published what he called an “anti-Semitic” political cartoon in its International Edition. Thank God we have Bret to define anti-Semitism and keep us on the straight and narrow with this incredibly biased bit of writing.
Stephens fits neatly into a category of writers and pundits who fancy themselves some sort of moral guardians of our media, jumping swiftly to label any criticism of Israel or civic public demonstrations against Israel as “anti-Semitism” while ignoring this rogue nation’s defiance of international law and violation of human rights. If you wish to observe Stephens and his friend Dennis Prager, of “Prager University” fame, in a revolting gush of admiration for each other and Israel and mutual rejection of basic democratic rights embodied in the BDS movement, take a look at this c-span interview.
I was going to disregard this whole distasteful episode until comedian Bill Maher thrust it in my face on his May 3, 2019 Real Time show. Yes, there was Bret Stephens himself in person as Maher’s guest to again spew his paranoid self pity and self righteous outrage in plain view of Maher’s millions of viewers. And Maher himself, whose work I generally enjoy, until he opens his mouth to expose his ignorance about the Middle East, of course showed the cartoon and jumped aboard the Bret Stephens train of hurt feelings and righteous umbrage.
And, accordingly, the commonly accepted “paper of record”, the New York Times, fell all over itself convulsing, apologizing, even disciplining the editor of the International Edition for publishing this cartoon. And prominent Zionists worldwide leaped to accuse the Times of bias against Israel, not to mention anti-Semitism. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said the cartoon exhibited “stereotypes that suggest Jewish control”. Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said that the paper had “become a cesspool of hostility towards Israel that goes well beyond any legitimate criticism of a fellow, imperfect democracy,” Oh my God, you have to be kidding me. The Times (joined often by our other very prominent paper, the Washington Post) is the most strident cheerleader for Israel in the country. To get more pro-Israel reading one has to go directly to Haaretz, The Forward, Tablet, the Jerusalem Post or the Times of Israel. Actually Haaretz, especially through its columnists, is often more honest in its criticism of Israel than the Times or the Washington Post. And our own erudite sage and deep thinker, Vice President Mike Pence told CNN, ”We stand with Israel and we condemn antisemitism in ALL its forms, including @NYTimes political cartoons”……”It wouldn’t surprise me if this was published out of Tehran or Damascus, but it does not belong in The New York Times or any credible media outlet”.
Now, about the cartoon itself – here it is. Like most political cartoons, it is making a few important points. First, a blind Donald Trump is being led by guide dog Benjamin Netanyahu. Second, Trump is wearing a yarmulke, not because he is Jewish but because he is sucking up to Israel and trying to flatter its supporters. After all, he was the first American president to pray at the Western Wall, cutting a rather ludicrous, not to mention totally hypocritical figure as he posed for the photo.
And this fakery and flattery works both ways. Israel Katz, Israel’s transportation minister, plans to name the Jerusalem Old Town station on the planned new underground near the Western Wall the “Donald John Trump Station”. And of course, a yet non-existent settlement on the planned illegal annexation of the Golan Heights will be named “Trump Heights”.
So Israel flatterer Donald Trump is blind but is being led by Netanyahu. What’s anti-Semitic about this cartoon, pray tell? Is it the garish colors, uncommon for most political cartoons? Or is it the star of David identifying the Netanyahu caricature? The star of David is on the national flag of Israel, displayed at government functions and waved at rallies, and it’s on their warplanes – it identifies Israel for God’s sake. Or one could say that the Trump caricature represents the United States and the guide dog Israel: Israel is leading and dictating US policy. However one interprets this cartoon, it is legitimate political satire and is not anti-Semitic.
Now, I’ve seen anti-semitic political cartoons before. Certainly Nazi Germany’s leading purveyor of anti-Semitism, Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer, published hundreds during the 1930’s. Yes, there were always the prominent noses, the bags of money and the evil conspiratorial miens. Now those were the real sensational and repulsive anti-Semitic memes, about which I can understand Jewish anger, concern and revulsion. But this cartoon? Oh please, come on now.
The prize-winning Portuguese creator of this cartoon, António Moreira Antunes, has been drawing political cartoons for Lisbon papers for decades. He has denied that it is in any way anti-Semitic. But in a frenzy, critics crying anti-Semitism dug through his past work and came up with another cartoon which António produced and published during the Second Lebanon War. The cartoon depicts one leg tied up with explosives and attached to an Islamic crescent moon, and another leg – adorned with the American flag – attached to a bloody Star of David. So what’s anti-Semitic about this cartoon, clearly portraying US-supported Israel and an Islamic terrorist, both stained with Lebanese blood. What’s the problem here, when the red and white stripes clearly represent the US and the crescent clearly represents the Muslim religion. Hmm, maybe the star of David again?
Well, back to the New York Times. To make matters worse for the anti-Semitism scolds and kvetches, a few days after the António cartoon was published, the International Times published this cartoon by Norwegian cartoonist Roar Hagen which depicts a Moses figure – a conceited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with sunglasses taking a picture of himself with a selfie-stick while apparently descending from Mount Sinai. Oh my God – back to back anti-Semitic cartoons published by the Times! What does this cartoon convey other than the pride and arrogance of Israel and the hubris of its prime minister? Oh, there’s that star of David again, inscribed on the tablet Netanyahu is bringing down from the mountain. Again, please, come on now.
And to make matters worse and underscore their paranoia even more, another António cartoon that drew the ire of Jewish groups was dug up and waved about. This 1983 caricature won him the top prize at the 20th International Salon of Cartoons in Montreal that year. According to a JTA report from July 1983, the cartoon depicted “Israeli soldiers tormenting Lebanese women and children” in a depiction reminiscent of a famed photo of Nazis tormenting Jews during the Holocaust. A spokesman for the Canadian Jewish Congress called the cartoon at the time “a defamation of the Holocaust… artistically dishonest, morally obscene and intellectually indecent.” Baloney. António courageously directed our attention to the incredible irony of how Israelis have become much like the Nazis in their treatment of Arab people, whether Lebanese or Palestinian. This makes a political point – why deny it? It’s a work of political art pure and simple.
And in my own daily reading I ran across this cartoon on one of my favorite websites – Mondoweiss, a website that meticulously and evenhandedly examines the nation of Israel and its treatment of the natives it’s attempting to disinherit and displace – the Palestinians. From its homepage: “Mondoweiss is an independent website devoted to informing readers about developments in Israel/Palestine and related US foreign policy. We provide news and analysis unavailable through the mainstream media regarding the struggle for Palestinian human rights.” The website is owned and edited by progressive Jewish journalists, Scott Roth, Adam Horowitz, Tova Perlmutter and Philip Weiss. Here’s the cartoon. Is it anti-Semitic? Hey Bret Stephens, why not weigh in on this one? It’s got caricatures of Trump and Netanyahu and yes, there’s that infernal star of David. My God, this is anti-Semitic. Why? Oh no, it’s not. Why? Bret, we need you to tell us about this cartoon, please.
And one more thing – if the New York Times wanted to increase its already heavily Jewish roster of columnists with another Jewish pundit, they should have raided the ranks of Haaretz columnists and obtained someone of the international reputation and stature of a Gideon Levy or Chemi Shalev, both of whom continue to write about Palestinians, Jews and Israel focused through the objective lens of justice and humanity, courage and kindness, human rights and international law, rather than a sniveling Islamaphobe and warmonger like Bret Stephens, whose June 14, 2019 column was entitled “The Pirates of Tehran: If Iran won’t change its behavior, we should sink its navy.” I couldn’t agree more with Paul Blest of Splinter News: “Some days, it’s difficult to understand what the New York Times saw in columnist Bret Stephens when they hired him. On others, it’s obvious: what he lacks in basic journalistic ability, he more than makes up for in raging, spitting Islamophobia.”
Finally, with people like Bret Stephens and his ilk spreading all this nonsense of anti-Semitism in a renowned political cartoonist’s work, along with the bleating of the heads of hordes of Jewish organizations about the worldwide “rise of anti-Semitism”, there’s real danger of losing sight of what real anti-Semitism is. Are people pressing for Palestinian human rights, those who oppose Israel receiving billions in US aid, who protest Israeli apartheid, anti-Semites? Are those who question US congress members’ slavish support of Israel because of the wealth of their Jewish donors anti-Semites? Am I an anti-Semite because I think that Sheldon and Miriam Adelson’s support of Trump, reactionary Republicans and their being Israeli citizens is un-American and a threat to our country? Does my refusal to purchase items made in Israel or in the Occupied Territories make me an anti-Semite? Think about it. I don’t think so.