As in many Oliphant cartoons, the star of David designates Israel. It was affixed to the dog with the lifted leg, who airily observes: “I do this only in friendship.” In the corner of the cartoon, two miniature figures comment: “That’s becoming a habit — Stop” and “The dog needs training.”
Cartoonists obviously enjoy a latitude that other opinion-page contributors do not, but Oliphant’s pre-judging the outcome of the reported Pentagon allegations, and his unsubstantiated charge that Israel makes a “habit” of spying underscore his disdain for facts and his avidity in assailing the Jewish state.
A review of more than 40 of his cartoons about Israel since 1996 suggests a pattern. Israel appears in myriad derogatory guises — often variations on a spoiled brat, a demanding, ungrateful, ill-behaved baby that drags a long-suffering America into a tiresome, endless dispute with the Palestinians. In others, Israelis are cast as brutal, bullish, manipulative and militaristic. A typical rendering presents Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat as identical in their stupid or thuggish conduct, though Arafat is often just a hapless figure, impishly foot-dragging over negotiations.
The refusal to fault Arafat and the Palestinians for what they, and only they, have done, produces such perverse drawings as the April 1, 2002 image of both Sharon and Arafat as suicide bombers. It ran at the height of Palestinian terrorism against Israel, appearing four days after a terrorist blew up a Passover Seder in Netanya killing 30 people; three days after members of the Gavish family were gunned down in their home; two days after Rachel Levy and Haim Smadar were blown up in Jerusalem by a female terrorist; one day after a suicide bomber murdered 15 and wounded 40 in a Haifa restaurant.
Indeed, in the midst of Israel’s worst terrorism, Oliphant drew cartoon after cartoon casting Israel as brutish, callous, devilish and petulant, while Palestinian savagery was all but invisible. One image from April 8, 2002 of a small, grinning Arafat next to a hulking Sharon, both sporting horns and fangs, read: “The devil we know,” and “The devil we wish we didn’t know,” meaning Sharon.
Evidently for Oliphant the defense of innocent lives against those who wantonly take them in the streets, buses and cafes of Israel is the work of the devil.
Israel’s supposed flouting of America was reiterated then too, as in an April 9, 2002 cartoon during Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield campaign launched to counter the terrorist assault. The drawing showed a vast pile of smoking rubble with President Bush in the foreground asking: “What is that signal Sharon is sending, Colin?”
The Secretary of State replied: “I believe it’s the finger, Mr. President.”
Oliphant’s miniature figure added: “Give him the same comes handout time.”
Ironically, Patrick Oliphant, the liberal cartoonist, closely resembles far right Patrick Buchanan in the distorted, obsessive accusation that Israel has abused American support and largesse and should be punished at “handout time.” Oliphant’s depictions also parroted the statements of Palestinian spokesmen such as Saeb Erakat, who widely proclaimed a “massacre” had been perpetrated in the Jenin refugee camp. A May 1, 2002 cartoon showed a diminutive UN figure facing a massive tank emblazoned with a star of David and asking politely to inspect the Jenin camp “specifically for evidence of alleged war crimes and the massacre of civilians.”
A voice from the tank responded “Go to hell.”
Yet again, indifferent to the facts of the unfolding Jenin story and quick to turn his pen to excoriating Israel, Oliphant ignored key information refuting the propaganda claims. On April 28, Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch had been quoted as saying, “There is simply no evidence of a massacre.”
A British military adviser to Amnesty International had been cited the same day by AFP saying he could not see “any evidence of a massacre.” On April 29, an in-depth Boston Globe review of the issue concluded the charges were “a hoax.”
Even the Palestinians themselves conceded the truth. On May 1, 2002 – the same day Oliphant released his cartoon on the topic — the Washington Times reported: “Palestinian officials yesterday put the death toll at 56 in the two-week Israeli assault on Jenin, dropping claims of a massacre of 500 that had sparked demands for a UN investigation….” There was no follow-up cartoon of the Palestinians’ outrageous fabrications.
It should be noted that Oliphant’s drawings on other topics have offended numerous religious and ethnic groups, including Asians, Catholics and Arabs.
But whether or not he misrepresents the facts related to others, surely his caricatures o f Israelis are more often than not false in their premise and tilting toward prejudice.
This column originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on September 14, 2004