Outrage on the Editorial Page
Tom Toles, successor to the legendary Herblock as Washington Post editorial page cartoonist, is known for his simple if not simplistic style; small, “cute” doll-like characters; and droll, topical punch lines often echoed by a miniature secondary drawing in the bottom right corner of his panel. But Toles’s formula failed utterly in his Sunday, Dec. 15 effort, undermined by a false moral equivalence apparently based on either ignorance or tendentious disregard of fact.
Jewish settlers equated with Islamic terrorists
The large, 5-inch by 3-column cartoon features a trail of money winding from a building labeled “Extremism Studies”to a figure in Arab headdress labeled “Saudi Arabia” in the center. The figure meets Uncle Sam, behind whom a similar cash path snakes to a building marked "Israeli Settlements" in the lower right. Says Uncle Sam to Saudi Arabia: “Not too bright! You've left a trail of dollars leading right back to a bunch of religious fanatics!” Echoes the miniature Uncle Sam to his Saudi counterpart in the lower right, “How do you expect anybody to take you seriously?”
Cute — and Vicious
So, according to Toles — and The Post editorial page:
* Jewish villages and towns in the disputed territories function like Saudi-funded madrassahs throughout the Arab-Islamic world and beyond — teaching contempt for, and sometimes inciting violent hatred of, believers of other religions;
* The United States government, or wealthy individuals associated with it, fund Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip like the Saudi Arabia government, members of the extended royal family, and individuals close to it, back a world-wide network of extremist Islamic schools;
* America's insistence that Saudi Arabia clean up its act with regard to funding terrorist-related instructional institutions is hypocritical so long as Washington “supports” Israeli settlements.
Failing at Fair Comment
Traditionally, editorial cartoonists and editorial writers enjoy wide latitude. By definition, they deal in opinion. However, for that opinion to have value, it must be informed. Otherwise, it can cross the line separating editorial comment from propaganda and even bigotry. Toles’s Dec. 15 cartoon crossed that line. It did so because:
* Extremist Islamic teachings, some funded by Saudi Arabia, are the ideological underpinning of the terrorism that has murdered tens of thousands of people around the world in the past decade, including those slain on Sept. 11, 2001 -- and that threatens individuals everywhere. Yet Toles' straw man of Jewish extremism — which Toles implies is linked to Israeli settlements the way Islamic extremism is linked to Saudi-backed schools — has contributed to the deaths of approximately three dozen people counting the 1994 murders by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron and a few other unrepresentative cases limited to the West Bank;
* Neither the U.S. government nor wealthy individuals closely associated with it provide financial support for Jewish villages and towns in the disputed territories. In fact, Washington in the past has deducted amounts of U.S. aid to Israel as offsets to Israeli spending on settlements, many inhabited by secular Israelis;
* The reflexive criticism of Israeli settlements chronic on The Post editorial page (for example “Mr. Sharon's Promise,” Dec. 16) ignores, among other facts, that the Oslo agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs did not prohibit settlement expansion, that the Palestinian Authority would be in possession of 95 percent-plus of the West Bank and Gaza Strip had it not violently rejected Israel's July 2000 proposal, and that — despite repeated allegations to the contrary — Jewish villages in the disputed territories are every bit as legal as Arab villages. But misplaced and mistaken obsession with the settlements and settlers can lead not just to erroneous criticism but a sort of demonization evidenced in the Toles' drawing.
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