Cartoon Double Standard at the Independent

Contrast comments from The Independent criticizing the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed that are deemed offensive to Islam with the newspaper’s defense of a cartoon it published showing Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian child.

On January 27, 2003, the Independent published a cartoon showing a grotesque caricature of Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian child. With the long history of blood libels, including most notably the first reported blood libel accusation occurring in England, this cartoon evoked some of the most horrific anti-Jewish prejudice.

When confronted with complaints by readers and Jewish community leaders in Britain, the Independent responded by defending the publication of the cartoon.

In a commentary on February 1, 2003 (MEA CULPA: SATIRE, ANTI-SEMITISM AND FRANCESCO GOYA), journalist Guy Keleny said he initially dismissed the cartoon as “an obscure joke.” After some Jewish colleagues raised the issue that the cartoon conjured up the blood libel image, Keleny admitted he could understand why Jews might be upset at the cartoon. Nevertheless, he determined ” the accusation of anti-Semitism is also a favourite weapon of those who wish to suppress debate on the measures Israel takes in the occupied territories.” Apparently what most disturbed Keleny was not the offense to the Jewish community, but rather the possibility that the cartoon might provide the Israeli government “ammunition” to validate its claim that critics in the British press are biased.

Keleny cited a review the previous day from British member of Parliament, Gerald Kaufman, known for his vehement hostility to Israel, but who happens to be Jewish, in supporting publication of the cartoon. He concluded the piece with a comment that ringed with sarcasm,  writing, “Some of those who say this cartoon should never have been published in The Independent seem remarkably keen to publish it as widely as possible themselves.”

Kaufman, for his part, wrote a piece that began:

The labelling as anti-Semitic of Dave Brown’s cartoon, which depicted the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a naked, child-eating ogre, was entirely spurious – but entirely predictable. Nor is it surprising that the lynch-mob was led by the Israeli embassy in London, once a respected diplomatic mission, but now the instrument of Israel’s worst- ever Foreign Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

He then proceeded to quote an inflammatory passage from Amos Oz:

Our sufferings have granted us immunity papers, as it were, a moral carte blanche. After what all those dirty goyim non-Jews have done to us, none of them is entitled to preach morality to us. We, on the other hand, have carte blanche, because we were victims and have suffered so much. Once a victim, always a victim, and victimhood entitles its owners to a moral exemption.

Cartoonist Dave Brown, who was presented the Cartoon of the Year award for his grotesque cartoon by member of Parliament and government minister Clare Short, “thanked the Israeli embassy in Britain for increasing the cartoon’s publicity by its angry reaction.” (World Net Daily , 11/27/2003)

The Independent has a completely different take on the recent controversy over the depictions of Mohammed. An editorial on Feb 4, 2006 entitled “A more responsible approach to the debate on freedom of speech” asserts

while we `defend Jyllands-Posten’s right to publish, we also question its editorial judgement. It is not a decision we intend to emulate…There is no merit in causing gratuitous offence, as these cartoons undoubtedly do. We believe it is possible to demonstrate our commitment to the principle of free speech in more sensible ways. It is interesting that the entire mainstream British press feels the same way. No national newspaper has printed the cartoons.

The editorial goes on to discuss the importance of cultural sensitivity toward minorities and concludes with the statement, “There is a difference between robust questioning of someone’s belief system and crass insults.”

That is a statement worth pondering as one looks at the Independent’s cartoon of Ariel Sharon, depicted with classic antisemitic facial features biting off the head of a Palestinian child. The Independent’s real message: “There is no merit in causing gratuitous offence” to Muslims, but it is entirely acceptable to do so to Jews.

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