Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles gets the Palestinian-Israeli conflict backwards in his featured August 2, 2010 drawing. Toles portrays Israel, this time in the person of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as the obstacle to direct Israeli-Palestinian talks and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as the proponent.
Astonished Post readers called CAMERA’s Washington office to ask if an editing or computer error had switched the speech balloons over cartoon versions of Netanyahu and Abbas. The answer is no — Toles has consistently blamed Israel for problems caused by the Palestinian Arabs.
Cartoons — though obviously devices for expressing opinion — are intended to crystalize satirically, in image form the essence of events, facts and realities.
Toles’ drawing, labeled “Table Talk” on the Post’s Web site, does no such thing. It falsifies events, facts and reality.
It depicts Abbas and Netanyahu seated, facing each other, separated by U.S. President Barack Obama. Abbas says, “Okay … Everything is on the table.” Obama sits silently. Netanyahu replies, “But we refuse to sit at that table.” And in the lower right hand corner, Toles’ stick figure-like representation of himself at his drawing board comments, “It was cut off at the knees.”
1. Toles’ “comic” reading inverts reality — as underscored by news coverage. The day before his cartoon appeared, the Post ran a six-column headline over an Associated Press dispatch, reading “Obama sent warning to Palestinian leader, PLO says.” The article reported that “President Obama warned Mahmoud Abbas in a letter that U.S.-Palestinian relations might suffer if the Palestinian leader refuses to resume direct peace talks with Israel [emphasis added], a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official said Saturday [July 31].”
On March 16, the Post concluded its lead editorial, “The quarrel with Israel; Will the administration’s attacks on the government of Binyamin Netanyahu advance the peace process?” with this observation: “The president is perceived by many Israelis as making unprecedented demands on their government while overlooking the intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders [emphasis added]. If this episode [regarding Washington’s “public brawl” with Israel over authorization of new apartment construction in eastern Jerusalem] reinforces that image, Mr. Obama will accomplish the opposite of what he intends.”
Toles remains willfully blind to the intransigence of Palestinian leaders.
2. Toles’ latest Israeli-Palestinian cartoon echoes earlier efforts. For example, his Dec. 16, 2004 Post illustration portrayed Abbas, in the words of one CAMERA letter writer, “as a willing but unrequited dance partner to an unwilling recalcitrant Ariel Sharon.” This was, the writer noted, “in direct contradiction to pretty much all statements and actions … since the death of Arafat and the, at least for now, ascendancy of Abbas.”
In his reply then, Toles tried to take refuge in the evasion that “a cartoon, by its nature is always less than the full story, and is therefore virtually always open to the charge of being inaccurate or unfair.”
But regarding Israel, now as then, criticism results not from its being “less than the full story,” but because it amounts to a complete distortion, a fun-house mirror reversal of the story.