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Wednesday, January 30, 2013 

Do we have to go through this again?

There really isn't much to add to the entire furore over Gerald Scarfe's cartoon in the last issue of the Sunday Times.  No, it clearly isn't antisemitic, unless you think as the Israeli ambassador and the Board of Deputies of British Jews apparently do that you can't portray an Israeli politician and blood in the same image for fear of invoking the blood libel.  It doesn't matter that there is nothing in the cartoon that even begins to highlight the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu is Jewish, or any suggestion that those encased in the wall are anything other than Palestinian, the majority of whom are Muslim rather Christian, it simply seems to have been down to how the cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial Day that it's been so taken against.

At least when Steve Bell's cartoon of Netanyahu was accused of being antisemitic the only action taken was that the reader's editor suggested cartoonists shouldn't "use the of language of antisemitic stereotypes".  Considering the breadth of antisemitic literature and the hundreds of years of pogroms and prejudices, you can fairly easily find yourself completely unintentionally echoing old stereotypes, as Bell did by showing Netanyahu using Tony Blair and William Hague as puppets, or as Scarfe has now done through daring to suggest that Netanyahu might have some blood on his hands.  For the Sunday Times to essentially accept that it should never have ran the cartoon, purely because of the use of blood and because it was insensitively published on HMD, although Scarfe apparently hadn't realised that was the case, is utterly pathetic.

It's obvious though that this is both Murdoch's doing and the paper's new editor Martin Ivens having to follow where his master leads.  The paper at first rightly defended the cartoon as legitimate comment and as being typical of Scarfe's body of work, but this seems to increasingly mean nothing when it comes to the way some want to shut down debate.  On Newsnight last night Hugo Rifkind took issue with Steve Bell's bringing up of how Scarfe had also recently depicted Bashar Assad as drinking from a cup marked as containing children's blood, as though Assad and Netanyahu were comparable.  Clearly they aren't in the sense of democratic legitimacy. or the brutal methods they've employed, yet the point surely is, as always, that we expect more from those who receive massive amounts of Western aid and make great play of their being the only democracy in the Middle East, however out of date that claim now is.

To suggest there's been an awful lot of cant involved in this latest outbreak of accusations all but goes without saying.  Yes, it is indeed the case that there is a very fine line between antisemitism, anti-Zionism and vehement criticism of Israel, and it's also true that the apparent rise in recorded incidents of antisemitism is very worrying and has to be tackled.  The left does have a case to answer here, as that line has been breached in the past, and antisemitism when it comes to criticism of Israel has at times been tolerated when it would never be otherwise.  This said, it's also apparent there's an stark element of racism within Israeli society which goes under reported: in the past few months there's been reports of Ethiopian women being forcibly given birth control injections before being allowed in to the country, of fans of a football club campaigning against the signing of Muslim players, and most pertinently, Israeli politicians using disgusting language about African migrants.

This makes it all the more difficult to take when Daniel Taub effectively tries to halt an unpleasant but not unwarranted critique of his prime minister by crying racism.  People will always take offence and are perfectly entitled to, but when it's actual state actors that are attempting to close down legitimate debate it really is about time we sorted out this nonsense once and for all. 

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