Cartoonists often live on the edge, using sharp visual caricature to express an opinion about a controversy, and not infrequently one group or another complains that a cartoonist has crossed a line. This week, several Jewish organizations are denouncing the image above, by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Pat Oliphant, as anti-Semitic.
Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, sent along the following statement:
"Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Pat Oliphant's clearly anti-Semitic cartoon uses Nazi-like imagery to depict the state of Israel as a headless, dark militaristic force set upon a path of destruction. His portrayal of a fanged Star of David chasing down a Gazan woman is both offensive and outlandish, employing a symbol of faith and peace to unfairly depict Israel as both thoughtless and heartless. This deplorable characterization hearkens back to the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda of World Wars I and II. Published during a tenuous cease-fire in Gaza, this cartoon will only add fuel to the proverbial political fire and stroke the flames of anti-Semitism.
Mr. Oliphant clearly has the right to his views, however noxious. But newspapers, and others, are under no obligation to become publishers of such trash. We call upon newspapers worldwide to remove Oliphant’s offensive cartoon from their websites, making a clear statement that anti-Semitism, even in cartoon form, is intolerable."
And the Anti-Defamation League's national director, Abraham H. Foxman, also denounced the cartoon, saying:
"Pat Oliphant's outlandish and offensive use of the Star of David in combination with Nazi-like imagery is hideously anti-Semitic. It employs Nazi imagery by portraying Israel as a jack-booted, goose-stepping headless apparition. The implication is of an Israeli policy without a head or a heart.
Israel's defensive military operation to protect the lives of its men, women and children who are being continuously bombarded by Hamas rocket attacks has been turned on its head to show the victims as heartless, headless aggressors."
I called the Globe's cartoonist, Dan Wasserman, to ask him what he thought. Here's what he said:
"My take is that this is not an anti-Semitic cartoon. It's a tough, blistering attack on Israel's conduct in the war in Gaza. You can argue about whether what they did was justified, but their equipment, their planes, their tanks, are all covered with the Star of David, so the use of the Star of David doesn't seem to me to warrant the accusation of anti-Semitism. And the week we got revelations in the New York Times about the cavalier attitude of IDF soldiers toward Gazans, this seems to me perfectly legitimate.
Cartoons are supposed to offend people. There is a distinction between offending people gratuitously or mindlessly, and offending them because a cartoon challenges the way people think, and I think this cartoon is in the latter category. It's provocative. The goose-stepping soldier you can't not associate with the Nazis. But is that over the line? It's hyperbolic, but cartoons traffic in hyperbole. Oliphant has a history of pushing the envelope, and some of his cartoons are beyond acceptable comment, but I don't think this is one of those cartoons.''
Ezra Klein, at the American Prospect, agrees, writing:
"Implying that Israeli policy lacks head and heart is not anti-Semitic. It's not an assertion of an intrinsically Jewish trait. Jack boots and goose steps are not traditional anti-Semitic tropes. Foxman appears to be confusing anti-Semitism with criticism -- even extreme and offensive criticism -- of the Israeli government. And it's really not a good thing to be forcing critics of Israel to decide whether they are also anti-Semites. In some cases, you'll intimidate the critic into silence. And in others, you'll normalize anti-Semitism."
But over at GetReligion.org, Mollie Ziegler notes that Oliphant recently was criticized for a cartoon about Pentecostals, and suggests that maybe he should give religion a rest:
"I’m wondering if syndicated cartoonist Pat Oliphant shouldn’t resist the urge to use his acid brush to depict religious angles. Last time we discussed his work, he was demonstrating his ignorance and hatred of Pentecostalism on the pixelated pages of the Washington Post.
That sparked quite the reader response and a couple of reflective columns by ombudsman Deborah Howell.
He’s back in the news for a cartoon about Jews that I found sickening."
Feel free to express your thoughts, but try to be civil in doing so, and remember, we're discussing the cartoon, not every thought you've ever had about what's wrong with Israel or the Palestinians.