Every once in a while, a British cartoonist tries to criticize Israel without drawing on nasty Jewish stereotypes—and fails miserably. Last year saw the sickening Sunday Times cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depicted as the villain of some medieval blood libel, and the Economist cartoon that hinted at Jewish control of the United States Congress.
This morning, The Independent published an even more repugnant cartoon. Its artist, Dave Brown, will be familiar to Jewish audiences: at the height of the Second Intifada, he drew the infamous cartoon of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon devouring Palestinian babies. His latest creation accuses Israel of committing genocide against Gaza in the name of a mis-caricatured Biblical injunction.
As Israeli war planes shoot missiles that set Gaza on fire, a bloody molar rests on the desert foreground. “An eye for a tooth…” begins the caption, in an obvious allusion to Leviticus 24:20. “A hand for an eye… a life for a hand…” it continues, before dropping the bombshell, the Godzilla of accusations: “A people for a life.” Yes, you read that right.
Firstly, the cartoon belittles the fear, destruction, and panic that Hamas terrorism has wrought. In this rendering, Israelis haven’t been cowering for cover as missiles are fired at them (and, thank God, blown out of the sky), they’ve simply lost a tooth in a bar fight. Israel is not just accused of being heavy-handed: it is being accused of getting upset over nothing, by which logic any action in self-defense would be unjustifiable.
Secondly, there is the outrageous claim that Israel is perpetrating genocide against the Palestinians. Ignoring Israel’s warnings for Palestinians to evacuate targets about to be hit, Brown draws lazily on the most malicious and libelous falsehood: that Israel is deliberately targeting civilians.
As it stands, 42 percent of British poeple believe that Israel is waging a “war of extermination” against the Palestinians. This libelous cartoon is also likely to incite hatred against Israelis themselves.
Thirdly, and perhaps most undignified, is the direct bastardization of Jewish scripture in this effort to characterize Israel’s actions. The ‘eye for an eye’ verse is frequently misunderstood, taken to be an injunction for pointless retribution rather than proportional punishment: “An eye for an eye,” Mahatma Gandhi once said in ignorance of Jewish teachings, “only ends up making the whole world blind.”
But Brown goes one step further: In his cartoon, Israel is not just engaged in petty retaliation but disproportionate acts of cold-blooded vengeance—all, so the inference goes, supported by some distorted understanding of Jewish ethics. Brown blithely suggests that Israeli military doctrine is born of a mutant version of Judaism—without any caveats or context at all.
Brown has crossed a line with his outrageous and morally contorted cartoon: he and The Independent should issue an apology.
Eylon Aslan-Levy is Chairman of the National Council of the Union of Jewish Students and a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He holds a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford, and is reading for an MPhil in International Relations at the University of Cambridge. Follow him on Twitter @EylonALevy.