The Guardian’s Readers’ Editor, Chris Elliott – of “facts are tricky things” fame – recently posted a meditation on political cartoons, and what he sees as the fine line between caricature and stereotype.
Opinions may differ as to whether a cartoon or caricature has hit the mark, but the tone of the argument changes when it is tangled with the language of race or religion. Or both. I occasionally receive complaints from readers who believe a cartoon or caricature has tipped over the edge into being racially or religiously offensive.
“It’s an extremely difficult area, and one where the caricaturist has to tread extremely carefully. That said, offence is also often in the eye of the beholder, and I can’t now count the number of times a caricature of, say, Ariel Sharon has elicited the response that this is ‘the most foully antisemitic cartoon since the closure of Der Stürmer’. Well, that one can be unravelled quite easily, as the kneejerk ‘antisemite’ instant response to any criticism of Israel.”
Interestingly, Elliott disagrees with Rowson’s complaint about Jews’ “kneejerk” responses:
I don’t agree with Rowson that all the complaints of antisemitism are kneejerk; they are often not about the criticism itself but the wrapping of such criticism in antisemitic language or imagery.
Here’s one by Rowson entitled, “Mindless in Gaza”, of a grotesque Ariel Sharon from 2oo1:
Here’s one from 2008, which depicts Stars of David being used as knuckle dusters on a bloody fist to punch a young Palestinian boy:
In 2009: Rowson’s cartoon of a trigger happy Israeli soldier taking aim at the dove of peace makes reference to the 3 hour cease-fire each day (which allowed in humanitarian supplies) during Israel’s war in Gaza.
More recently, six days after the flotilla incident, Rowson not only declared Israel guilty, but used biblical imagery and again depicts murderous Israeli troops killing the dove of peace, while another soldier aims his weapon at two unicorns:
Finally, Elliot quotes Rowson’s defense of his work, claiming his aim is merely to:
“…afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. In other words, I only attack people more powerful than me.”
In Rowson’s post-Colonial framework – an ideology which informs the commentary on the the Guardian’s Israel’s page day after day – Israel’s guilt, regardless of the circumstances, is pre-established by virtue of the fact that she is the stronger party.
The virulent state sponsored hate and intolerance of the Palestinian Authority doesn’t interest Rowson, because Israel is the stronger actor.
The chilling anti-Semitism of Hamas, Hezbollah, and her supporters do not serve – in Rowson’s facile political calculus – as creative inspiration for his work, does not fit into his distorted “David vs. Goliath” paradigm.
Hideous caricatures of Hasan Nasrallah or Khaled Mash’al – no matter how malevolent their intent towards the Jewish state - would not, in short, further the cause.
For Martin Rowson, much like the paper he works for, Israel’s guilt is not based on any objective criteria but, rather, on the very strength and resilience which has enabled her to resist enemies who sought, and continue to seek, her destruction.
Israel’s sin is immutable, original.