Yesterday, we commented on a cartoon by the Guardian’s Martin Rowson depicting Henry Kissinger which drew upon the visual language of antisemitism – and included the stereotypically large hooked nose, a sneering expression and oversized blood dripped hands.
We briefly noted that, in January, Rowson had defended, in a Guardian commentary, the Gerald Scarfe cartoon depicting bloody, mangled Palestinian bodies buried over with cement, laid by the bloody trowel of a sinister Israeli Prime Minister. However, he did also acknowledged the history of “Streicher’s foul Nazi rag” which “regularly published the vilest antisemitic cartoons imaginable” – an acknowledgment would suggest that he clearly is familiar with the visual genre of Jew hatred.
How, then do we explain his caricature of Kissinger?
Our suspicion that, whatever the inspiration for this particular cartoon, Rowson doesn’t seem to take serious critiques (that his work draws upon antisemitic stereotypes) seriously was confirmed by an interview he gave a few months ago for a leftist magazine – with a predictably anti-Zionist bent – called ‘Red Pepper”.
The journalist at Red Pepper wrote the following:
Though as a satirist you’d think Rowson would use the forum to launch a vigorous defense of the right to offend, the following exchange shows that he makes exceptions to this principle. During the interview Rowson is clear that ‘freedom of speech does not absolve the cartoonist of the responsibility for judging what to draw and when‘. While no forms of authority are to be declared ‘off-limits’, the power to ridicule must be exercised judiciously. He is fond of the describing the task of the satirist as ‘afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted’.
Rowson then expands on this subject, responding to a question from the interviewer about the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s publication of images mocking Muhammad, by adding the following:
You have to question the motives behind this commission, and to bear in mind the context of years of anti-immigrant propaganda in Denmark. There was no real point behind publishing this stuff other than to feed this victimisation of a minority.
After questioning the judgement of the Danish cartoonists over their decision to draw a cartoon about Muhammad which offended Muslims, Rowson then interestingly pivots to another group – the Jewish community.
‘The Israel lobby is particularly masterful in using this to silence criticism of their brutally oppressive colonialism.
I drew one cartoon for the Guardian which had the boot of an Israeli soldier stamping on a dove of peace after it had left Noah’s ark. Then I had a stream of abuse from a Zionist group which accused me of anti-semitism.
Here’s the 2010 Guardian cartoon he’s referring to, published a few days after the flotilla story had broken, which, as you can see, uses biblical imagery in depicting murderous Israeli troops killing the dove of peace, while another soldier is seen aiming his weapon at two unicorns:
‘[One man] said the animals in the picture were specifically referenced in the biblical text – it’s a calculated insult to the Jews. I’d already anticipated this line of attack so had deliberately thrown in a few more for good measure.
(Part of the conversation below the line of his Guardian cartoon he’s referring to was actually recounted in a CiF Watch post, here.)
So I said, perhaps you would be so kind as to point me to the biblical references to the beavers, the orang-utan, the walrus and the okapi – a species first identified at the turn of the last century. At which point he accused me of being in denial about my anti-semitism!
Finally, he complains:
‘You can’t win – [antisemitism is] the ultimate trump card. No matter how many innocent people the Israeli state kills, any criticism is automatically proof of anti-semitism. No wonder idiots like Ahmadinejad want to deny the holocaust. They are jealous. They’d love to silence their critics like that.’
In addition to the strawman he evokes, and his deftness at employing what’s known as the Livingstone Formulation, Rowson truly seems to wake up in the morning concerned that Israel is not subjected to enough criticism. He not only draws upon often crude antisemitic stereotypes, but attempts to frame his confrontation with this miniscule and historically oppressed ethnic minority as an act of bravery.
Rowson believes that he is not just a ‘truth teller’, but part of a cadre of fearless writers and artists who are unafraid to speak truth to Jewish power.