Vivian Bercovici: The NYT is sorry for its anti-Semitic cartoon, but the problem isn’t ‘process.’ It’s hatred of Jews
In the drawing, a Jewish stooge, Trump, is led on a leash by a triumphant dachshund. That’s no accident
The now infamous “cartoon.” Published in the international edition of The New York Times last Thursday, it depicted a fat, blindfolded president Donald Trump, replete with yarmulke and a prominent Star of David necklace. A Jewish stooge, he is led on a leash by a triumphant dachshund, with a grotesquely oversized head bearing the visage of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, appearing eminently pleased with himself.
The dachshund is no accident; a low-to-the-ground hound dog, of stubborn temperament, bred to ferret out small, burrowing animals. No mighty, statuesque, dignified breed to metaphorically represent this Jew.
The meaning? The Jewish prime minister of the Jewish state, Netanyahu had deployed his storied Jewish wiles to subjugate the leader of the free world, President Trump. In fact, he had managed this so effectively that the president lacked any will or freedom of movement, rendered dependent, utterly, on his Jewish dog master.
No mighty, statuesque, dignified breed to metaphorically represent this Jew
It has been a “thing” in many cultures, for millennia — culminating in the Nazi era — to portray Jews as animals; often racked with contagious diseases they spread with malevolent glee. In religious, national, political and other ideologies, Jews have been demonized and endowed with an astonishing range of supernatural traits, inclinations and powers, unmatched by any other identifiable religion, ethnicity, anything.
As intended, such stuff incites hatred and, every few hundred years or so, a full-on massacre — the most recent being the Nazi-inspired Holocaust — when six million Jewish people, including one and a half million children, were murdered.
A consistent feature of organized anti-Semitism, ancient and modern, is the portrayal of Jews as a unique strain of homo sapiens. In fact, the Nazis were determined to establish scientific criteria demonstrating that Jews were a distinct race, with a genetic composition substantiating their “differentness.”
There is no scientific basis for such ideas, just rank hatred. Jews have been vilified for being rapacious capitalists, doctrinaire communists, sexually depraved, boundlessly immoral, usurious, too isolated, too cosmopolitan, too industrious, too lazy, exploitive, murderous, treasonous and hell-bent on subverting order and decency to control the world.
Not surprisingly, the traits historically ascribed to Jewish people are now attributed freely to the state of Israel, with a majority Jewish population. There is a view that such commentary constitutes legitimate political criticism or discussion. And, in a parallel universe, that may be so. But not in this one.
As the inimitable NYT columnist (and friend of this writer) Bret Stephens opined in his Monday column on this incident, anti-Semitism is accepted as legitimate political comment due to “the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism … which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry. So long as anti-Semitic arguments or images are framed, however speciously, as commentary about Israel, there will be a tendency to view them as a form of political opinion, not ethnic prejudice.”
The images in said cartoon echo the crudest anti-Semitic propaganda. There is no irony intended, or taken, in portraying Netanyahu as a low-to-the-ground hound, nor in said canine subversively running the free world. This is a recycled trope, conflating historically entrenched Jew hatred with the Jewish state.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the artist purportedly behind the cartoon, Antonio Moreira Antunes, who signs his work as Antonio, has a history of anti-Israel cartoons.
There is no irony intended, or taken, in portraying Netanyahu as a low-to-the-ground hound
Even The New York Times, among the more strident and persistent purveyors of anti-Israel comment, admits to the publication of this “cartoon” as being a significant error. However, interestingly, in a statement issued three days following the publication, NYT opinion editors attributed this incident to a “faulty process” that it pledged to review and revise, forthwith.
With the greatest respect, this controversy is neither about nor rooted in process. Process is technical. Antiseptic. Formulaic. This is about judgment and what is considered to be acceptable commentary in a free, democratic and civil society.
The global obsession with demonizing the Jewish state and, by association, Jewish people, is endemic. It is no coincidence that the vulgar tropes that appeared in Der Sturmer, the premier Nazi propaganda vehicle, were replicated in the cartoon; a recycled trope of the Jew continuing his venal pursuit of world domination.
The desensitization of a society is a “process,” the result of millions of little decisions made by real people, not a process manual. Over time, lines blur, boundaries shift, social tolerance for the unthinkable becomes mainstream.
Hannah Arendt, the late historian and expert in the Nazi period, called it the “banality of evil.” This quality, she surmised, suffused Nazi Germany; enabling a deathly boring, rule-abiding, bureaucratic drone like Adolf Eichmann — the architect and operational overseer of the mass murder of Europe’s Jews (his preferred euphemism was “Final Solution”) — to think himself just another paper pusher.
He was not. And the NYT is disingenuous in attributing this fiasco, as it has done, to the poor judgment of one harried, mid-level, under-supervised editor working alone and on deadline.
The NYT is disingenuous in attributing this fiasco, as it has done, to the poor judgment of one harried editor
Here’s an alternate theory: said editor, likely well-educated and read, punctilious about detail, professional and ambitious, was hired by the NYT and entrusted with the important task of editing the international edition. Based on the barrage of anti-Semitic commentary carried even in the “paper of record,” often presented as “news,” she or he likely viewed this clever caricature as fitting reality and responsible commentary.
Process is not the culprit. It is, rather, the mutation and expression, by real people, of hard-baked Jew-hating, transferred, holus-bolus, to Israel.
The culprit is anti-Semitism.
— Vivian Bercovici is Canada’s former ambassador to Israel. She lives in Tel Aviv.