On The New York Times Cartoon Ban

Daniel Lazare looks into the Times’ overreaction to charges of anti-Semitism. 

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

The New York Times was so sorry last month for publishing an allegedly anti-Semitic cartoon showing Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog leading a blind Donald Trump, that it’s decided never to run any satirical cartoon on any topic again.

Based on five minutes of googling, the consensus seems to be that it’s a gross overreaction. But the reason the Times can’t stop apologizing is that the cartoon shows the Israeli prime minister with a blue Star of David around his neck and Trump with a yarmulke atop his orange hairdo.  Using such symbols in this way makes many people uncomfortable, which is understandable. 

But imagine, if you will, a cartoon showing Canadian President Justin Trudeau with a maple leaf on his shirt, Angela Merkel with a German eagle, France’s Emmanuel Macron dressed up like Napoleon, or Britain’s Theresa May draped in a British flag?  Why don’t any of those stir an outcry?

Netanyahu and Trump in Israel, 2017. (StateofIsrael via Flickr)

The reason, one might counter, is that those images are political whereas the Star of David is religious. True, but that’s precisely the point. Canada, France, and Germany are all secular societies in which church and state are firmly separate.  (Britain is a bit more complicated thanks to the queen’s role as head of the Church of England, but that’s another story.)  But the upshot is zero overlap as far as political and religious imagery are concerned.

Indeed, for all its sins, the same is true even for the United States.  Think of America and what comes to mind – Uncle Sam, a bald eagle, or a missile-laden F-16?  Perhaps. What does not come to mind is the cross even though 75 percent of Americans identify as Christian, a higher portion than Canadians (67.3 percent), Germans (64.2), Brits (59.5), or French (51.1).  Thanks to the First Amendment and a succession of Supreme Court cases dealing with things like school prayer, the U.S. government has been de-religionized and the very idea of America has been de-religionized as well.

But it’s not true for Israel. To the contrary, the same Star of David that appears in the cartoon also appears on the national flag while the yarmulke is also virtually a national symbol thanks to the growing ultra-orthodox influence.  Instead of separation of church and state, the consequence is an ever-closer union. Back in 2003, the late historian Tony Judt stirred a hornet’s nest by pointing out that Israel has less in common in this respect with other postwar nations than it does with the ethno-religious states of the 1920s and ’30s.  As he put it in The New York Review of Books:

“At the dawn of the twentieth century, in the twilight of the continental empires, Europe’s subject peoples dreamed of forming ‘nation-states,’ territorial homelands where Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Armenians, and others might live free, masters of their own fate.  When the Habsburg and Romanov empires collapsed after World War I, their leaders seized the opportunity.  A flurry of new states emerged; and the first thing they did was set about privileging their national, ‘ethnic’ majority – defined by language, or religion, or antiquity, or all three – at the expense of inconvenient local minorities, who were consigned to second-class status: permanently resident strangers in their own home.”

Ethno States 

Ironically, the most inconvenient local minority of all was the Jews, who were all but obliterated when the same ethno-states were taken over by fascism during World War II.  Yet, under the Zionists, Israel has reduced Palestinians to strangers in their own land as well.

Indeed, the situation is far worse than when Judt wrote.  Where Israel “risks falling” into the camp of “belligerently intolerant, faith-driven ethno-states,” as he put it, it’s now the leader of the pack, a role model for up-and-coming ethno-authoritarians like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, or, of course, Trump, as they make their way through an increasingly illiberal political landscape.

Flags flying for Trump’s arrival in Israel, 2017. (White House/Andrea Hanks)

One purpose of an ethno-state is to dazzle, confuse, and disarm. There are many reasons that the Star of David appears on the Israeli flag, but one of the most important is to de-legitimize the criticism of de-legitimization by making it all but impossible to attack the Jewish state without attacking Jews.  Outsiders wind up damned if they do and damned if they don’t, spineless apologists for an increasingly brutal regime if they keep their mouths shut, and anti-Jewish bigots if they dare to speak up. 

This is the boat that António Moreira Antunes, the unfortunate Portuguese artist behind the Times cartoon, finds himself in now that he’s been branded as anti-Semite across the globe.  Antunes says he merely wanted to use Israeli national symbols to make a point, which is that “Trump’s erratic, destructive and often blind politics encouraged the expansionist radicalism of Netanyahu.”  Yet he found himself running headlong into a buzz saw of condemnation almost before he laid down his pen.

Not only does such doubled-edged symbolism make honest criticism more difficult – it also makes real anti-Semitism easier.  Traditionally, anti-Semites have hidden their bigotry behind seemingly legitimate criticism of the Jewish state.  Going on about this or that crime against the Palestinians is supposedly a way of going on and on about the Jews without quite saying so.  But as the British anti-Zionist campaigner Tony Green stein points out, today’s anti-Semites are good deal cleverer. Instead of hiding behind criticism, they hide behind support.

Hungary’s Orban: Eager for Israel’s approval. (President of Russia)

This is why someone like Orbán is so eager for Israeli approval even as he goes about rehabilitating Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian dictator from 1920 to 1944 who was a key Nazi ally and who, according to the historian Raphael Patai, bragged of being “an anti-Semite throughout my life.”  All Orbán wants is for Netanyahu to sprinkle him with a little holy water, so to speak, so he can continue with his neo-Horthyite goal of creating an ethnically pure Greater Hungary in which Muslim refugees are prohibited.  When the Hungarian president visited Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial last summer, furious demonstrators blocked his motorcade shouting, “Never again!” and “Shame on you!” and denouncing Yad Vashem for hosting him.

Favorite Target

Bad as this is, the real story is even worse.  Orbán’s favorite target, the key to his success in fact, turns out to be the Hungarian-American financier George Soros.  Soros is a major funder of liberal causes and organizations throughout the world, including the Free University in Budapest, a liberal bastion that has long been a thorn in Orbán’s side.  Soros also happens to be Jewish.  For the Hungarian president, therefore, he’s straight out of central casting, an international Jew who can be blamed for everything from the migrant crisis to the economic slowdown and know-it-all foreign critics.  A recent government-funded poster campaign showed Soros’s portrait along with the inscription, “Let’s not let George Soros have the last laugh” – a reference, Tony Greenstein’s suggests, to a famous speech that Hitler gave in January 1939:

“I have often been a prophet in my life and was generally laughed at. During my struggle for power, the Jews primarily received with laughter my prophecies that I would someday assume the leadership of the state and … then, among many other things, achieve a solution of the Jewish problem.  I suppose that meanwhile the then surrounding laughter of Jewry in Germany is now choking in their throats.”

Just as Hitler didn’t want Jews to have the last laugh, Orbán doesn’t want them to either.

Soros: Orban’s favorite target. (Harald Dettenborn, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

But Orbán didn’t dream up the anti-Soros campaign on his own.  To the contrary, a pair of rightwing American Jewish political consultants named Arthur Finkelstein and George Birnbaum thought it up for him.  After Finkelstein and Birnbaum helped Netanyahu become prime minister in 1996, he returned the favor by recommending their services to his old friend in Budapest. Amid the economic devastation caused by the 2008 financial blowout, they helped him win re-election, Hannes Grassegger reports in Buzzfeed, by persuading him to target bureaucrats and foreign capital.  When Orbán needed a fresh enemy to consolidate his control, they then came up with another target.  Following their advice to the letter, Orbán sailed into Soros at the height of the 2015 refugee crisis:

“His name is perhaps the strongest example of those who support anything that weakens nation states, they support everything that changes the traditional European lifestyle.  These activists who support immigrants inadvertently become part of this international human-smuggling network.”

This was the international Jew as enemy of the nation, tradition, and Christianity – an angle of attack that a couple of Netanyahu emissaries not only inspired but designed.  Instead of defending Jews, Israel was egging on their attackers.  Not for nothing does Israeli dissident Ronnie Barkan argue that “the greatest anti-Semitic force in the world today is the state of Israel.” 

Yet the only thing The New York Times can do in response is to shoot the messenger by forever banning political cartoons from its pages.  By censoring critics, editorial page editor James Bennet, the genius behind the new policy, hopes that maybe the problem will just go away.  But it won’t of course.  He’s guilty, rather, of a hear-no-evil strategy that will only make matters worse.  The Times’s definition of “all the news that’s fit to print” grows narrower and more distortedby the day.

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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32 comments for “On The New York Times Cartoon Ban

  1. Proud infidel
    July 10, 2019 at 01:34

    Europe is not as secular as the author portrays it.Germany, for example, funds the Lutheran church with taxpayers money. Spain does the same for the Catholic church, Jewish synagogues and, believe it bit not, Muslim mosques.

  2. Mike
    July 6, 2019 at 15:05

    Does Soros promote immigration of Muslims into Israel? Or just everywhere else?

  3. geeyp
    July 6, 2019 at 01:28

    And now, Mad ends its 67 year run. It is missed already.

  4. Delta G
    July 5, 2019 at 19:46

    Take home message and your weekend homework assignment. Stop worrying about what any Jew says. Ok, class repeat after me, “For the sake of my sanity and for the good of humanity and to keep myself clean, I will stop worrying about what ANY JEW SAYS.”

    Class assignment. List all of the atrocities committed by Israel or Isreali sponsored terror groups including the US Military in the last 72 years.

    • Josep
      July 6, 2019 at 20:55

      Do wars such as in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iran count as atrocities? Didn’t the Israeli lobby AIPAC drag the USA into these wars? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQfZL9tm2tM&feature=youtu.be)
      And even if that weren’t bad enough, there’s the fact that Israel has not paid back a cent of the foreign aid the USA has sent them. This may not count as an atrocity, but it’s still a form of freeloading that Israel can get away with.
      Does this answer your question?

  5. July 4, 2019 at 12:11

    Canadian President Justin Trudeau with a maple leaf on his shirt,

    I am a 78 year old Canadian. But Jeez who knew that our PRIME MINISTER is now a PRESIDENT? When did that happen?

    • Daniel Lazare
      July 5, 2019 at 09:37

      How embarrassing! Sorry for the blooper — and thanks for pointing it out.

  6. July 4, 2019 at 11:33

    All cartoons in all newspapers are pro-war and pro-Deepstate. If this little dispute causes other papers to drop cartoons, it will be a slight improvement. One less outlet for Deepstate. We should be quietly applauding this change.

  7. Robert Mayer
    July 4, 2019 at 00:59

    Tnx CN, Daniel… Rt. Wing Thugs like Donnie & Ben… IMO… share philosophy & method mit der fuhrer himself… just sayin.
    & BTW… plenty of concentration camps in our nation tnx2 DHS & ICE… tnx AOC4 tellin it like it is!

  8. historicus
    July 4, 2019 at 00:26

    In recalling the star of David, remember the Scriptures identify David as a bandit chieftain. In 1 Samuel we are told he ran a protection racket, and an incident is cited in which he murdered a wealthy man named Nabal who refused to pay up. David then went through the charade of marrying the man’s disloyal widow Abigail to obtain quasi-legal title to his victim’s flocks and lands.

    Later David and his bandit horde conquered the hilltop citadel of Jerusalem. The city was founded some 1,800 years earlier as the holy city of Yeru-Shalim, consecrated to the Canaanite god of dusk, Shalim. These violent men began the long reign of terror in the “holy” land by massacring the town’s peaceful inhabitants, the Jebusites, whose very name became a metaphor in the Bible for an obliterated people.

    2 Samuel also informs us that with 30,000 armed warriors, David descended on Kiryath-jearim, and forcibly demanded that the Ark of the Covenant kept there by the priests of Shiloh be turned over to him. He then carried the magical cult object to Jerusalem where he appropriated it as the emblem of his new kingdom. Later, court scribes dutifully composed fanciful narratives of the hearty approval of this petty power play by no less than the all-powerful creator of the universe itself. Incidentally, what we now know about ancient population density indicates the historical David could have rallied no more than 200 able-bodied warriors from his tiny vassal Judean villages.

  9. Koen
    July 3, 2019 at 16:21

    Strange article. Lazare correctly points out that criticism of Israel’s policies should not be conflated with antisemitism, and that the cartoonist was doing the latter but got attacked for doing the former, and that such attacks are disingenuous.

    But then Lazare goes on to practice such conflation himself when he calls Orban antisemitic for criticizing the actions of a controversial figure who’s done a lot of controversial things and who also happens to be Jewish.

  10. Blu
    July 3, 2019 at 13:09

    Anyone who doesn’t believe that Israel rules the US should watch this.

  11. Anarcissie
    July 3, 2019 at 12:47

    It’s kind of absurd to worry about the _Times_. Always right-wing and conservative, but in the past at least pretending to be a newspaper of record, it now seems to be a lost cause, one more propaganda sheet for the increasingly uncomfortable, incapable elites. Our fault, though, for entrusting our fates to them.

  12. Irene Diaz-Reyes
    July 3, 2019 at 12:23

    A cartoon of Netanyahu as a guide dog leading a blind Trump is NOT antisemitic. If anything, it is anti Netanyahu and the Israeli regime that believes it can do anything it wishes, because the blind Trump and his regime will support it.

  13. July 3, 2019 at 11:32

    Would the Times been any less outraged if you took away the Jewish symbols. No, it just provided them an opportunity to play on the religious symbols, a legitimate concern but not the main reason for the outrage. It was the truth behind the cartoon.

  14. Punkyboy
    July 3, 2019 at 11:00

    I think that cartoon was spot on. Americans are being asked in some cases to sign some kind of pledge that they won’t support BDS or risk losing a job or not being hired. A large number of people in Congress and other government positions hold dual citizenship with US and Israel. How can they pledge complete support for America and still hold Israeli citizenship? Don’t tell me that isn’t a conflict of interest. AIPAC is the most powerful lobby, wielding tremendous influence over Congress. Taking the side of Palestinians will win you a howling mob accusing you of “anti-Semitism.” And Israel is behind the push for war with Iran. The tail wags the dog, and it is not in American interests to allow this. I know there are many good Jewish people who are also against the right-wing Zionists. I have no quarrel with them. But this anti-Semitism backlash is getting out of hand. I am an Athiest, so perhaps have a more jaundiced view of religious-based fanaticism than most do.

    • July 4, 2019 at 17:25

      Watch “The Lobby”

  15. July 3, 2019 at 10:29

    The snowflake army of Donald Trump makes cartoons disappear, drowned at the bottom of the memory hole river. They can dish it out but they cannot take it. Play Through!


  16. Joe Tedesky
    July 2, 2019 at 23:45

    Above all I feel sorry the most for the Palestinians but then after that my heart goes out to all Jews who don’t fall in line to Israeli dominance.

  17. Abe
    July 2, 2019 at 23:34

    “The claim of ‘anti-Semitism’ is what fuels the Zionist movement today as well as being a foundational element in its strategy of fear. This core element is regularly being used in both domestic and foreign policy, while constantly being maintained by a huge propaganda machine. The propaganda is based on the outrageous Zionist claim that the State of Israel represents the whole of world Jewry, both politically and morally, even if they do not wish to be represented in this manner. This propaganda is designed for two main purposes: transforming world Jewry into the human shields of Zionist policy, a shield whose role is to conceal Israeli crimes from the rest of the world; and secondly, to undermine the confidence of Jews in themselves while driving them to emigrate to Israel.

    “Zionism had purported to solve ‘the Jewish question’ by establishing a ‘safe haven’ for Jews in historic Palestine. But the formula had been reversed: the ‘safe haven’ which had become the most dangerous ghetto for Jews today, needs new Jewish immigrants in order to maintain its demographic superiority as well as to serve as cannon fodder for the Israeli army. Jews around the world who do not wish to be exploited by Zionism and who do not require it, are turned into Israel’s hostages against their will and even into potential victims of its actions.

    “Allegedly, Israel and the Zionist movement try to fight anti-Semitism and cry out for a global effort against it. But in reality, such a struggle would contradict the real interests Zionism, mainly for practical reasons: a successful struggle against racism and anti-Semitism would allow Jews to continue as equal citizens in other countries and then what will happen with Zionism? From its inception, the Zionist movement had adopted the position of the anti-Semites, that Jews constitute one people which is alien among European nations. Therefore, they should be separated from the others – the Gentiles – and be concentrated in a single territory (where again they should be separated, from the native Gentiles). Lucien Wolf, a leading figure among British Jewry, wrote to Rothschild in 1916 concerning this idea: ‘I understand… that the Zionists do not merely propose to form and establish a Jewish nationality in Palestine, but that they claim all the Jews as forming at the present moment a separate and dispossessed nationality, for which it is necessary to find an organic political centre, because they are and must always be aliens in the lands in which they now dwell… I have spent most of my life in combating these very doctrines, when presented to me in the form of anti-Semitism, and I can only regard them as the more dangerous when they come to me in the guise of Zionism.’ […]

    “there should be no confusion between the struggle against anti-Semitism and support of its evil twin – Zionism.”

    The Mutual Dependency of Zionism and Anti-Semitism
    By Eli Aminov (translated by Ronnie Barkan)

  18. Fran Macadam
    July 2, 2019 at 23:26

    I think this is overreach.

  19. July 2, 2019 at 21:33

    The cartoon reflects the truth about Zionism, Trump and Israel, it is not the cartoonist fault that Zionists hide behind Jews.
    Soros may very well be an antidemocratic influence in nations.

    The UN was begging for I believe $10 million to feed the millions of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. There was no funds to feed the male Syrians and $0.25 a day to feed the women and children. No funds came from any nation. The millions of Syrians fled to Europe rather than starve.

    Germany alone accepted 10 million cursory documented refugees in a short amount of time.
    It is obvious a huge influx of refugees plus terrorist violence would create a rightwing backlash.

    This backlash has occurred in every European nation that accepted a substancial number of refugees, destabilizing each nation.

    Why would European nations rather accept millions of refugees rather than spend millions of dollars to feed them on the borders of their homeland (Syria) which they mostly wish to return to?

  20. Abe
    July 2, 2019 at 20:50
  21. Abe
    July 2, 2019 at 20:41

    Based on 4.5 seconds of googling “Trump with yarmulke”:


    Using such symbols in this way makes many people uncomfortable, which is understandable

  22. Tom Kath
    July 2, 2019 at 20:23

    Once again we are bamboozled with these widely differently understood terms – Jews, Israeli, Zionist, Semite.

    We might also point out that “The greatest anti American force in the world today is the state USA”.

  23. GringoBob
    July 2, 2019 at 18:50

    If criticism of Israeli policies is forbidden as anti-Semitic, that is political correctness at its worst.


    • rosemerry
      July 3, 2019 at 10:45

      But this is exactly what is done.No criticism of any Israeli government decision (ie political) is allowed-it is always called antisemitisn as is any suggestion that Palestinians are humans with rights. Look at how Jeremy Corbyn is treated for daring to be fair.

    • No sharia
      July 10, 2019 at 01:46

      It’s been like this for decades. Read the book “The Israel Lobby” .

  24. Anonymous
    July 2, 2019 at 17:32

    Typically a fan of consortium news (incl. its criticisms of some messed up stuff on Israel’s part), but this is over the line. Really, the star of David is on the flag is a covert narcissistic ploy and not a unifying symbol of an inherently Jewish state? The kippah is a valid national symbol and is in no way being misappropriated because hey Christians have crosses?

    This article is almost as absurd as the average ADL slam piece. Perhaps /pol/ is a better place for it?

    • Tiu
      July 2, 2019 at 23:49

      Agreed. The article went off into la-la land after making some good points about the Netanyahoo/Trump cartoon. I’m amazed anyone can see Soros as anything other than a New World Order manipulator who goes around undermining countries and governments with the aim of destroying them and sowing chaos and discord with his remarkable level of seemingly endless funding, no doubt much of which comes from the freaks who are lurking in the background and use Soros as their agent provocateur.

  25. Larry
    July 2, 2019 at 17:00

    Hopefully at some point the current onslaught of judeo-fascism will trigger the proper reaction. Meanwhile poor oppressed jews will keep raping the world and running their palestinian concentration camp.

Comments are closed.