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November 28, 2003

Baby Eaters

Back in January, The Independent published a cartoon which played heavily on the medieval anti-semitic Blood Libel for effect. I thought a side-by-side comparison with a typical cartoon from the Arab Press would make it perfectly clear why Dave Brown’s cartoon was so offensive.

No such luck. The cartoon has just won first prize in the British Political Cartoon Society’s annual competition. What this says about the state of British … umh … political cartooning, is left as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by distler at November 28, 2003 12:00 AM

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Re: Baby Eaters

Speaking from personal experience, rather few people in Britain know anything about the ‘blood libel’ (at least if they do, no-one talks about it). Living outside the UK, the only times I’ve seen it mentioned are when Americans draw attention to its appearances in the Arab media.

On the other hand, Goya’s “Saturn devouring his children” is a very well-known painting, which the figure of Sharon closely resembles. See here. The cartoon was certainly done with the Goya painting next to the drawing-board. You might put up a side-by-side comparison.

So: does the cartoon “play heavily on the … blood libel for its effect”? In fact it’s highly effective even for someone completely ignorant of the blood libel. You’d have to ask the artist what he knew about it, and consider whether they intended to “whip the population into an anti-Semitic fury”; or merely an anti-Sharon or anti-Likud fury. The quote: “My cartoon was intended as a caricature of a specific person, Sharon, in the guise of a figure from classical myth who, I hoped, couldn’t be farther from any Jewish stereotype.”

There’s no doubt that the cartoon is offensive, just as it would be offensive to depict George Bush or Hanan Ashrawi eating children. And, if both the cartoonist and the majority of his readers knew about the blood libel, it *would* be anti-Semitic. His statement implies that he didn’t.

And that’s the point. The cartoon doesn’t say “Jews eat children”, it says “Sharon eats children”. No different from “George Bush eats children”, unless you know the history of accusations of child-eating specifically against Jews.

What this says about the state of British political cartooning: Either they are a bunch of raving anti-Semites, or they are by and large blissfully ignorant of that history and its continuation in the Arab media. Your call.

Posted by: Thomas Dent on December 3, 2003 2:10 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Baby Eaters

Speaking from personal experience, rather few people in Britain know anything about the ‘blood libel’ (at least if they do, no-one talks about it).

An 860 year history (which started in Norwich, England, BTW) simply vanished from the collective Europeen consciousness. I find that a little shocking, but maybe that’s just me…

What this says about the state of British political cartooning: Either they are a bunch of raving anti-Semites, or they are by and large blissfully ignorant of that history and its continuation in the Arab media. Your call.

Perhaps Mr Brown could have plead ignorance when he penned his cartoon. But after the furor that arose upon its publication, the Political Cartoon Society could hardly claim to have never heard of the Blood Libel when they decided to hand him an award.

As to whether Mr. Brown really was unfamiliar with the Blood Libel, both in its historical Europeen form and its contemporary Arabic form, it’s hard to know what to say. Of course he would deny it. But, as much as his cartoon borrows visually from Goya, the message does not seem to have much to do with the classical myth, and rather more to do with the Blood Libel.

Saturn was devouring his own children, for fear that they would dethrone him. But the “plain interpretation” of Mr. Brown’s cartoon has Sharon devouring a Palestinian child (albeit for electoral, rather than religious purposes). A rather different narrative, no?

Posted by: Jacques Distler on December 3, 2003 4:35 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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