A crucial element of pro-Israel political lobbying is the reprehensible smearing of justified criticism of the Israeli state as 'antisemitic'. Thus, a recent cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in the Sunday Times provided a convenient target for outrage.
Scarfe had depicted Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, building a wall that encased the bodies of Palestinians depicted in various states of agony. The mortar was blood-red and the caption said: 'Israeli elections: Will cementing peace continue?'
Netanyahu's party had just won the most seats in the recent closely-contested parliamentary elections in Israel. The wall was clearly a reference to the 'separation barrier' which Israel claims is there to protect its citizens from Palestinian attacks, but which is in fact being used in a cynical land grab to expand the borders of Israel.
The cartoon was clearly a strong, even shocking, image. But Scarfe, perhaps best known for his illustrations accompanying Pink Floyd's classic album The Wall, has a long history of acerbic and brutal caricatures, often depicting blood. And he was surely making a valid political point about Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians and the state's endless colonial expansion, all under the guise of a mythical 'peace process'.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is ardently pro-Israel, linked to Zionist propaganda interests and a supporter of Israeli attacks on Gaza, submitted a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission alleging that the cartoon 'is shockingly reminiscent of the blood-libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently antisemitic Arab press.' This is the myth dating back to the Middle Ages that Jews murdered children and used the blood in religious ceremonies.
The Board's 'anger was heightened' by the cartoon being published on Holocaust Memorial Day: 'a day meant to commemorate the communities destroyed by the Nazis and their allies in the mid-20th century.'
Israel's UK ambassador Daniel Taub said:
The essential message beneath the barrage of opprobrium was: Thou shalt not criticise Israel.line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>Rupert Murdoch: A Friend Of Israel
Initially, the Sunday Times had stood firm. On the afternoon when the storm broke, the paper 'defended' the publication of the cartoon, and 'denied that [it] was antisemitic.' In a statement, the paper described Scarfe's imagery as 'typically robust', adding:
'It is aimed squarely at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people. It appeared yesterday because Mr Netanyahu won the Israeli election last week.'
Martin Ivens, the acting editor of the Sunday Times, said:
'The last thing I or anyone connected with the Sunday Times would countenance would be insulting the memory of the Shoah or invoking the blood libel.'
But the 'typically robust' argument quickly collapsed when the Sunday Times owner Rupert Murdoch stepped into the breach later that day, declaring via Twitter:
'Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.'
It had not taken long for Murdoch, a self-declared 'friend of Israel', to stamp hard on his 'acting editor' Ivens who, despite his pedigree as a pro-Israel columnist, had probably just demonstrated that he is not the safe pair of hands his master would have liked. So much for editorial independence and the 'free press'.
Anyone in a responsible position in Murdoch's news empire, as with the corporate media generally, is under considerable pressure to be favourable towards Israel. Murdoch's pro-Israeli position is reflected in his newspapers, and his editors are made well aware that they have to follow the 'strong views' which he spends considerable time and force imposing upon them.
In March 2009, the American Jewish Committee honoured Murdoch with their 'National Human Relations Award'. Only weeks after the brutal onslaught by Israeli forces on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead – with around 1400 Palestinians killed, including more than 400 women and children – Murdoch had this to say to his audience:
decried the global 'ongoing war against the Jews' and made clear his disdain for criticism of Israel:
said that he left the paper in 2001 because of pro-Israeli censorship of his reporting on the Middle East. Kiley said that Murdoch's close friendship with the then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, and the media mogul's heavy investment in Israel, were the reasons behind his decision to resign.
Kiley wrote that:
According to Isi Liebler, an Australian Jewish community leader who now lives in Israel, Murdoch's 'affection' for the state 'arose less out of his conservative sensibility than from his native Australian sympathy for the underdog fending off elites seized by conventional wisdoms'. Liebler added:
danger that Murdoch and his News International empire represent to democracy has been well documented. His power to curb criticism of the Israeli state, indeed to promote its agenda, is part of this bigger picture.
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>The Sunday Times Apologises For Its 'Terrible Mistake'
Jonathan Cook, an independent journalist based in Israel, column in the liberal Israeli Haaretz newspaper by Anshel Pfeffer, 'Haaretz's arbiter of all things anti-Semitic', who had actually found nothing antisemitic in the cartoon even, Cook noted, 'using his hyper-sensitive measurements.'
Pfeffer was meticulous in explaining why the howls of outrage, manufactured or otherwise, were wide of the mark. He gave four reasons why the cartoon was not at all antisemitic:
met with the Sunday Times Senior Editorial Team and News International Corporate Affairs.' Following the meeting, acting Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens issued a craven apology in which he said:
observed that the Israeli state has long 'consciously manipulated' the Holocaust to promote its own interests.
The 'terrible mistake' of the Sunday Times, along with the rest of the corporate media, has been to overlook, indeed facilitate, this shameful reality.