Barry Rubin on The Cartoon

Barry Rubin has written a remarkable, detailed analysis of just what is wrong with The Cartoon. I urge you to think about it: it’s more than just antisemitism or anti-Zionism.

I haven’t reproduced the cartoon here — I’d prefer not to look at it any more — but there’s a link in Prof. Rubin’s article below.

Keep this in mind: many Jews and Zionists are really, really angry at Pat Oliphant and the NY Times. But Oliphant and the publisher of the Times will not have to go into hiding, there will not be violent demonstrations, and nobody will hold up a sign saying “Behead those who insult Judaism”.

The Cartoon: the problem is stupidity, not hatred

By Barry Rubin

It is silly to say that the Pat Oliphant Cartoon in the New York Times and many newspapers around the world is antisemitic.  But it’s also a bad mistake because the cartoon deserves serious analysis to show just how dangerous and wrong it is, in ways that not only hurt Israel but all Western democracies.

Click here to see the cartoon.

Let’s deconstruct the cartoon to show the basic ideas that underlie it and that make it lie.

  1. To begin with, it is not a very good cartoon and bears a striking resemblance to anti-Israel propaganda cartoons in its crudity and one-sidedness.  Aesthetic decline has accompanied political crudeness. It doesn’t just say: these people are wrong but these people are 100 percent evil and hateful. The next step is, of course, they deserve to die and their state deserves to be wiped off the map. Is that what Oliphant thinks? Who cares? That’s what he said.
  2. On the left is a huge figure.  On the right is a small figure. The implication that need not be spoken here is that the big figure—the powerful side—must be wrong. Oliphant like many or most Western intellectuals, academics, and policymakers, still don’t understand the concept of asymmetric warfare. In this, a weaker side wages war on a stronger side using techniques it thinks can make it win. What are these techniques? Terrorism, indifference to the sacrifice of its people, indifference to material losses, refusal to compromise, extending the war for ever.   This is precisely the technique of Hamas: let’s continue attacking Israel in order to provoke it to hit us, let’s target Israeli civilians, let’s seek a total victory based on genocide, let’s use our own civilians as human shields, and with such methods we will win. One way we will win is to demonize those who defend themselves, to put them in positions where they have a choice between surrender and looking bad. This cartoon is a victory for Hamas. But it is also a victory for all those who would fight the West and other democracies (India, for example) using these methods. Remember September 11?
  3. The big figure has no head, and hence is not a human being. Israelis are not human. Moreover the headless figure is irrational. We are to believe that Israel attacked Gaza for no reason. Forget about thousands of rockets, hundreds of mortar shells, and scores of cross-border attacks. The tiny figure on the right is no threat. So there is no reason to attack it. Attacking is immoral and irrational. The same could—and has—been said about al-Qaida, Hizballah, Pakistani terrorists striking at Mumbai, etc.
  4. Dehumanization: The figure on the left is a monster, a robot.  Monsters and robots deserve no sympathy; they have no right to self-defense. If tomorrow an Israeli child or civilian is killed in a terrorist attack, how can one have sympathy for these people since they are not people?
  5. Goosestep: The leg is raised In a Nazi goosestep; the shoe is a jackboot. Thus, Israel is a Nazi power. But why is it a Nazi power? Because it isn’t human and just attacks women and children for no reason at all. And what happens then? Since Israel is said to be Nazi, any sympathy for 2000 years of Jewish suffering—including Arab terrorist attacks—is thus erased.  Incidentally, this is all being done when there is still no proof (not even weak proof) for a single Israeli soldier having committed a single atrocity. Where, then, is the rationality here?
  6. Sword: Ironically, the sword is the weapon used by Islamists to behead people. Why a sword? Because it is a primitive weapon for a primitive people. The hand which is very hairy—again the ape, dehumanized image—holds the sword at a 45 degree angle reminiscent of a Nazi salute. See point 5 above.
  7. The Magen David is Israel’s symbol. Therefore, despite the fact that it is also a general Jewish symbol, it is not antisemitic to use it. Of course, the context matters, too. But that is not what is most important in this cartoon. Still, the author could have labeled the monster “Israel.”  Note, however, that “magen” means shield, and the name of Israel’s army is the Israel Defense Forces. In Gaza, they were acting in a defensive manner but that of course escapes much of the media coverage and things said about the war. What strikes me as most bizarre about the usage of this symbol is that it is being wheeled forward, as if Israel seeks to install itself in the Gaza Strip. But Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, openly stating that it wanted peace. The symbolism is to make the action purely offensive, an aggressive war to annex territory, which of course is untrue
  8. The shark is to me the most offensive part of the cartoon because it shows that the cartoonist has lost any sense of his tradition. Aren’t all the other elements enough to show his theme? The “over-kill” puts it into the category of Arab propaganda cartoons. It says: Israel is innately aggressive, that the whole state of Israel is permanently aggressive and exists for no other reason. If the cartoonist had shown Israel doing mean things to helpless Palestinians, the suggestion is that the Gaza War is a terrible thing. The way this cartoon is done it suggests that Israel’s existence is a terrible thing.
  9. Palestinians are portrayed as only women and children. There are no fighters. Was there no army in Gaza, no 20,000 Hamas men under arms? Did Israel attack a defenseless area?  Again if the cartoonist wanted to portray Israel carelessly attacking into a civilian area, the implication would be that it used excessive force or insufficient care. I would disagree but the extremism of the cartoons suggestion, and its falseness, exceeds the usual bounds of Western rationality.
  10. The evil Israel is heading right toward the Palestinians and they are running in fear. Here is an accurate way to describe the war: After Hamas unilaterally announced it was cancelling the ceasefire, it launched even more rockets and mortars at Israel than it did during the “normal” ceasefire.  Their range was increasing and the lives of one million Israelis became impossible. Hamas leaders openly bragged that Israel was afraid to fight back and they would keep escalating. Israel then attacked, the Hamas forces retreated into the middle of highly populated civilian areas. After some fighting, where civilians were used by Hamas as human shields, Israel had no intention of going into the most densely populated neighborhoods. It thus ended the war, and withdrew.  Hamas then came out of hiding and bragged that it had won a great victory. The fantasy Israel created by Oliphant and others would have continued the war, wiped out Hamas, and retaken the Gaza Strip. In military terms, Israel could have done this with minimal casualties for its own side. Far from proving anti-Israel claims, the history of the Gaza War proved the opposite.

This is, then, a loathsome cartoon. But to dismiss it by the single word “antisemitism” will foreclose thought as to why it is a loathsome cartoon. It will allow its defenders to avoid facing the real problems with this cartoon and the worldview it represents.

Finally, this cartoon represents the mentality that will plague every Western and democratic state in the coming years. Imagine the exact same cartoon but with the Magen David replaced by the Stars and Stripes—the evil America attacking the Taliban or al-Qaida, or Iraq, or Muslims in general.  Indeed, this is the kind of cartoon which has appeared aimed against America or the West in general. It is part of the merging of much Western fashionable intellectual and cultural thinking with that of extremist Third World, and especially radical Islamist, propaganda.

The cartoonist doesn’t hate Jews; he probably doesn’t even hate Israelis. What is involved here is a lack of understanding so enormous that it will incite hatred, cause violence and death, and block policies needed to help people—including Palestinians who, are supposedly the object of its sympathy but thus doomed to suffer under a repressive regime with a permanent war policy.

Antisemitism? Ask not for whom the bell tolls because Israel,  the canary in the mine—the one who first they came for—can tell you that you are all next.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit, or write to Barry Rubin at

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

4 Responses to “Barry Rubin on The Cartoon”

  1. ME says:

    With respect to item 3., it is common in printed media ads to crop figures at the head in order to diminish the human qualities of the person.

    For instance, when someone is depicted in an ad or otherwise, and their head is cut off at the top, it is intended to indicate that the person has no brain, is a senseless object, and should be considered less than human.

    Frequently, it occurs with female models in fashion ads. It also occurs with political figures to a certain extent.


    The article raises a good point about ” . . . a permanent war policy,” which no reasonable society is comfortable with unless they have been forced into a cultural identity of warring or gang violence or otherwise.

    I often feel that historically suppressed populations in the USA suffer from the same sort of habitual enslavement imposed by unrealistic standards of social ethos.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    Rubin makes a brilliant analysis which reveals far more meaning in what I thought was a quite crude and simplistic cartoon. I especially appreciated the description of the enormous ignorance and stupidity which were a necessary element in such a cartoon’s creation.

  3. yonason says:

    @Shalom Freedman

    Speaking of ignorance and stupidity, Michael Ramirez has been at it for years. His seemingly pro-Israel cartoons had me fooled, until I saw his negative stuff, like this…

    And what could be more laughable than this…
    The whole reason Jews left Egypt and went to Israel was to settle the Land given us by G-d. Even a non-Jew who can read the Bible knows that.

    But the one that really made me sick, and which I haven’t been able to find, has a dove fleeing the “imaginary” threat of jihad about to run into the wall of Israeli settlements. Yep, that’s all the Islamic world is upset about. It also shows the wall under construction, and Ramirez has some of the supports of the scaffolding twisted into what is clearly a swastika. I have it bookmarked somewhere, but am unable to locate it at the moment.

    So, even our “friends” aren’t to be trusted. We ONLY have our Father in Heaven.


  4. yonason says:


    #8. The shark

    It isn’t “overkill.” It’s essential to the message he’s trying to convey.

    Without it you don’t understand WHY the dehumanized robot is behaving like a beast. The MogenDovid stands for Israels IDEOLOGY, our “religion.” It’s what makes us who we are. So that’s Oliphant’s MAIN message, not some extra non-essential element. It’s not that Jews are by nature beasts, but that we are made that way by our Torah based world view. It’s Judaism that’s to blame.

    Probably the closest equivalent is this?
    …except that this IS an accurate assessment, where Oliphant’s is not.

    “Ahhh, if only Israel would abandon her foolish ancient superstitions, she could then, once again, become human.”

    But don’t you DARE say anything about Islam being responsible for Muslim savagery, …or they’ll take your head off!