Why aren’t the usual suspects defending the ST for its ‘anti-semitic’ cartoon?


8:40 am - January 30th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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A few weeks ago, when Libdem MP Lynne Featherstone called for Julie Burchill to be sacked from the Observer after her transphobic article, Nick Cohen and a few others were apoplectic.

How dare she call for Burchill to be sacked and try to influence a newspaper? they thundered.

In an earlier piece for the Observer, Nick Cohen wrote an article titled ‘Nothing, however vile, justifies censorship‘, saying:

Innocence of Muslims is one of the hardest cases for liberals I’ve come across. But even this tawdry piece of work raises problems for the proponents of censorship. The first is a problem with language. Mount a critique of Islamist religious fanaticism, and it is only a matter of time before you find that defenders of religious reaction have hijacked liberal language. You are an “orientalist”, they say, an “Islamophobe”, “neo-colonialist” or “neocon”.

I agree. I hate censorship too. But what annoys me more are double standards.

This week 20 Tory MPs wrote to the Sunday Times calling for an apology for its cartoon on Benjamin Netanyahu.

Calling for an apology is not the same as calling for someone to be sacked, but it is on the same spectrum – with lawmakers trying to influence the editorial judgement and content of the press. The impact of this letter and Lynne Featherstone’s call would be the same: self-censorship and a chilling effect on robust debate.

Yet, you don’t see the usual suspects complain about how free speech is being stifled here. Why not?

PS, I don’t believe the cartoon itself, while published at the wrong time, was anti-semitic. Martin Rowson has written an excellent defence, but this article in the Haaretz titled ‘Four reasons why U.K. cartoon of Netanyahu isn’t anti-Semitic in any way‘ – is a must-read (1. It is not directed at Jews; 2. It does not use Holocaust imagery; 3. There was no discrimination; 4. This is not what a blood libel looks like).

Update: Index on Censorship finally write something on the issue, condemning attempts to shut down the debate too.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Towson is, as usual, excellent. Cohen etc are shown up by their own silence.

2. PrimlyStable

“Censorship” is probably the most over-used word in the leftie lexicon. A newspaper deciding not to publish something, or apologsing for doing so after the event, because publication would offend or upset many of its readers is not censorship.

3. John Jameson

What incenses me is that the Foreign Office only ‘expressed concern’ when Israeli soliders killed unarmed civilians the other day — hardly a first — and yet 20 Tory MPs demand an apology over a cartoon. A cartoon that was clearly a criticism of a leading political figure and his policies, something Scarfe has been doing for over 40 years.

With this – as with the comments of David Ward MP – I’m reminded that my own MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman, regularly and publicly criticises Israel in the harshest terms.

One of his (I think) most powerful statements was issued to Commons in 2009:

“My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed.

My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli Government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.”

Sir Gerald has on occasion been referred to as a ‘self-hating Jew’, but calls for censorship or resignation don’t seem to surface when he speaks about Israel.

Which rather seems to underline his point.

The holocaust was a monstrous, unparalleled atrocity.

But we can’t let ‘Gentile guilt’ stop us speaking out against the actions of Israel.
We can’t let accusations of anti-Semitism censor those who speak out against Israel.

Israel is not Judaism, in the same way that Iran is not Islam.

(and of course, people must be free to say objectionable things in any case – just so long as I am also free to challenge them (or ignore them))

Because it is ok be antisemitic if you are a brownshirt fascist,but not if you are a liberal.

The reason? Liberals aree criticising Israel, (which is now illegal in banana republic of uk) While brownshirts are just being their usual 19th century jolly colonial arseholes.

2 Oh this was censorship all right. Because the paper only apologised after intervention from it’s proprietor.

It’s editor and cartoonist have been left in no doubt their pro zionist owner will not tolerate a repeat performance. Thats the fake freedom Murdoch is always telling us is so moral. Murdoch censorship in all it’s glory.

7. LondonStatto

“Calling for an apology is not the same as calling for someone to be sacked, but it is on the same spectrum ”

Nonsense.

Did you hear Stephen Pollard on Radio 4?

Why?

Because for all the pretty rhetoric and the mounting of high-horses, there’s nothing more at the root of it than an “Us vs Them” mindset, one common to too many on both sides.

Which is to say, there are no principles involved, only self-serving bullshit.

At a guess I’d say there is no single reason for the discrepancy in reactions. First, the main reaction (delivered with the hyperbole of most commentators on all sides) was insensitivity and timing; it was just the wrong day to publish the cartoon. If a similar criticism of a Muslim regime had been posted on a day designated to remember, say, the Bosnian genocide, then quite reasonably there may well have been a similar reaction. But we’ll never know, so it’s slightly disingenuous to speculate as to motives.
Second, maybe we wouldn’t have such a cartoon in the first place because there is clear self-censorship in the media of materials offensive to the more radical Muslim groups. So again, we can’t compare like for like and speculate as to motives.
Third, all factions of the left and right have their own tolerances as to what they get outraged about. All sides are inconsistent, all sides can be hypocritical. For example, the odious Nick Griffin tweets the address of the now infamous hotel couple. Rightly there was outrage and several thousand words written about it practically daily, even calling for police involvement. So much for protecting free speech on twitter, but more directly compare that incident to the media coverage of Spike Lee tweeting out the wrong address of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case. Compare the twitter storms.
The reaction to the cartoon was over-emotive, hyperbolic, but given the sensitivity of the day, probably understandable. The reaction to the reaction to the cartoon hinting at deeper media bias, Zionist conspiracies, anti-Muslim agendas, etc is just hyperbolic and disingenuous.

It’s just the usual “kiss up, kick down” crowd having their cake, eating it and returning to the bakery for more.

Trangendered people are a small minority who can be kicked with relative impunity, so it’s obviously a free speech issue to be able to attack them. But Israel is a supplier of advertising and lobbying who are quite capable of looking after themselves, so it’s obviously terribly offensive to consider criticizing them. (Though Scarfe’s timing has been better)

I agree that MPs writing to a newspaper with complaints is not much different to an MP calling for someone to be sacked. However, the Burchill case was an opinion piece. It is chilling when an MP wants someone sacked for having the wrong opinion. However, the new left really need to get out of this habit of medicalising every opinion they do not like by sticking “phobic” on the end of it. People do not just have the wrong opinions, they have a medical condition that leads them to have the wrong opinions. A condition which has usually just been invented by the user

A newspaper choosing not to publish something is not censorship. Newspapers edit all the time and that can’t be considered censorship. Calling for opinion pieces to be withdrawn after publication because you do not like the opinions is censorship.

Using cartoon imagery by the way of stereotyping to smear whole groups with negative characteristics really is different from writing an opinion article. The infamous Steve Bell cartoon in the Guardian was much worse. We know the type of things this imagery has led to in the past. The two decades long of anti-German cartoon imagery by the UK press eventually bounced the political class into the First World War against Germany. We all know where the anti-Jewish imagery in Germany led. Therefore, national newspapers should be sensitive to the negative connotations of the imagery that they use to depict whole groups. Moreover, it is not just the message that the cartoonist is trying to portray that is relevant. What signalling will the average reader take from the image should be a consideration.

That does not mean we should have censorship especially when we consider the charlatan Westminster class who will be doing the censoring. Political cartoons have a long history in the UK media and some of the 19th century ones are brilliant. We do not want to lose that or their irreverence, but when they are directed against groups bad outcomes usually follow.

12. organic cheeseboard

national newspapers should be sensitive to the negative connotations of the imagery that they use to depict whole groups

I totally agree. But the point here is clear – Cohen and all his mates, our loudest ‘free speech zealots’, actively encourage ‘causing offence’ – see Suzanne Moore’s tweets where she wears her ‘offensiveness’ as a badge of honour’ – but clearly there are some things which for some reason thees people think are actually not allowed, and should be censored.

Or to put it another way, they’re not really free speech zealots at all.

Timing is the secret of comedy…

http://telly.com/WGPHU

14. Chaise Guevara

“Calling for an apology is not the same as calling for someone to be sacked, but it is on the same spectrum – with lawmakers trying to influence the editorial judgement and content of the press.”

Agreed, but it’s on a different order of magnitude, and I suspect that’s the answer to the question in the title.

Just to add – the very useful Anshel Pfeffer article in Ha’aretz that you link to has also been reproduced by The Guardian in a Comment is free ‘Head to Head’. The opposing point of view, that Scarfe’s cartoon *is* antisemitic is put forward by Mark Gardner of the Community Security Trust.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/29/is-the-sunday-times-cartoon-antisemitic

16. Robin Levett

@Richard W #11:

Using cartoon imagery by the way of stereotyping to smear whole groups with negative characteristics really is different from writing an opinion article

So you didn’t think that Burchill was using “cartoon imagery” stereotypes of the transgendered to smear the whole group with negative characteristics? With the very greatest respect, you must be one of a very small number.

The way it goes it seems is that if a group of Israel supporters say something is anti-Semitic, it just is.
See the Harry’s Place website for an example of this.
http://hurryupharry.org/2013/01/27/sunday-times-publishes-controversial-cartoon-on-holocaust-memorial-day/
They will not allow any other kind of take on it.
But that argument put forward by Anshel Pfeffer (in the link from post 15) gets it exactly right IMO.

You really just have to tell some of those Harry’s Place type people to get stuffed when they behave like this.

(Not Sarah AB btw, but the others who quickly get rude and insulting if you disagree with them on such things).

A newspaper deciding not to publish something, or apologsing for doing so after the event, because publication would offend or upset many of its readers is not censorship.

I didn’t say it was censorship in itself – I said it undoubtedly has a chilling effect on free speech and has implications for the future.

@17 – damon – thank you for letting me off this particular hook, but in fact a range of opinions was expressed in that thread and in the thread under Alan A’s post on the same topic. I completely understand why people found it antisemitic and were upset by it, and have oscillated somewhat on quite what I think about it, but I suppose I’ve come back to the view implicit in my OP – that it doesn’t quite cross that line, given a range of factors, including the general characteristics of Scarfe’s work, though was very unfortunately timed. Alan A of course said more decidedly that he did *not* think it was antisemitic.

16. Robin Levett

The difference is an opinion piece is an evaluation, not the truth, others can read and decide whether they agree or not from the evidence forwarded. A cartoon is presented as a caricatured version of the truth where the viewer has no ability to judge the evidence i.e. it is a caricatured assertion of fact. Neither should be censored, but cartoons and words are different.

21. TorquilMacneil

This is very silly. Cohen gets angry at an attempt to get a journalist sacked, but is silent over a mere criticism of a journalist and that makes him a giant hypocrite? By that measure, he would have to be incensed at every angry letter to every editor everywhere to escape whipping. The two things aren’t at all alike and so they demand different responses, obviously. Do you think he would stand up if there were an attempt to have Scarfe removed? You know he would.

And by the way, is it just the Jewish (sounding) journalists who are hypocrites for defending Burchill but not Scarfe? Just asking.

[deleted]

It’s a pity Scarfe chose to work for Murdoch for so long.

24. Shatterface

I suspect that the reason ‘the usual suspects’ aren’t defending this cartoon is that ‘the suspects’ who ‘usually’ defend anti-semitic cartoons read The Guardian, The Independent and The New Statesman so probably missed this one.

I’m baffled though by your insinuation that Nick Cohen is in the habit of defending antisemitic carttoons.

Your brain appears to be farting in several directions at once.

Nick Cohen ?@NickCohen4

@portraitinflesh Come on it wasn’t racist just a bit crap

Oddly enough, Nick is linking to the Index on Censorship article on Twitter. Oddly enough, that’s about the limit of Nick’s defence of Burchill. And when the Burchill piece was being called “hate speech” he was asked directly whether he believes anti-semitic articles should be allowed to be published and his response was “yes, the answer to hate speech is more speech, better speech”.

So, tell me, Sunny, why are you singling out Nick? Why not, say, Toby Young, who reprinted the Burchill article as “Freedom of Speech”?

NB: I don’t think the Scarfe cartoon should have been published – for the same reason that the Burchill article shouldn’t have been published. Because neither *were any good*, and both showed a distinct lack of whatever talent the creative once had – Burchill’s transphobia article wasn’t “shocking”, it was just dull, and boring, and hectoring, and vile. Scarfe’s cartoon wasn’t anti-semitic, it was just crap, and badly thought out, and a repitive shadow of his former work.

Oh for goodness sake! Anyone familiar with the history of anti-Semitic imagery and propaganda calls this out of what it is. Those that don’t need to go back to school.

Look, it’s a simple distinction between a right and an obligation; the former doesn’t necessitate the latter with regards to publication. Take three recent examples:

1) The Guardian has the right to publish Burchill’s article but since it was a piece of shit, they shouldn’t have.

2) The Sunday Times has the right to behave like Der
Sturmer, I suppose, but anyone with any knowledge of European history would hope they might have more sense.

3) Most recently, we have an anti-Scottish racist cartoon by Steve Bell. I would defend the right of the Guardian to publish it – but obviously as a Scot, I rather wish they hadn’t.

But I’m not that surprised because quite frankly the British ‘quality’ press has a bunch of thugs working in it these days and it would be refreshing if you had something to say about that rather than, “Ooh, Nick Cohen defended this but doesn’t defend that…” You both work for the same increasingly shitty paper, after all – and you haven’t even touched upon the cesspit that is the Daily Telegraph, which is – as they like to remind us – Britain’s best-selling ‘quality newspaper’.

So, tell me, Sunny, why are you singling out Nick? Why not, say, Toby Young, who reprinted the Burchill article as “Freedom of Speech”?

Wait, I’m supposed to take Toby Young seriously? Haha!

The Sunday Times has the right to behave like Der
Sturmer, I suppose

Hyperbole much? Shall we go into what was actually in the Der Sturmer? The Haaretz piece already dismisses this silly argument.

And fair enough – we can argue till the cows come home about whether it was anti-semitic or not… That’s not my point. My point is about free speech and the people who criticise Muslims when they want some sensitivity, but won’t in this case.

28. organic cheeseboard

Cohen on Press TV: “You do not need to go to America or Iran to see what foul broadcasting follows when those principles are abandoned. Thanks to Ofcom, you can find it on your Sky box right here in Blighty.” still can’t quite work out how he reconciles that with ‘more speech and better speech’. or indeed how his piece on Feathrestone – which demonstrated a repeated willingness to intentionally mislead his readers – counts as ‘better speech’.

My,my there has been a lot of censorship on here. Sorry Sunny you have capitulated so totally to the pro Jewish lobby trolls. (But it makes me more sure of my argument when even liberal sites are terrified of the state of Israel) Not quite sure the point of your site if you are going to let tory trolls decide what is allowed and what is not.

You will have no say on what their racist, right wing propaganda sheets say. Conservatives always demand fairness and balance from left wing sites while demanding pure tory ideologically hatred on their own sites.

It’s your site, and you can do what you want, but giving in to tory pearl clutching is a mistake.

@19 Sarah AB. Yes Alan A’s thread was more open to different opinions on the cartoon.
It’s a great pity about this belligerence that occurs around any discussion of I/P though. And HP can be pretty bad at that. My point was that you didn’t have to like or agree with the view of the wall in the cartoon and how it depicted Netanyahu – but that didn’t mean it was guilty of anti-Semitism.
And insisting it does (with abusive insults) is not really helping anything and that’s what quite a few commentators on HP do, all the time.
It’s actually a major trend amongst a section of Israel supporters.
I find that as distatseful as I do many of the hard line pro-Palestinian supporters.

The wall/fence has prevented more suicide bombers, but it has also encircled Palestinian towns like Qalqilya in the West Bank, which is totally unnecessary.
http://tgilheany.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/qalqilya_map.gif

Instead of complaining about ”blood libels”, I think it would be better to focus on why Israel has felt the need to build settlements like that, which makes Palestinians and Israel coming to some eventual agrement even harder.

“So, tell me, Sunny, why are you singling out Nick? Why not, say, Toby Young, who reprinted the Burchill article as “Freedom of Speech”?

Wait, I’m supposed to take Toby Young seriously? Haha!”

Nice way to avoid the point, Sunny. The “Apoplectic” condemnations from Nick consisted of, errr, these two paragraphs:-

“I cannot tell you how much I dislike this stupid, two-faced and dangerous politician. People say there are no good causes left worth fighting for. Not true in my humble opinion. Removing Lynne Featherstone from office is as noble a cause as you could hope to find.

I must declare an interest. Featherstone intervened during the recent hullabaloo about the “transphobic” polemic by Julie Burchill my newspaper the Observer ran a few weeks ago. Featherstone demanded that we should fire Burchill and fire the editor as well. I have worked through the worst days of Bernard Ingham and Alastair Campbell’s manipulation of the media, but I have never before heard a minister in a democracy call for writers and editors to be fired for publishing an opinion, however offensive and controversial it may be. That the minister in question calls herself a “liberal” means that Featherstone is not just a menace but a hypocrite too.”

So, yes, starts quite angrily, then lays out the meat of the issue – which is, that she called for Burchill AND Mulholland to resign. It’s not actually the main point of the article, though, is it? And presenting it as such is disingenous to say the least. The main point of the article was a reflection about how Labour is so poorly organised at that local level that they can’t remove Featherstone at the next election (Whether I agree with that assessment or not is moot, you can’t deny that that’s the main point of the article). And he published the article when?

9 whole days later.

Now, compare this to the letter from the MPs to the Sunday Times:-

“The Sunday Times has shown uncharacteristically poor judgement in printing this cartoon. Refusal to acknowledge the upset this has caused in the Jewish community and beyond is further evidence of this conclusion. We hope that you will see fit to print an apology in the next edition.”

Oh, my, yes, that’s precisely the same as calling for a (freelance) journalist and an editor to be sacked, isn’t it? That’s why Nick Cohen should be up in arms. Like he, apoplectically, was. Because some MPs have written asking for an apology. And because he isn’t up in arms in print WITHIN A DAY, like he was up in arms, in print, within 9 days when faced with something far more serious, therefore, he’s a hypocrite?

Seriously, Sunny, what are you saying here? There’s false equivalence, and then there’s not even talking the same language.

#15 – Ben White

Mark Gardner does not, as you claim, say that the cartoon is anti-semitic. What he says is that it’s #abitmorecomplicatedthanthat – which maybe puts the argument beyond you.

#32 Julian

Indeed. It was strange then, to find his article republished by The Guardian under the headline: “Is the Sunday Times cartoon antisemitic?” – “YES: Mark Gardner”.

In fact, it stayed like that for 48 hours, during which time Mark and CST presumably saw the page, and indeed, had a pleasant exchange with Cif’s Matt Seaton on Twitter about it (http://bit.ly/XoTAay). Only this evening, after a Harry’s Place post this afternoon (http://bit.ly/U1g58W) drew attention to the discrepancy, has The Guardian page now been edited, and a postscript added at the request of Mark Gardner.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/29/is-the-sunday-times-cartoon-antisemitic

Nick Cohen a hypocrite. Again what is the news. Also Toquiel old boy Cohen has asked for many journos to get the chop, Hari for a start.
Also to remain silent about a topic is cowardly. For instance Mel Phillips attack on homosexuality was ignored by Cohen and his right wing cabal. I am sure if Sunny had made those comments it would be mentioned in Tory Nicks next address to the nation

Nick Cohen a hypocrite. Again what is the news? Also Toquiel old boy Cohen has asked for many journos to get the chop, Hari for a start.
Also to remain silent about a topic is cowardly. For instance Mel Phillips attack on homosexuality was ignored by Cohen and his right wing cabal. I am sure if Sunny had made those comments it would be mentioned in Tory Nicks next address to the nation
Hegemony defence of his mate in the trade is understandable, although no real name just a pretentious moniker but hopefully over the next few years press journalism will be dead in the water. With its Thatcherite free market bias and its hate for Jonny Foreigner. Personally I have no problems with either Scarfe or Burchill. More the merrier. Cohen is right about OFCOM and lets have the UK versions of Reilly et al. Cohen himself has the air of a rightist shock jock, only if he could get rid of the lisp.

Also a number of points about Cohen’s article.
1. The personal venom aimed at Featherstone. Quite disturbing.
2. I bet he would not be supporting the local labour party in Gove’s constituency. Most of ire toward Cameron is because he wants Gove to be PM. Then see more pro Tory articles.
3. What the hell are Labour party members having a pint with a Tory viper like Cohen for an article for the Spectator. They do need to go to spec savers. No wonder that party will spend the next 20 years in obscurity.

“The difference is an opinion piece is an evaluation, not the truth, others can read and decide whether they agree or not from the evidence forwarded. A cartoon is presented as a caricatured version of the truth where the viewer has no ability to judge the evidence i.e. it is a caricatured assertion of fact. Neither should be censored, but cartoons and words are different.”
What nonsense. You are looking at the topic in left or right terms. I am sure you have supported stereotype cartoon versions that support your views. Who honestly believes a cartoon, even a political one, symbolises truth. Batman, the watchman or Mickey mouse. Perhaps the biggest difference is the lobby for transgenders is very small compared to other lobbies in this country.
Also your point about 19th C cartoons as a golden age . Have you seen how they depicted Blacks, fellow Europeans and Jews. Were they portraying the truth ?

38. flyingrodent

Anyone familiar with the history of anti-Semitic imagery and propaganda calls this out of what it is.

I almost always agree with you Shugs, but you’ve got this one wrong, I reckon.

This has fuck-all to do with anti-Semitic imagery and everything to do with Britain’s mental Israel fanboys making fannies of themselves. And that’s it.

I don’t understand why supporting Israel is still socially acceptable. They’ve kept up a brutal colonialist rule over the Palestinians for 46 years – how can anybody justify that?


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