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Monday, June 06, 2011

Definitely tasteless, possibly anti-Semitic (Updated)

I more-often-than-not disagree with the Anti-Defamation League's reactions to most things , and I reject its tendency to find anti-Semitism around every corner.  But this one may be well-founded:

San Diego-based Male Genital Mutilation Bill group, whose political goal is obvious, has started an on-line comic series featuring Foreskin Man (secret identity: Miles Hastwick, the head of the Museum of Genital Integrity), who looks like this:

Alg_foreskin-man-comic-book-2


In the latest issue, Foreskin Man takes on "Monster Mohel" (and his henchmen), who look like this:

No2panel20-monster-mohel-yerik-and-jorah

In the story, a Jewish man secretly and against his wife's wishes brings in Monster Mohel to perform a bris on their newborn; Monster Mohel says things like "Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-day-old infant boy."

And the leadership of MGMBill is shocked, shocked to be hit with accusations of anti-Semitism. Both the ADL and Jewish Community Relations Counceil (JCRC) have responsed as would be expected. This also raises anew the religious v. secular underpinnings of the arguments for banning circumcision, which, Sarah Waldeck argues at CoOp, may actually defeat the ballot measures and set the so-called intactivist movement back. Linking the movement to this sort of imagery will not help.

Matthew Hess, the head of MGM Bill, had an interesting response to the anti-Semitism allegations, saying: "I might understand such an accusation if our proposed legislation applied to everyone except Jews. That would be like saying we care about all boys except the Jewish ones." In other words, we like all the people protected by the circumcism ban, so if we hated Jews, we would allow them to continue to be circumcised.

Clever, if largely clueless.

Update: Eugene Volokh weighs in. He argues hat the comic is not anti-Semitic, but anti-Rabbi/Mohel, and it cricitizes them because of what they do (advocate for and perform circumcisions), not because they are Jewish. Volokh addresses the broader question of how we can/should (and how we can't/shouldn't) harshly criticize (through words and pictures) of religious leaders over practices that (the speaker believes) cause real secular harms. In other words, if Hess's point is that mohels and rabbis are evil because of what they do rather than who they are, is it really anti-Semitism? And if so, how else is a secularly motivated critic of this practice make his point?

I take Volokh's point. And it is one reason that, as I said at the top, I generally resist labeling criticism of Jews or Israel as anti-Semitism, because I think we are too quick to throw that word around. And I ordinarily would not so label most arguments from pro-ban advocates criticizing Jews as the highest-profile performers of the practice. But as I said in the comments, it was the imagery combined with the suggestion that performing the bris gave the mohel some mystical powers that comes a bit too close to the line, at least for my taste. And, if we go back to the title, that may be the point: This was in really bad taste and may, in the end, hurt Hess' cause.

Second Update: Mike Dorf discusses the likely constitutional analysis of any circumcision ban, concluding that the ban probably survives rational scrutiny but fails strict scrutiny. He argues that Foreskin Man, and the Monster Mohel edition in particular (which Dorf sees as anti-Semitic), could undermine the ban in the courts. The cartoon suggests religious animus underlying the ban, which would subject the law to strict scrutiny under Lukumi, and likely cause it to fail that scrutiny, being evidence of anti-Jewish sentiment.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 6, 2011 at 09:39 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

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Comments

OK, ignoring all the comments about Judaism and Israel and Nazis (I think this thread jumped into Godwin's Law territory before it even got started) -- and even mostly ignoring the (obvious) anti-Semitism of the cartoon, here's my two cents:

1. Outlawing a harmful practice, even if it's a practice limited to one or several specific religious groups, isn't necessarily prejudiced. People can do a lot of stupid things in the name of religion, but protections of that stupidity (should) end when they cross the line into harm -- whether it's FGM, animal sacrifice, exorcism, or convincing your gay kids that they're going to hell.

2. Given the recent studies linking male circumcision to reduced HIV infection rates, it seems pretty clear (to me) that MGM is actually the opposite of harmful.

Posted by: LW | Jun 8, 2011 12:28:42 PM

Joe, thanks for the data: I was unaware the practice was so widespread.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 7, 2011 3:06:59 PM

At the risk of prolonging this thread by yet another post, the answer to Andrew's question at 12:43 is that 98% of Jewish men in the U.S. are circumcised. World Health Organization, Male circumcision: Global trends and determinants of prevalence, safety and acceptability (2007), http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2007/9789241596169_eng.pdf. Serving that population are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform mohalim. None of them, I expect, look like Fagin.

Posted by: Jon Weinberg | Jun 7, 2011 1:43:18 PM

Howard,

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but aren't traditional practices like circumcision more widespread and more tightly clung to by the more traditional branches of Judaism?

The comic seems to differentiate between the many Jews in the story who accept that circumcision is no longer acceptable, and the more "traditional" Jew who insists upon it.

And, can something be a "problematical historical stereotype" if it's also a reference to a real manner of dress, etc?

DB,

Even if Native Americans had the right to take peyote, there's a significant difference between consuming a substance voluntarily and forcing a procedure on another person. The parents' religious freedom rights are not implicated in the circumcision argument: one has no religious freedom right to do anything to anyone else. There's an argument to be made that the child's religious freedom rights, held in trust by the parents, allow them to circumcise him, but it's much more complicated and doesn't benefit by analogy to adult-right cases of religious freedom.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 7, 2011 12:43:05 PM

Maybe Native Americans should invoke the many racist depictions used throughout history as evidence of the unconstitutional nature of the peyote ban.

Perhaps rogue Mormon groups should look to the discriminatory intent behind the polygamy bans and the caricatures that appeared in the press at the time (and often remain).

Posted by: anon77 | Jun 7, 2011 12:30:49 PM

Except that Native Americans do not have a constitutional right to take peyote.

Posted by: anon466 | Jun 7, 2011 9:41:32 AM

Prof. Kerr hasn't addressed the legalities of the proposal, but I can't believe it would be constitutional as applied to religious groups (Jews and Moslems) for whom circumcision is a religious ritual. If the American Indians have the constitutional right to take peyote, it's hard to believe that the Government could outlaw a religious ritual that is thousands of years old.

I don't really understand what is driving the anti-circumcision movement. [deletion by Markel] None of it makes any sense, which is why the hate-the-Jews comic is so particularly offensive.

Posted by: db | Jun 7, 2011 9:28:37 AM

Andrew: "There's a more plausible argument that it's evoking racism against a subset of Jews: namely, more traditional people who observe traditions that seem odd to many people."

Except that is not this tradition. Ritual circumcision is practiced across the range of Judaism, including by less traditional people who do not observe other, seemingly odd traditions. So it would have been possible to portray the villain as Jewish without playing to problematic historical stereotypes.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jun 7, 2011 8:32:12 AM

I've been sitting on this thread for a while now, but I just noticed the update to the original post: I think I basically agree with the sentiment expressed therein.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 7, 2011 2:32:07 AM

Orin, please extend your quote of my above comment back to include a mere three additional words: "in many ways complete opposites". I didn't say they were "complete opposites" in an absolute sense, I said that in many ways, they're complete opposites. One had as a goal the extermination of the Jewish people. One had the advancement and protection of the same people as a goal. One had little respect for human rights, one is largely liberal. So on and so forth.

I also didn't just say that the post was about how the two were complete opposites. I said, in fact, that the post is about a specific similarity — one that I (at the time and now) found interesting. Yes, I suggested there might be more similarities. It's an honest and open thought. My guess is that there are many, though I don't know how significant or interesting they are. Governments and nations are complex things, and parallels often exist in the oddest places.

You're right that I didn't state that in the post. I also didn't present a full history of the Holocaust, nor a detailed discussion of every aspect of the governments of the Third Reich or Israel. Blog posts aren't stand alone pieces, as you should know: they're designed to start conversations. As it happens, that one didn't and so there was no elaboration or clarification — until someone dug it up and preferred to make a snap judgment rather than actually engage.

You've apparently decided to skim a few of the hundreds of posts that I've written, and then come to a judgment about me — a judgment that seems to be clouding your reading of even straightforward comments in this actual discussion. That's your choice, obviously, but it's not one I would make.

I suspect we're a lot closer together on this issue than it seems, which is why your method of attack rather than debate has been particularly confusing.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 7, 2011 2:20:09 AM

Andrew,

Your claim that you chose the two examples of Nazi germany and the State of Israel because they are "complete opposites" seems hard to square with the post itself. Not only does the post not suggest it, but the post summarizes its point as follows: "the founders of Israel and the leaders of Nazi Germany had (at least) one goal in common." The parenthetical "at least" suggests that you are thinking of other possible similarities, which is strange in a post that you now claim was about how the two are complete opposites.

As for making claims about anti-semitism, I wholly agree that such claims must be made only very reluctantly. As with all claims of racism, such claims are easy to make but poisonous once made, so they should be made only very cautiously. I believe you sometimes read the Volokh Conspiracy, where I have been blogging there almost daily for almost ten years, and you'll notice that I don't make those claims. To the contrary, when claims of racism have been made, I've generally been quite cautious about going there. But when I read what you have written, your comments leave me troubled. Perhaps this is all a misunderstanding. I certainly hope so.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 7, 2011 1:56:19 AM

I just read through the second comic (that site takes forever to download things). A few new thoughts:

I'm pretty sure that basically everyone in that story, except for Foreskin Man and the people at the end, were Jewish: the good and the bad.

Honestly, the suggestion that protecting children from circumcision justified kidnapping them was—in my opinion—the most troubling bit.

I thought it was interesting that unlike the first comic, which provided absolutely no reason why the secular doctor wanted to circumcise the child, the comic actually prevented one of the strongest arguments for a religious exemption from circumcision bans: the necessity of preserving cultural heritage, and the likelihood that a child who wasn't circumcised would grow up to regret the loss of his heritage.

If there's a caricature or attack against a group other than circumcisers in general, it seems much narrower than anti-Semitism (this is related to the first point). There's a more plausible argument that it's evoking racism against a subset of Jews: namely, more traditional people who observe traditions that seem odd to many people. Still, in light of the other comic, I'd say that it still seems like just one more assault on those who support circumcision, with no special venom for Judaism.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 7, 2011 1:41:21 AM

Orin, I'm starting to get the feeling that basically everything related to Israel or Jews is "a common trope of modern anti-semitism" to you.

Anyways, I chose to point out the pairing between Nazi Germany and Israel because both are relatively modern creations that are in many ways complete opposites. Pointing out the similarities between a brutal dictatorship and a relatively liberal democracy helps to identify what really distinguishes good from bad, and to point out that it's often a smaller gap than we might realize.

Choosing a relatively provocative and extreme example—and one familiar to almost everybody—also serves as a better catalyst for discussion than more benign contrasts.

Of course there are extremely significant differences between the two nations. Even restricting ourselves to the issue of homogeneity/heterogeneity, Hitler's version of homogeneity differs in its belief in superiority over other cultures, as opposed to just a recognition of the differences between cultures. But, again, understanding and criticizing one of the worst regimes in history in a way that avoids lazy and blind hatred involves comparing it to regimes we support to understand where the lines of evil really are.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 7, 2011 1:25:04 AM

Andrew,

There are dozens if not hundreds of countries that were founded quite expressly on the principle of cultural homogeneity. Japan and the Scandanavian countries are perhaps the obvious examples, but most of the countries of Europe fit the bill in their origins. But when you think of countries founded on the principle, the two countries that you decide to pair are Nazi Germany and the state of Israel? I find that a bizarre association. Given that comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is a common trope of modern anti-semitism, I'm left wondering why you just happen to pick those two countries to compare.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 7, 2011 1:06:36 AM

Prof. Wasserman,

Perhaps I'm under-sensitive to references to the blood libel: it's entirely possible. But isn't it also possible that you're over-sensitive? After all, the reference (if you're referring to the same thing Orin was) is very similar to attitudes expressed by the other, non-Jewish villain. Reading the second one as the blood libel while ignoring the first seems short-sighted to me.

As for the appearance, it strikes me as nothing more than the depiction of a villain who's a member of a certain branch of Judaism operating in certain role. Anon thinks that depicting a villain who's part of a specific group is in and of itself racist against that group. It's a decent argument, although not one I buy. But if you don't accept that, then the image just doesn't strike me as beyond the norm for a comic-style caricature that would raise it to the level of anti-Semitism.

Anyways, since my motives seem to have been misinterpreted, let me make a few things clear: I think these comics are idiotic. They're the efforts of a juvenile man to demonize people with whom he disagrees. And I don't think it's completely unreasonable to see them as anti-Semitic: I just happen to think that viewed in full, the artist has a clear target, and that target has nothing to do with religion. I do tend to be skeptical about quick jumps to claims of hate speech, because I think overuse of indignation makes legitimate outrage over actual racism/anti-Semitism/etc that much less effective. I hope that clears things up.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 7, 2011 12:59:26 AM

So in other words, you think it's false to say that both Nazi Germany and Israel are both states founded on principles of cultural homogeneity? Or that it's true, but somehow still anti-Semitic?

I'm a bit sad, Orin: I usually respect what you have to say when you're blogging, but for some reason you seem to have let some incorrect perception of me get the best of your judgment today.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 7, 2011 12:35:31 AM

Andrew,

Yes, I read the post, as well as some of your other writings on Jews and Israel. I don't see anything to discuss. If you think that means I'm a sneaky and underhanded person who is guilty of "cowardly attacks," then I really think that is your problem.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 7, 2011 12:29:42 AM

Anon, I agree that background generally isn't highlighted in comic books. However, as I've pointed out, the three books seem to be exploring the three main groups that circumcise: secular doctors, and religious communities in Judaism and Islam. Viewed as a whole, rather than through blinders, the target of attack seems clear: those who participate in circumcision.

Orin, bravo: you've demonstrated your ability to read titles. I wonder, though, if you continued to read past there. If you did, do you actually disagree with what I wrote, or are you just trying to score an easy point without having to back anything up?

I'll debate the points in that post with you if you're actually interested in discussion rather than easy, rather cowardly attack that avoids any substantive issues. (I assume that Prof. Wasserman would rather we not take up his thread with unrelated posts, but you're free to email me - [email protected] - comment on the post in question, or pick any other forum of your choosing.)

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 7, 2011 12:05:34 AM

I don't know if Hess is anti-Semitic; I don't really care. I don't believe the anti-circumcision movement is anti-Semitic, because Jews likely account for so few circumcisions in this country. But the manner of making the point in this instance traded in some of the historically worst anti-Semitic imagery--both in the characters' appearance and in the thinly veiled hints at blood libel. And that imagery infects this particular instance of pro-ban expression.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jun 6, 2011 11:55:31 PM

Andrew,

Looking over your blog, I see that you are the author of a 2010 post, "The Similar Rationales for Israel and Nazi Germany," which I think tell us everything we need to know about your judgment concerning anti-semitism.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 6, 2011 11:28:36 PM

Andrew, any comic book villain might be Jewish. Any comic book villain might not be Jewish. The point is that religious faith (or membership in an ethnic group bound together by a religious faith) is not generally highlighted in comic book villains. Villains are historically portrayed in comic books and cartoons as overtly scary-looking people with larger-than-life features and a very limited personal history. Stories typically share only what is necessary to explain their nastiness (i.e., abandoned by his family as a small child, raised by witches or wolves, etc.). Nothing else is shared about the villain's life or personal history because any other humanizing factors would tend to invite sympathy from readers (usually children), which is counter-productive to the villain's role in a story.

Thus, a villain can be male, female; black, white or any other race or ethnicity; and can be gay, straight, bisexual or transgendered. However, it would be difficult to identify any of these factors beyond what can be discerned from obvious physical characteristics because, again, personal history is not generally shared for these characters. For instance, we simply do not know the sexual orientation of many comic book and cartoon villains because most are never portrayed in a context that would highlight orientation: romantic love is perhaps the quintessential humanizing factor and thus does not comport with the "script" of a cartoon villain. Similarly, religious faith is not shared because it also invites sympathy from readers: (i.e., "this villain has a religious faith that compels him to strive to be a better person -- how bad can he be?")

Because such limited information is typically shared, the decision to highlight this villain's particular background does, indeed, come across as highly insensitive. Here, the fact of this villain's faith is not shared in a manner that would tend to humanize him, or invite sympathy from readers. Instead, the fact of his religious faith is clearly vilified as well. And it also wasn't integrated into his character as one of many pieces of demographic/historical information revealed pursuant to some deeper story about his background -- rather, it was specifically and deliberately integrated via drawings of highly-stereotypical physical traits or paraphernalia, and quite clearly with a malicious intent.

Do you really not see that?

Posted by: anon | Jun 6, 2011 11:18:18 PM

Orin, it's you who's arguing the false premise: that just because you're capable of drawing a connection that makes sense in your mind, that the connection is necessarily there. In effect, you're saying that if you see anti-Semitism, then it necessarily exists. That's not an argument, it's a belief in the infallibility of your own judgment.

I'm not sure why you think I'm being "tone deaf". You pointed to what you think is evidence of anti-Semitism: the circumcisor's (is there an actual word for that?) glee in performing the act, that you think is indicative of anti-Semitism. I pointed out that basically the same caricature (of someone who takes circumcision as a personal desire, rather than a job or religious duty) is applied in issue 1 to a secular (or at least, no religion mentioned) doctor. That undermines the connection you're trying to draw, because it makes it clear that the caricature is not meant to evoke the blood libel, but instead is an attack on people who perform circumcision. The idea that "Monster Mohel"'s enjoyment of circumcision is a comment on him as, specifically, a Jew is only barely more convincing than the idea that it's related to his nature as a bearded man.

@"Anon2": "Why would mohels be carrying machine guns into a circumcision." This is actually consistent with my point. Read as a whole, the guy's work espouses an "everyone who performs circumcision is evil" meme, which he's chosen to divide up into the three groups who primarily perform circumcisions. I don't see why mohels carrying guns should be read as a comment on Judaism rather than on circumcision, unless one is on the lookout for anti-Semitism behind every corner.

"The whole thing smacks of anti-Semitism: the dark haired traditional-looking rabbis as the villain, and the blonde savior (read: Aryan) coming in to "save the day."" Are you saying that any work portraying a specific Jew (or a specific Jew in clothing worn by a real, contemporary group of people) as a villain is necessarily anti-Semitic? That because of past atrocities, we must now pretend that all Jews are, by definition, wonderful people?

The argument you're trying to make needs a pattern *by a specific person or group* to back it up. If a director has a movie where a black serial killer attacks various white suburban families, it'd be silly to accuse the director of racism even though it may do a little bit to exacerbate an unjust social perception. If a director consistently made movies that included "scary looking" black men preying on defenseless white families, then we could legitimately see a racist pattern.

Perhaps this artist has a history that supports suggestions that the blonde-Jew juxtaposition is intended with racist overtones. But the only pattern I'm aware of is in this series of comics: one hero (from which we can hardly draw the conclusion that the hair color is anything but incidental, or at most an expression of a personal image of handsomeness), and three villains: an old, WASP (to my eyes) white doctor who turns into the hulk, a Jewish man with guns, and (I believe?) a planned Muslim. That amount of racial diversity in villains hardly screams anti-Semitism to me.

"If you want to support a legitimate anti-circumcision movement, then don't use ANY stereotypical images, and you might gain more support. An even better idea? Don't use a poorly constructed and arguably offensive comic book to change law."

I trust this "you" is general, since I've never expressed support for this comic or its use in any political movement (or support for any political movement related to circumcision, for that matter.)

Finally, to those who are convinced that the depiction is so stereotypical as to be racist: I'm not sure what to say, other than that comic book art is stereotypical by its nature. If someone can find a comic book depiction of a Jewish villain that they don't think is anti-Semitic, that might make the discussion more productive. Based on the things being said here, it sounds as though most people would say that any possible such depiction is anti-Semitic, which to me can't be the right result.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 6, 2011 7:21:48 PM

If it were not so obviously grotesque and antisemitic, I'd reveal the *true* story here: i.e., this is clearly another fiendishly clever plot by Jews to discredit the anti-circumcision movement by linking their reasonable views with unmitigated antisemitic imagery. Oops. The *other* Elders of Zion are going to be very mad at me now.

In seriousness, I am somewhat tempted to take down the imagery altogether (sorry Howard). When it comes to private spaces at least, I'm almost certainly less of a free-speech nut than he is...

Posted by: Dan Markel | Jun 6, 2011 4:42:09 PM

"[I]t seems much more reasonable to read the quote about the Jewish circumciser as part of a consistent "evil circumciser" meme through the comics than a veiled connection to blood libel that tries to equate the cutting off of foreskin with child murder"

This point above, Andrew, is actually quite inconsistent with the image above showing rabbis with guns. Why would mohels be carrying machine guns into a circumcision. The whole thing smacks of anti-semitism: the dark haired traditional-looking rabbis as the villain, and the blonde savior (read: Aryan) coming in to "save the day." These images are entirely consistent with anti-Semitic art and literature through the last century and continuing to this day.

If you want to support a legitimate anti-circumcision movement, then don't use ANY stereotypical images, and you might gain more support. An even better idea? Don't use a poorly constructed and arguably offensive comic book to change law.

Posted by: Anon2 | Jun 6, 2011 3:48:36 PM

Andrew,

Your argument is premised on a false distinction: That a person who connects modern issue A with racist stereotype B is really just talking about the modern issue A, not the racist stereotype B. That's not an argument so much as a decision to frame the question to ignore the argument on the other side. I don't know if you have extremely strong views of modern issue A (here, circumcision) that may color your take on the issue, but I find your opinions remarkably tone deaf.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 6, 2011 2:56:38 PM

I'm familiar with the blood libel. It takes a significant stretch, though, to read the excitement of the villain at the prospect of circumcision as drawing on that relatively-historical bit of anti-Semitism rather than on understandable revulsion at the entirely factual practice of circumcision. Yes, delight in circumcision is obviously a caricature, but it's a comic about a superhero named "Foreskin Man," for godssake.

I'm generally skeptical of the suggestion that people are drawing on the blood libel as a way to incite hatred against Jews, at least in the western world, because one basically never hears about it *except* from people who are making relatively weak claims that something is anti-Semitic. If he were trying to use historic anti-Semitic tendencies to raise hatred for his cause, this oblique a reference to the blood libel would be an incredibly weak way of doing so. (If I'm wrong - if there are clear contemporary cases of the blood libel in the 'west,' please let me know.)

In the context of this specific comic, I think Issue 1 provides a useful comparison: there, a (presumably) secular doctor (old white guy, grey hair, purple bowtie) not only wants to perform circumcisions, but turns into a hulking monster and tries to force a circumcision on a child with an unwilling mother. Given that depiction, it seems much more reasonable to read the quote about the Jewish circumciser as part of a consistent "evil circumciser" meme through the comics than a veiled connection to blood libel that tries to equate the cutting off of foreskin with child murder and the consumption of blood. Based on the evidence presented, you seem to be more interested in seeking out and condemning all possible anti-Semitism that you can find, rather than appropriately condemning the anti-Semitism that actually occurs.

(Also, wasn't one of the heroines of Issue 2 a Jew-the mother? I haven't read that issue, so I can't say for sure, but the summary above suggests it.)

Finally, I think you realize that burning crosses are an inapt comparison, since they're the actual imagery used by individuals attempting to intimidate blacks and civil rights workers, and who also engaged in more direct assaults. To my knowledge (again, correct me if I'm wrong) there's no tradition of equating circumcision with the blood libel.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 6, 2011 2:13:39 PM

Andrew,

Perhaps the most vicious of all anti-Semitic stereotypes -- used for centuries to justify the murder of many thousands of Jews -- is thethe blood libel. You might benefit from reading the entire Wikipedia entry, but if you're in a hurry, here's the introduction:

Blood libel (also blood accusation) is a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, usually Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays. Historically, these claims—alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration—have been a major theme in European persecution of Jews. Blood libels typically allege that Jews require human blood for the baking of matzos for Passover, although this element was absent in the earliest cases that claimed (the contemporary) Jews reenacted the crucifixion. The accusations often assert that the blood of Christian children is especially coveted, and, historically, blood libel claims have been made to account for otherwise unexplained deaths of children. In some cases, the alleged victim of human sacrifice has become venerated as a martyr, a holy figure around whom a martyr cult might arise. Four of these have been previously canonized as saints, namely William of Norwich, Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln, Simon of Trent (these were decanonized in the 20th century), and Gavriil Belostoksky who remains canonized in the Russian Orthodox Church.
In Jewish lore, blood libels were the impetus for the creation in the 16th century of the Golem of Prague by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel. According to Walter Laqueur, "Altogether, there have been about 150 recorded cases of blood libel (not to mention thousands of rumors) that resulted in the arrest and killing of Jews throughout history, most of them in the Middle Ages... In almost every case, Jews were murdered, sometimes by a mob, sometimes following torture and a trial."
In the cartoon that you find totally innocuous, "nothing excites" the "monster" of the group of Jews "more than cutting into the penile flesh" of the "infant boy." If you don't see that as evoking the blood libel, then I would wonder if you also think that a burning cross placed on a black family's lawn is just a nice display of the flammability of two blocks of wood placed at perpendicular angles.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 6, 2011 1:30:01 PM

What's the relevant stereotype, Orin? All I'm seeing is a depiction of a (Hasidic, I believe?) rabbi caricatured in a way consistent with a rather mainstream comic-book style. The suggestion that he has a sick enjoyment of circumcision is almost certainly not representative of those who perform the mutilation, but I don't see how it's tapping into any anti-Semitic history as opposed to anti-circumcision rhetoric. My impression (though I haven't read the comic) is that in that respect he's not really any different from the secular Dr. Griswold in the comic. All in all, labeling this as anti-Semitic seems to me to be equivalent to saying, "Since Jews have been persecuted in the past, any negative moral judgment of them now automatically approves of that past persecution and becomes anti-Semitic."

Anon, forgive me, but I fail to see the similarity between the image from the comic and the poster you linked to. Is your objection entirely based on the fact that the depiction of the villain has a slightly larger-than-average nose?

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 6, 2011 1:10:21 PM

Andrew,

I find your comments puzzling. Debates over racism are almost always debates about the use of symbols and stereotypes that have a particular cultural resonance because of their harmful use in the past. When considering whether a particular symbol or statement today is racist, we normally look to whether it evokes that harmful past and thereby seems to harness and rely on it. The basic inquiry is backward looking: We start with the ugly stereotype and understand its past, and then we look at whether the new use seems to be trying to echo it given its context.

In your comments, you seem to be blocking out the usual backward-looking inquiry and instead just taking the cartoons as if there were no past at all to the stereotypes they are using. But that's not the way we normally consider whether an act or conduct is racist. Indeed, by that standard, nothing is likely to be seen as racist, no matter how racist it may be, because nothing can be seen as tapping into longstanding stereotypes.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 6, 2011 12:16:50 PM

My link got lost, but it was to this: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/files/2009/11/Nazi_poster_Jew_Der_Sturmer_antisemitism_juutalaisvainot-bloodlibel_Wandering_Jew_propaganda_60.jpg.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 6, 2011 12:08:05 PM

The villain doesn't just look Jewish. He has a type of grossly exaggerated semitic features that are reminiscent of some horrible anti-semitic propaganda from the last century.

I don't think this is even a close call.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 6, 2011 12:05:37 PM

Is making a villain black racist? Is making him English anti-anglican? Or is it just not acceptable to do anything except praise Judaism?

I'm sorry, I just don't see how having a Jewish villain makes something anti-Semitic. Unless you'd rather have cartoons avoid race entirely, and just make every character look like the Greendale Human Being.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 6, 2011 11:06:54 AM

Yep to both.

Posted by: anymouse | Jun 6, 2011 10:41:44 AM

The imagery and text could have been straight out of Der Stürmer. How anyone could find this anything but anti-Semitic?

Posted by: Jed Sorokin-Altmann | Jun 6, 2011 10:11:28 AM

If one views proponents and practitioners of circumcision as villains, how does portraying one of those villains as Jewish make it anti-Semitic? It seems to me, from your description, that the comic says nothing bad about Jews, and a lot bad about Jews (and others) who practice circumcision.

Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Jun 6, 2011 10:06:17 AM

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