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Sunday, April 28, 2019

About that New York Times cartoon

Hypo: A cartoonist wants to make the point that Vladimir Putin and Russia are dictating U.S. policy and that President Trump is following without thought or consideration and without knowing where he is going. The cartoonist depicts Putin as a guide dog, leading a sightless Trump; the guide dog has Putin's face and a collar with the Russian flag, while Trump is shown as a sightless man with dark glasses, with the guide dog on a lead taking him he knows not where.

I presume the meaning of that cartoon would be clear and that such a cartoon would be ok. If so, I do not understand why this cartoon becomes filled with anti-Semitic tropes when making what I believe to be the same point about Netanyahu and Israel. And any answer must not reduce to a prohibition on criticizing Israel in the same terms and using the same tools, including cartoons and satire, that would be used without objection against other nations and other political leaders.

What is anti-Semitic about this cartoon? (FWIW, my wife--who is more likely to find something anti-Semitic than I am and was less forgiving of Rep. Ilhan Omar than I was--is similarly confused).

   • Is it depicting a Jewish person as an animal, particularly a dog?  Anti-Semitic literature and cartoons (both old-fashioned European and modern Islamic) have depicted and described Jews as animals. But there also is a long history of depicting political leaders as animals. I interpret the picture depicting Netanyahu as the leader of a nation rather than as a Jew or a representation of Jews and the Star of David as the central piece of the Flag of Israel rather than as a Jewish symbol. Is my interpretation wrong? Can Israeli (or all Jewish) leaders not be depicted as animals because of the historic link to anti-Semitism?

   • Is it having Trump dressed like an Orthodox Jew, wearing a yarmulke, black suit, and white shirt? I find that piece out of step with what (I believe) the cartoon is trying to show. Unless Trump represents not only the U.S. but also American Jewry (or a segment of American Jewry). Either way, I do not see why this is anti-Semitic.

   • Is it the overall message that Israel dictates U.S. policy, recalling the ideas of secret-and-nefarious Jewish influence? That reduces to an argument that a common political critique--one country or one leader unduly influencing another country or leader--cannot be made against Israel or Israeli leaders. Or that criticism of Israel must be even-handed and reasoned ("Israel is wielding undue influence over U.S. policy, as do other nations") to avoid the charge of treating Israel differently because it is a Jewish State. Which precludes political cartoons criticizing Israel or Israeli leaders, as the "art of the cartoonist is often not reasoned or evenhanded, but slashing and one-sided."

I end with this: Describe a political cartoon making the criticism discussed at the top of the post--Netanyahu and Israel are dictating policy or action to a blindly following Trump--that would not be anti-Semitic.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 28, 2019 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


It's his real name. Let's keep the exchange civil.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 30, 2019 7:16:44 AM

"Asher" (if that's your real name),
Antisemitism, by definition, includes the use of historically recognizable tropes. That remains constant whether a person dehumanizes and degrades Jews for legitimate or illegitimate reasons, for political or private reasons, or for religious or secular reasons.

Posted by: Alexander Tsesis | Apr 30, 2019 7:07:10 AM

I agree with Howard that it should be possible for a cartoonist or anyone else to say the same sorts of things about the Trump/Israel relationship that many people say, and are deemed acceptable to say, about the Trump/Saudi relationship, without people silencing that critique by arguing that, because there's an historic trope of Jewish people controlling international affairs, claims that Israel's controlling the policy of a foreign power are inherently anti-Semitic. Now, some versions of that critique may play off that trope, knowingly or unknowingly, e.g., Congressman Omar saying that Israel has "hypnotized" the world, or this cartoon. But I don't think that something like Mearsheimer and Walt's The Israel Lobby is anti-Semitic.

Posted by: Asher | Apr 30, 2019 12:49:45 AM

The NYT cartoon author's message is this: The President of the United States is blindly led by a Zionist dog to advance the Jews' bloody agenda. The President is shown with a yarmulke, indicating he's been taken in by the Jews. The Jewish dog's eyes are wide open, indicating he's following a clear scheme. And the background is red, implying a bloody trail of Jewish agenda. And that concept is worthy of the /Protocols of the Elders of Zion/, which purports that Jews manipulate governments around the world to the detriment of humanity, starting bloody wars and revolutions, in a clear-eyed plan to dominate other religions and peoples. That antisemitic idea of the international Jew inflamed whole nations, who believed that malign Jewish powers had to be stopped by any means from misleading leaders and misguiding their nations to achieve sinister Jewish goals.

Posted by: Alexander Tsesis | Apr 29, 2019 11:28:43 PM

I had the same question and agree with Steve Lubet. I feel your pain, Howard, but the unfortunate fact is that the Nazis, and others throughout history, aside from killing and persecuting millions upon millions of Jews, did make it difficult to caricature Jews in an inoffensive way.

And regarding Israel not being synonymous with "Jews:" You may believe that, and I may believe that, but (many? most?) anti-semites do not. Similar to how the Nazis treated as Jews people who were descended from Jews but did not personally identify as Jews, anti-Semites identify all Jews with Israel. For you there may be a meaningful distinction between a liberal American Jew and an Israeli, but for many or most anti-Semites, there is no distinction.

Posted by: Biff | Apr 29, 2019 11:01:36 PM

Thank you to all who have commented. And I will link to a longer post by Steve Lubet at Faculty Lounge that includes a link to a Haaretz op-ed (https://www.thefacultylounge.org/2019/04/why-the-cartoon-in-the-new-york-times-is-anti-semitic.html).

I am persuaded by the arguments about the yarmulke. And as I said in the OP, it does not fit with the overall message.

I remain troubled by the idea that Israel and Israeli leaders are immune from certain criticisms or certain forms of criticism because of historic anti-Semitism and the Jewish nature of Israel. Where Alex sees "the international Jew leading a blind world," I see "the specific leader of a nation leading the blind specific leader of another nation." The implication is that we cannot separate Jewishness from Israel. And for Steve, that is more than implication--as he says in the TFL piece, "the target matters" and so does the history surrounding that target.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 29, 2019 8:10:29 PM

Popping in to note that I appreciate you asking the question, Howard. I was also confused by what made the cartoon so egregious. Indeed, it's hard to make the point that Trump is blindly following Netanyahu without falling into anti-Semitic tropes, so I find it difficult to parcel out what's actually anti-Semitic and what's making a pointed criticism of Israel and Netanyahu. The answers posted here have helped a little, but not as much as I'd like.

One alternative to this cartoon might be a parent leading a child. But I'm not sure the reception would have been significantly better.

Posted by: MW | Apr 29, 2019 6:04:10 PM

I think I agree with several other commenters that the specifically religiously Jewish iconography, and even the Jewish star, are what shade this into anti-Semitism. On how you could do this in a non-anti-Semitic way, if you google image Bush/Cheney cartoons, you can find lots of examples of how cartoonists have gotten across the same sort of idea that could be applied here.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Apr 29, 2019 12:34:16 PM

Alexander: Your first comment is still there, but thanks for reiterating.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 29, 2019 10:34:51 AM

Someone has taken down my comment. So let me put it up again.

You've offered apologetics for antisemitism. The cartoon is blatantly rooted to historical stereotypes of Jews. Stereotypes that have brought murder and destruction of millions. The cartoon speaks of the international Jew leading a blind world to destruction by manipulating the levers of cosmopolitan power. How is that difficult to understand? The references to Jews--from the Star of David to the yarmulke--are obvious.


Posted by: Alexander Tsesis | Apr 29, 2019 10:02:44 AM

Howard "end[s] with this: Describe a political cartoon making the criticism discussed at the top of the post--Netanyahu and Israel are dictating policy or action to a blindly following Trump--that would not be anti-Semitic."

Answer: Because the blaring undercurrent of the cartoon is that this is done by Jews -not simply another country or political leader. It's the religious association that is troubling. It's the commingling of the messages that creates the anti-Semitism. You cannot simply and sterilely separate out the two messages (one distinctly playing on emotion) and then say well, each alone is OK (although I disagree) and so both together are.

Explosives are often made by putting together two innocuous chemicals.

Posted by: Barbara | Apr 29, 2019 5:37:20 AM

That is the problem - that you don't even see why it is anti-Semitic.
So, the cartoonist wants to make a pejorative point about Trump -
In fact, there are TWO anti-semitic tropes here - that sadly, you, who are in a position of influence, are blind to : (1) demonizing the Orthodox (or imposing on them negative stereotypes associated with -Trump - and vice versa) And (2) the fact that you think Bibi is so "omni-putin" that he could possibly get Trump to do as he liked. (And if so, perhaps the Dems should learn something) is not funny because it plays into the stereotypes on which many hate crimes were perpetrated. That is the limits of free speech alluded to above. Or can't you see where this leads - and on what it is based?

To reiterate Paul's point: Why is it necessary to depict Trump as an Orthodox Jew? How does that contribute to the second point that you claim is not anti-Semitic? Tapping into the negatives associated with Orthodox Judaism held by many - is per se inflammatory. Don't you see the commingling of stereotypes here? Using emotionally laden negatives associated with Orthodox Judaism to advertise anti-Trumpism is not a problem?

And would you have a problem if Malcolm X or Martin Luther King were depicted as an animal?

And thank you to the previous commentators who have sounded in.

Posted by: Barbara Pfeffer Billauer | Apr 29, 2019 5:20:58 AM

Your comment has done a service for the apologists of antisemitism. The cartoon is predicated on the myth that the international Jew pulls the levers of power to the detriment of humanity, controlling governments by blinding them and controlling their actions.

Posted by: Alexander Tseis | Apr 28, 2019 11:08:39 PM

The cartoon was filled with antisemitic tropes. That you didn't recognize it is one of the problems with anti-Israel discourse today. For example, the yarmulke "being out of place" shouldn't be a head-scratcher. It should be a clue as to intent. This op-ed does a pretty good job of discussing this: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/28/opinion/cartoon-nytimes.html

Posted by: Michael Risch | Apr 28, 2019 10:12:47 PM

So when we have a Hindu cartoonist in India draw blind Putin walking a dog with Ahmadinejad's face and wearing a crescent moon necklace, that's not anti-Muslim?

Posted by: Davoodi | Apr 28, 2019 8:20:24 PM

Howard: Yes, of course. Is there really any question? The same goes for other nations whose leaders are minorities.

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Apr 28, 2019 5:11:52 PM

Steve: Following that logic, are certain critiques or methods of critiquing Israel simply off limits?

Paul: I tend to be charitable in my interpretations and hesitant to hear dog whistles. Especially with Israel and the line between criticizing Israel and criticizing all Jewish people.

As I said, the yarmulke makes no sense in the context of what I believe the cartoonist was trying to say. Interestingly, that is not the element that has been drawing the most attention. As for the stand-alone Star of David, I linked it to the flag because it is blue in the picture. On the other hand, I doubt the reaction would have been different if the collar was a full flag.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 28, 2019 2:07:51 PM

Dear Howard: The difference between your hypothetical cartoon and the real one is that there is no such thing as the Protocols of the Elders of Putin.

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Apr 28, 2019 1:48:56 PM

It seems possible to me to imagine a virtually limitless number of cartoons that make the same point without using yarmulkes or stand-alone (that is, not as part of the national flag) Stars of David. I take no position on questions of anti-Semitism, accidental or otherwise. But then, I also think that a great many so-called “dog whistle” charges are unproductive, for a variety of reasons: because any such concept moves easily from being an insight into a lazily invoked meme or strategic rhetorical tool; because one starts seeing them everywhere if one is so inclined; because one who is quick to reach for this accusation often skips the intermediate step of first seeking a more charitable interpretation; because one can tack ambiguously between arguing that the dog whistle is intentional and arguing that it doesn’t matter whether it’s intentional or not because the alleged whistler should have known better and thus is still responsible, and back again; and so on. Whether I agree with your take here or not, perhaps a more forward looking question to explore is how it affects your reading of other statements, cartoons, etc. Does it incline you to believe that one should approach such moments first with a searching effort to interpret charitably and with hesitation before concluding that there is a dog whistle present? Does it incline you to think more about whether motive, and not reaction, matters? Does it make you more inclined to hesitate before suggesting that someone is responsible regardless of their motives if they “should have known better” or could have said it differently? Does it incline you to greater caution in the use of or skepticism toward the dog-whistle meme generally? I don’t know your views on this question. But it does seem to me that your position here is strengthened if it is raised up by one level of abstraction, applied beyond the one case, and used as the basis for further and more general thought.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Apr 28, 2019 1:21:34 PM

Donald Trump is wearing a yarmulke. How is this a hard case?

Posted by: JHW | Apr 28, 2019 12:31:27 PM

If there are problems with the link down there I have left ( add blocker should be removed )then here I quote from CBS News ( dealing with conspiracies regarding the twin tower attack),here:

Israel's spy agency knew about the attacks, and got 4,000 Jews out of there

The blame-the-Jews theory is very popular in the Middle East. In a 2008 poll conducted in Egypt, as many as 43 percent of Egyptians thought Israel was somehow behind the 9/11 attacks. Among the most persistent post-9/11 rumors was that 4,000 Jews did not show up for work that September morning at the World Trade Center because Mossad, Israel's spy agency, warned them against it.

Although an exact tally doesn't exist, the consensus is that anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of the victims of the 9/11 attacks - up to 450 people - were Jewish religiously or had Judaism as their primary cultural affiliation. The U.S. Census has generally put the percentage of Americans who are Jewish at a maximum of 2 percent in recent years. It would be nonsensical of the Jews to leave hundreds behind as martyrs to cover their trail. Even if they had, it's not as if Israel has been made any "safer" by 9/11.



Posted by: El roam | Apr 28, 2019 11:09:05 AM

Interesting issue, and it is quite normal and understandable for a zealous supporter of free speech like you, to treat such issue like that. Yet, let me present to you other aspects may be argued here, because your analysis, is too theoretical:

Suppose that certain guru or leader of a group, would express over and over fire words, against another group ( inciting simply against them ).And each time, it would cause burst of violence against the group attacked. On one hand, legal free speech, on the other, resulting frequently in strong violence, and casualties. However :

Without digging too deep in legal issues, one must change perspective, and treat or consider the violent outcome and not only the legal speech as such.

Jews are all along history, persecuted, due to that idea, that they have global control on finance, media, political leaders and so forth.... always conspiring against oppressed groups, just for sake of generating money for example.

Controlling the capitol hill, is the modern one ( Trump in this days, reaching peak of such illicit control, see : relocating the US embassy, recognizing the Golan height as sovereign part of Israel, the plan known as "deal of the century", and more ).

The history, proves clearly, always ended with massive blood shed.

See here for example, factual argument ( not cartoons) that the September 11th attack on the twin tower was a Jewish or Zionist conspiracy. I can bring you here, thousands of illustrations, you would be amazed simply. Here:



Posted by: El roam | Apr 28, 2019 10:56:39 AM

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