While the Muslim world is still boiling over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, two Israeli artists have decided to come out with an initiative to stress the importance of satire, freedom of expression and self-humor. After hearing about the decision by an Iranian newspaper to join the international Muslim protest and open a competition for cartoons about the Holocaust, illustrator Amitai Sandy and actor and screenwriter Eyal Zusman decided to bring Israel into the new battlefield: They have declared an Israeli competition for anti-Semitic cartoons, open to Jewish participants only.
"We'll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published!" said Sandy. "No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!" declared Sandy last week, in announcing the competition on his Internet site boomka.org. The announcement invited artists from all over the world to send in cartoons, illustrations and short comics that express hatred for Jews in the most outrageous way.
News of the competition spread over the net, and within a few days the initiators of the competition received hundreds of e-mails congratulating them on the initiative. Quickly the discussion spread beyond the realm of the Internet and reawakened the debate on the limits of satire; media outlets from all over the world swooped down on it with interest. Sandy says that within three days he was interviewed by more than 30 dailies, two television channels and a radio program broadcast on 450 local stations in the United States. Sandy, 29, relates that most of the e-mails have come from Jews around the world who say they are glad to hear about the initiative and that it has made them proud to be Jewish. E-mails from Christian surfers, who congratulated them on the initiative but noted that they would not feel comfortable participating in the competition, led him to decide to restrict the competition to Jewish participants only and to focus it on Jewish self-humor.
"I believe that humor is the best way to examine our values," he says. "The problem with values is that over time they become sanctified, and therefore the best education is to cast doubt, to ask questions all the time, even about the values one believes in. One of the best ways to do this is self-humor."
Many people have responded on the Web site and via e-mail expressing concern about the suitable limits of satire, the subject matter appropriate for cartoons and their ability to encourage hatred and racism, or, alternatively - openness and tolerance. Sandy relates that he was surprised by the large number of surfers who said that the contest stirred pride in their Jewishness. "There were reactions like 'We will show those primitive Arabs that we are better than they are,'" he says. "I didn't think we would get reactions like that. We are in no way against the Iranians, and I do not think that they don't have a sense of humor."
However, it appears that the main difference between the Iranian and Israeli anti-Semitic cartoons is nevertheless humor. While in the Iranian contest the main message is anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish, the organizers of the Israeli contest are aiming at creating a collection of works that are above all funny. They are showing that it is possible to defuse the hatred and fear in anti-Semitism by means of humor, and in this way are ridiculing the grimness that characterizes the Iranian contest.
Thus far the contest has received about 40 entries, and Sandy relates that many of them - as well as many of the jokes that surfers are telling on the competition's Web site - deal with the Holocaust. Many responses have come in from Jews who say they are descendents of Holocaust survivors and have no hesitations about dealing with this trauma through means.
According to Sandy, only a small proportion of those who have responded have come out against the competition. A small minority of pro-Israeli Christians from the United States, for example, has argued this initiative is dangerous, because anti-Semites could use cartoons from the competition for anti-Jewish propaganda.
The submission deadline is March 5. Apparently the jury will include, alongside Sandy and Zusman and a number of Israeli cartoonists, American historian Deborah Lipstadt, who has written a book about Holocaust-deniers and became well known in the wake of the libel suit pressed against her in 1998 by David Irving, the Holocaust-denying historian. Sandy says Lipstadt contacted him after hearing about the competition and wrote that she had experience with anti-Semitism and that she would be glad to serve in the jury.
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