From the power wielded by the Chief Rabbinate to the threat of pollution, Israeli students have given their take on local and global issues in a cartoon competition that marks Thursday’s one-year anniversary of the lethal attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
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Organizers announced the winners of the "Cartoon*Criticism*Care" competition on Wednesday, while unveiling an exhibition in Jerusalem of the thirty best cartoons among dozens sent in by high school students from across the country.
"This is an appropriate commemoration of the lives of the people who were murdered at Charlie Hebdo and an appreciation of the magazine," said Israeli political cartoonist Michel Kichka, who teaches at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and was one of the judges of the competition. "A political cartoon is an expression of an opinion, and to be good, it must be thought-provoking."
The winners of the competition, sponsored by the Jerusalem Press Club and the Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon, received a small monetary prize and their cartoons will be offered for publication to local and international newspapers, organizers said.
Top honors were awarded to 16-year-old Amit Katz, from Hadera, whose cartoon shows a hand manipulating the strings of marionettes dressed as bride and a groom. It illustrates "the monopoly the Rabbinate holds in all matters pertaining to marriage," according to a text that Katz provided to accompany her work.
Yosepha Yaacobowitz, 16, of Ra’anana, took second place with a cartoon titled "Fun at the Beach," which drew in deep colors and intricate detail a swimmer looking out over a polluted beach. Hava Herman, 15, from Jerusalem, the third-place winner, drew a black and white cartoon in which a man pretends to read Haaretz while actually reading the right-leaning Yisrael Hayom. The cartoon, she wrote, is a statement about "the insecurities people feel in expressing their views."
The competition, says Uri Dromi, director general of the Jerusalem Press Club, grew out of the questions raised by the attack in Paris last year in which 12 people, eight of them Charlie Hebdo staff members, were murdered by Islamic extremists who targeted the magazine over its publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
"There should never be legal restraints on free speech," Dromi says. "Yet we do have to ask ourselves: Should the freedom of the cartoonists be limited, because of the impact of their work by certain audiences? What is more important: The right of cartoonists and hacks to say whatever they like, and offend anyone they dislike, or the right of religious groups to feel respected?
"These are difficult questions throughout the world," Dromi says. "We created the competition because we wondered if perhaps our youth could find a way to bridge these dilemmas."
The students' entries, Dromi notes, "address the most sensitive and loaded topics in Israeli society – the rabbinate, the army, democracy, religious coercion, the environment, political leadership. They are biting – yet they are self-restrained, seeking to bridge the dilemmas that we've presented."
Kichka pointed out that this week, Charlie Hebdo released a memorial magazine with a depiction of God as a gun-carrying terrorist on its cover - which has already drawn the Vatican's condemnation over its "disrespect" of religious sentiments.
"Good cartoons are complex and demand careful consideration," he notes. "Some of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, for example, are vulgar – but the vulgarity is actually a way to denounce the vulgarity in society."
"Political cartooning is a difficult profession," says Kichka, who is also a member the international Cartooning for Peace group. "It requires synthesis, analysis, and translation of an idea into an image. I was concerned that the students' work would be trivial, but they are not. They are artistically outstanding and the ideas they express are complex and full of insight."
He said the competition gave him hope – not only for the profession of political cartooning, but also for Israeli society. "Our democracy is endangered. In a mature, democratic society people must be able to listen to what they don't want to hear. In Israel we are very immature – look at the Knesset, where the debate often deteriorates into verbal and even physical violence. These students show that they can express themselves and challenge us to think about our society and how to make it better."
The cartoons will be on display through January at the Dwek Gallery in Jerusalem's Mishkenot Sha'ananim conference center.