Opinion

That Netanyahu Cartoon Wasn’t anti-Semitic

U.S. President Donald Trump prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem May 22, 2017.
\ JONATHAN ERNST/ REUTERS

The New York Times’ cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog for Donald Trump that angered the “Jewish world” is actually a clichéd cartoon, though well-designed and certainly not anti-Semitic. It describes two leaders, one blind being led by the other. It’s a caustic image with a vicious tone, exactly what a political cartoon should be.

Netanyahu is depicted as a dachshund, which maybe is a compliment because these dogs are great hunters, and despite their natural suspiciousness, they boast an innate ability to make friends. Behind Netanyahu the dachshund walks his good friend Trump, sullenly, a kippa on his head, symbolizing the strength of his ties with Netanyahu. Trump has been photographed wearing a skull cap — near the Western Wall, for example — so it’s not something an artist has put on him without any justification.

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The choice to illustrate Netanyahu and Trump walking with determination, and even against a blood-red background, hints that they’re not just taking an innocent morning walk. They’re on a survivalist hunting trip. What are they hunting? Foreigners? Leftists? The hostile media?

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The Star of David on Netanyahu’s collar is totally justified, and there’s a reasonable chance that if Netanyahu had to choose a symbol to wear around his neck, he’d pick this one. Netanyahu is leading Trump, his steps a little tense, but the leadership role is definitely flattering for the head of a small country.

The media said Netanyahu was drawn with an unusually large nose, but a very superficial look confirms that Netanyahu’s nose hasn’t been distorted, certainly not in a way reminiscent of anti-Semitic cartoons, as has been alleged. The complaint that the illustration is anti-Semitic reinforces the feeling that the Foreign Ministry looks for every possible justification to play the victim to silence critics.

Images depicting politicians as blind people with guide dogs is as old as the advent of political cartoons. James Akin’s infamous one from 1804 shows Thomas Jefferson with the body of a dog. Richard Nixon has also been drawn as a dog, and Tony Blair as a dog wearing an American flag as his collar. American patriots have been depicted as a herd of blind horses.

Were these cartoons outlawed as anti-American? No. The artist John Graham has shown Trump on all fours and a bunch of missiles up his derriere. Imagine the cry of “anti-Semitism” if Netanyahu were depicted in a similar position, say, with Patriot missiles, or submarines.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been portrayed as a wild dog biting Barack Obama’s hand. His nose was made to look a lot longer than Netanyahu’s in this week’s cartoon. Was there any outcry against the Ahmadinejad cartoon or demands to outlaw it as anti-Semitic?

Theresa May was depicted by the graffiti artist The Pink Bear Rebel this year, was she not? She’s seen blindfolded being led by a blindfolded bulldog wearing a British-flag doggie jacket. You can only guess what the Foreign Ministry would say about a cartoon of a bulldog wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Under pressure from the Israeli consul general in New York and the Foreign Ministry, the Trump-Netanyahu cartoon was removed from the internet. The newspaper published a clarification, a half apology, and described the cartoon as offensive and an error in judgment.

A cartoon is by definition an exaggeration that looks for weak points. Sometimes it’s a warning sign: It provides strong, exaggerated images to shock and awaken. That was the case this time, a moment before this duo drags us along with them on a leash on a nighttime stroll.

Zeev Engelmayer is a comedian.