Matt Seaton’s caricature of courage

The highly criticized cartoon published in The Sunday Times on Holocaust Memorial Day – depicting mangled, tortured Palestinians being buried over with bricks laid by the bloody trowel of a sinister Israeli leader – was defended by  in Haaretz on Jan. 28 as “grossly unfair” but “not antisemitic”.

Here’s the cartoon by Gerald Scarfe that we posted about yesterday, and which The Sunday Times editor has since defended as “typically robust“.


While much has been written about the cartoon – and the timing of its publication – the Haaretz contributor offers a dissenting view, one which, though I believe to be misguided, is nonetheless clearly thought through, well-informed and serious.

However, one particular word used by a Guardian editor on Twitter to characterize Pfeffer’s defense of Scarfe’s work caught my eye.

Here’s the Tweet by Matt Seaton, the Guardian’s editor of the US edition of ‘Comment is Free’.

Seaton’s Tweet, suggesting that it took ‘courage’ for Pfeffer to defend Scarfe, represents a good illustration of the moral conceit often displayed by such contrarians – those whose opinions about Israel, antisemitism and other issues place them outside the mainstream of Jewish opinion and thus must face some level of opprobrium for their views. 

However, whether we’re discussing Peter Beinart’s advocacy for boycotting Israeli companies across the green line, Ben Murane struggling with the ‘chauvinism’ of Jewish particularism, or even Antony Lerman’s polemical assaults against the very right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, the truth is that such Jews can confidently dissent from mainstream opinion with impunity.

Similarly, the only penalty that the contributor for the leftist Israeli daily will have to face for arguing that Jews, and others, are mistaken in their characterization of the Scarfe cartoon as antisemitic is, of course, dissenting opinions from those who take issue with his view.

Writers who trade in unpopular ideas within the political safety net that liberal, democratic societies provide them shouldn’t be so thin-skinned as to expect that freedom of speech requires freedom from criticism, and so vain as to fancy themselves, or their political fellow travelers, courageous for having to withstand such critiques.

50 replies »

  1. Murdoch has tweeted

    @rupertmurdoch: Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.


  2. Its always interesting that people like Seaton think it takes “courage” for people in Israel to criticize policy or other aspects of Israeli life.

    It simply shows that they are unable to read Hebrew – or even have the incessant whining at Ha’aretz register the fact that it takes no courage at all to keep up the constant bitching about Israel.

  3. I’m a little confused by what you’re saying here, Adam (who’s the contrarian in this instance: Pfeffer, or did you mean me?). But I think I take away that you’re insisting that the “mainstream of Jewish opinion” is a convivial forum where dissenting views are politely heard and welcomed. And therefore you’re saying my implication is that it’s not such a friendly, tolerant space.

    Well, I didn’t intend any such meaning to be inferred, but since you’ve raised it, I’d only suggest that it is a pretty objective fact that these debates are often freighted with a very angry, vituperative tone — in which it’s quite normal for writers like Antony Lerman and Peter Beinart (whom you mention) to be called “self-hating Jews” etc.

    Taken as a whole, my tweet about Anshel Pfeffer (a writer I very much admire) was intended to convey my scepticism that his argument about the Scarfe cartoon really works. It is a valiant effort to make the case for Scarfe’s defence, but to me the truth of the matter is that you can’t, in a caricature, put blood and gore on the hands of an Israeli political leader and claim innocence of any blood libel allusion.

    But I do applaud Pfeffer’s effort to keep the forum for debate as open to free speech, and as free from taboo and shibboleth, as possible. It sounds as though we perhaps agree on that.

    • Matt, my point was simply this: There’s nothing “brave” about what Pfeffer wrote. The words “brave” and “courageous” are pranced around way too much in liberal, open democracies – terms which would be much more apt to describe dissent in nations where free expression is not protected.

      Merely the fact that some who write for the ‘Comment is Free’, Haaretz, Open Zion and elsewhere have to ‘tolerate’ passionate and at times angry responses to their views isn’t inconsistent with my argument.

      Such fiery back and forth debate comes with the territory and yes, is consistent with the spirit of free speech.

      So, yes, it appears that we agree on this point. Additionally, regarding your take on Scarfe’s cartoon: “to me the truth of the matter is that you can’t, in a caricature, put blood and gore on the hands of an Israeli political leader and claim innocence of any blood libel allusion.” Also, we’re in agreement. Thanks for commenting.

      • I agree that one should not allege anti-Semitism about a cartoon simply showing spilled human blood (even if one can criticise it for other reasons if relevant). However, one CAN make that claim if the blood is depicted to be USED by the Jew/Jews in any way, whether as a food ingredient or mortar etc., for then it is undeniably linked to the blood libel.

        • Scarfe often makes use of images of blood in his cartoons. He did so in a recent cartoon of the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who was pictured as a green, wraith-like creature drinking greedily from an oversized cup labelled “Children’s Blood”.\

          “Blood libel” has a strict set of images which must always contain a newborn. It came from the absurd, antisemitic rumor that Jews would steal Christian children and sacrifice them, using their blood for ritual purposes. This cartoon does not feature any newborns, not even children.

    • Dear Matt,
      If you’re confused I’m flummoxed. You seem to be saying that Scarfe’s cartoon had strong overtones of the blood libel but that Pfeffer was “brave” in saying it didn’t. Hmmm. Strange notion of bravery, Matt.

    • Indeed, what would be real bravery would be for the Guardian to run a series denouncing the fact that antisemitism has become the “acceptable racism” in British society, and to name some names.
      Instead you actually publish some of the worst instances, such as Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children” to pander to the anti-Jewish taste.

      • But Joe, the Guardian has been instrumental in promoting “anti-Zionism” (which it conflates far too easily with Jew-hatred, and the Guardian itself admitted that antisemitism causes it problems).

        Good point too about Seven Jewish Children, not to mention the nauseating obituary for Nizar Rayyan, the Hamas barbarian responsible for his own son’s death in a suicide murder attack, as well as having Israeli blood on his hands, and the blood of his own family when he would not let them leave his apartment during Cast Lead.

        It’d be brave if the Guardian gave itself a good shaking and stopped constructing fantasy and told us all the truth for a change.

    • Have to say, Matt Seaton, that I didn’t get that message from your tweet, perhaps because you didn’t make it sufficiently clear and because the “working uphill” bit was too cryptic to be an outright condemnation of it.

      I am struggling with transference inherent in your association with Comment is Free and its lamentably poor track record on free speech, particularly when it puts the case for Israel.

    • ‘Good point’ to paint that poor Lerman as victim of vituperative tones and as testimony for the defence of your pretty ‘objective fact’ case.
      If you are that close to him, you could advise him to take care of other states like China, India, Russia, ..
      “Lerman also attacked the Board of Deputies, (the ‘Jewish Parliament’ elected by the synagogues and other communal organizations which are its members) for lodging a complaint against then London Mayor Ken Livingstone for telling a Jewish reporter that he could have been a guard in a concentration camp.”

      “Lerman’s appointment in early 2006 as Director (for the second time) of the IJPR precipitated the resignation of four IJPR directors and of one of its honorary patrons, the Conservative peer Lord Kalms. This was because Lerman had questioned the viability of Israel as a Jewish State and had advocated the one secular state. After a controversial tenure lasting less than three years, Lerman “left” his position in late 2008, leaving him in the wilderness. ”

      Nevertheless, he likes to be cited as former Director of the IJPR in order to gain more credibility.

      He also advocated the closure ot the YiiSA

      It`s useless to argue about his defamation of those working, teaching and lecturing there, about his denial of the new antisemitism aka Antizionism and his unwillingness to acknowledge Muslim antisemitsm which is well known.
      ‘There is no doubt that hostility to Israel and Zionism in the Arab and Muslim worlds is often expressed in antisemitic terms. But as Bernard Lewis has shown, antisemitism was exported from Europe, especially by Nazi Germany, and is not indigenous to the Arab world. ‘
      Nota bene: ‘Antisemitic terms’, not Antisemitism, we all got it wrong, obviously.

      It is not necessary to cite some passages in the quran

      it is enough to read some of the texts of Lerman to recognise his self contradictorial cracks:
      ‘There’s certainly no denying that antisemitism figures quite prominently in the ideological outlooks of radical Islamists and Jihadi extremists, and it’s plain for all to see in the Hamas Charter. Bright and Pollard are among a number of people who see it as their duty to make a special point of exposing the antisemitism of such Muslims and their terrorist objectives. And the two journalists are driven by the perception that Western Arabists and left liberals are particularly susceptible to whitewashing groups like Hamas either because such groups conform to the stereotype of the underdog, the modern-day oppressed, or because the Western sympathisers romanticise Islam and the Arab way of life, or because it’s an outlet for Arabist and left-liberal antisemitism. While there are elements of truth in all of these characterizations, Bright and Pollard obsessively take them to extremes. And a manifestation of that obsessiveness is regarding any attempts to open a dialogue with representatives or sympathisers with Hamas and similar groups as not only reprehensible, but actively encouraging their racism, antisemitism and terrorism. Whether intended or not, this emerges as a generalised anti-Muslim discourse.’

      So there is Muslim Antisemitism, but if you raise that problem it is an anti-Muslim discourse. Here you get the whole shallowness of a so called expert on Antisemitism.

    • Why did the Cartoonist chose to curve the eye brows in a hinged horn like symbol?
      Why is the nose inflated?
      Here are two examples from the dark 1920’s.

      Pay attention to the finger nails being sharp like claws?

      Why is the mortar red and the trowel so long and sharp?
      And why are the Arab victim’s finger nails seems like roots as if they are the true rooted people of the land.

      Too much room to interpretation here and a too offensive.

      You defending this, if you truely are, is not something I will hold to your credit.

        • So, “nat”-the-sensitive-dude, are you comparing Assad, the murderous dictator & genocidaire with Netanyahu? That’s appalling indeed.

        • Nat you make your comments without any feelings or with any perspective. Your comment only allows for a bigger hole for yourself and by your post you have fallen in.. Scarfe himself commented on inappropriateness of using this image on Holocaust Memorial day confessing that he was unaware of it. That you even imply similar quality of imagery of Assad (blood) to be applied equally to Netanyahu/elections, suggests what a confused idiot/tormentor that you are.

          Whether or not antisemitism was intended is not entirely relevant, What is relevant is that it pandered to the antisemite and reinforces an image of Israeli society that bears no semblance to the reality. Combining these factors, The Sunday times has made amends, but you Nat are not content with that.

  4. “…but to me the truth of the matter is that you can’t, in a caricature, put blood and gore on the hands of an Israeli political leader and claim innocence of any blood libel allusion.”

    Yes you can. It happened many times aleready. Now, you can’t have both worlds: to be seen as “progressive, self-righteous, humanist and truth-seeking” and to publish grotesque anti-Semitic material are contradictory moves. A *decent* newspaper should be able to make the right choice and distinctions, don’t you think?

    • ““…but to me the truth of the matter is that you can’t, in a caricature, put blood and gore on the hands of an Israeli political leader and claim innocence of any blood libel allusion.”

      His own newspaper, the Guardian, published a cartoon with Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian baby and then the British press gave it its highest award. How can you possibly reason with such sociopathic hatred.

      • To @Adam above. You may be right about “brave” etc being over-used: maybe it should be reserved for people who live in places where dissent lands you in jail. Point taken. I suppose I was differing slightly from you in the characterisation of the debate on this: you have to be robust and thick-skinned just to get into it, but most participants seem to know this.

        To @Dave4321. That cartoon you mention was published by the Independent, not the Guardian. That should just go on record here:

        But to your point below, I thought I was making myself clear that I don’t think the cartoon was a legitimate criticism of Israel. I have a problem with cartoons on this topic at the best of times, as satirical caricatures seem a problematically blunt instrument for such a complex conflict. But in this case, pace Anshel Pfeffer, I think the blood libel trope is unavoidably present – even if Scarfe was completely unconscious of it.

        Sorry I can’t stay to discuss more. But thanks for this exchange.

        • Dear Matt,

          Can we expect an article in the Guardian that will clarify your point of view? Are you able to challenge antisemitism in that paper or will the editors shut you up?

          That will be brave of you, brave with no quotation marks.

          I look forward to your response!

  5. Matt,
    I want to hear you explain how a cartoon showing a wall being built with blood and live screaming bodies is legitimate criticism of Israel. That’s not criticism its simply disgusting. It’s simply perverse especially when any walls and fences Israel has built has saved countless Israeli AND Palestinian lives. Israeli civilians don’t get blown up in restaurants by suicide bombers from the West Bank and Israel therefore has no need to respond.

    It’s no wonder the Guardian posts articles that Palestinians killing more Israelis would help peace.

    You and your newspaper are without any moral compass.

    • “as satirical caricatures seem a problematically blunt instrument for such a complex conflict.”
      I appreciate your sentiment about the conflict being complex. I just wish the Guardian coverage would reflect this attitude and not the “Israel can do no right and the Palestinians can do no wrong” stance it currently has. But I guess one has to sell newspapers to once’s audience.

  6. I actually thought Matt Seaton’s comment on the whole was quite positive. I took it as saying that there isn’t really a defense to the publishing of the cartoon (especially on holocaust memorial day) – which is why Matt thought it was “working uphill”.

    I think talking about Pfeffer being brave was unwise. Also Matt should realise that people such as Lerman have made quite nasty attacks on people that disagree with them. Lerman and his fellow anti-zionists / IJVers are often quite a nasty piece of work in their attacks and they are as much the guilty party when it comes to abuse and denying people the right to put forward opinions. I hope Matt reflects on this point as i remember when he was CIF editor that at at times corrections had to be made to Lerman’s pieces where he had distorted or been incorrect on what he had said.

    But on the whole i thought Matts comment was against the defense of the cartoon.

    • Matt didn’t think before he posted did he? And he could have been more clear in his comment so as to avoid all doubt.

      As Serendipity has posted, it’s difficult to see how what Matt Seaton may write now, because of all his associations with the execrable Comment is Free then and the hypocrisy inherent in that, can be separated in our minds from his conduct of that blog. It is all the more import that he should make himself absolutely clear in this case, as I have said.

      And, again like Serendipity, I don’t think he did so.

    • “On the whole”
      Meaning it wasn’t crystal clear to you?
      Why do you think he didn’t go to the trouble of making himself crystal clear?

    • That’s how I read the tweet too, i.e. He appreciates Pfeffer’ efforts, but disagrees. And Seaton has basically confirmed that here.

  7. If Antony Lerman is called a “self hating Jew” that is very wrong. However, Antony also throws around the “Islamophobe” label frighteningly easily. There are wrongs on both sides when it comes to the language employed. Matt and I sat around a lovely dinner table discussing exactly the issue of language a few years ago. It was good to meet Matt then and I think his use of “brave” in his tweet seems to have been meant more in the context of “it was a good try, but wrong” as opposed to “courageous”.

    • Richard, you have touched on something very important when you refer to the use of language. Matt missed the boat with his comment because it didn’t use clear language and expression and leave us in no doubt as to what he meant.

      Among my many beefs with Comment is Free is the ease with which emotive language which reflects predominantly emotional reasoning is used above the line there when a more focused, thinking rather than emoting, response is invariably necessary.

  8. How surprising, and dare I say refreshing that someone from the Guardian would engage Adam in a respectful dialogue. I suppose that it’s unrealistic to hope that any similar conversation might occur in the future, but who knows?

  9. …though I believe to be misguided, is nonetheless clearly thought through, well-informed and serious.
    It is not misguided at all, for Pfeffer and his Ha’aretz comrades anything inciting hate against Jews using any of their political opponents like Netanyahu is perfectly legitimate.

  10. Matt Seaton here fairly or unfairly, represents those who feel free to defend all those who criticise Israel only for the condition of the people portrayed as victims in the cartoon.

    The condition as portrayed does not exist. The wall was not built to murder Palestinians and it was not built with their blood. It was actually built because their actions encouraged it and made it necessary. The wall is a defence and not an attack on the Palestinian people. It was not built with Palestinian blood but with Palestinian concrete and Palestinian labour.

    When a cartoon in a prominent UK medium portrays the Palestinians in the same sort of robust fashion I will grant that all is fair in love and war and that there is something legitimate to be cruelly satirised in the situation, but while Israeli Jews are made the only butt and victims there is something dark and evil in the choice.

    • Agree with Margie.
      They used to be equal in the past by being abusive to both Arab and Jew.
      This is no longer the case.
      It seems the PC brigade have touched all but the Jews.

  11. Another misleading CiFW headline.

    Seaton merely referred to Pfeffer’s “brave defence” of the cartoon.
    Nowhere did he say anything that justifies the headline “caricature of courage”.

    CiFW complains a lot of defamation/libel – but is all too keen to itself smear individuals and indeed entire groups of people.

    • And pretz, you blah blah about the headline, but do not touch on the content. What is your view, if you have one?

      Mine is this. Matt Seaton’s comments demonstrate how he should have made out his tweet. clearly. The responses by others like Joe are also valid points. The Guardian has done little to balance I/P issues and banning Adam from making comments below CIF is certainly not “brave” or courageous.

      Matt, if you are reading this still, can you please restore Adam’s profile and allow him to comment? Thank you.

    • Absolutely. Bell was out of control and seething with rage on the radio this morning. It was a telling insight into the hysterical mindset of the anti-Zionist. Stephen Pollard kept his dignity and made Bell look like an immature shreiking twat.

  12. Anti-Israelis are coming out of the woodwork on this this one. A big propaganda tool has been handed to the Nazis and fascists. The Holocaust Memorial Day should be scrapped. I think it has lost its meaning, doubt anyone in the West cares and it has been hijacked by anti-Semites. In case anyone is still asking how did the Holocaust happen, well we’re seeing the beginning of it in front of our eyes. Just like in the Germans in 1930s, the word is desensitized. We’re getting there. One must not forget the work of the Lib Dems in all this.

    To call Pfeffer brave and to imply that Israelis are intolerant of dissenting voice is ignorance. And this from someone whose newspaper employs a whole bunch of them to rubbish Israel everyday!

  13. Jenny Tonge. 26th Jan ’13 – 7:05am

    “I do not usually add to the masses of indignation that is published on LibDem Voice, but I must point out that Israel insists that it is the JEWISH State of Israel , which leads to some people assuming that what Israel does is endorsed by all Jews.
    Many Jewish people support the Palestinian cause and those of us who try to bring the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli government to the attention of the citizens of this country.
    We must not be deterred by the sickening and self righteous indignation that comes from the Zionist Lobby .
    David is a fine MP and understands the issues, and deserves our support”.

    Go LibDems!
    (the gutter party)

  14. The caricature is a true depiction of the Zionist mind, philisophy, strategy, etc…. represented by Netanyahu. That is why I like it.

    • I’ understand you Monsieur Verne. I’m sure you like the Protocols of the Elders too beeing the true depiction of the Zionist mind.