Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Awful Anti-Semitism of The Washington Post’s Pat Oliphant

I’ve been living in Israel and writing about it for so long that very little people say or think about it shocks me anymore. Since the second intifada began in 2000, I’ve been both witness to and target of a veritable rainbow of invective from across the political and ideological spectrum. As a result, I’d become convinced that my jaded sensibilities were unlikely to be shaken anytime soon, something that, I must admit, made me vaguely uncomfortable. So, I must thank Pat Oliphant and the Washington Post for reminding me that I am, thankfully, not nearly as desensitized as I imagined.


When I sat down to write about the cartoon reproduced above, I felt the necessity of restraining my first instincts. As Pierre Vidal-Naquet said about writing his response to Noam Chomsky’s defense of Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, “epithets came to my pen.” So I will simply explain, and hope the reader finds for himself the anger aroused by the imagery and its origins.

There is, unfortunately, nothing particularly original about the cartoon above. It is, in fact, one with a long tradition of antisemitic iconography, stretching back at least to the 1930s. The sword-wielding crusader; the shark-toothed Star of David; the hapless victim of Jewish cannibalism; none of this is new. It is, in fact, a series of reproductions, a collage of tropes drawn from various archetypes first employed by Nazi propaganda. This, in and of itself, is not shocking. The visual language of antisemitism has existed for a long time, and it will continue to do so for a long time to come. What is shocking about this cartoon is the fact that it was drawn by an acclaimed American political cartoonist—perhaps America’s most acclaimed political cartoonist—and published in one of the largest and most influential newspapers in the United States. While one should not labor under illusions about the prevalence of antisemitism in such circles, it is usually expressed esoterically enough to indicate a certain amount of doubt and discomfort on the part of those who engage in it. This cartoon, however, is without doubt or discomfort. Its violence is explicit, its hatred manifest, and its origins beyond doubt.

Read the rest at The New Ledger.