Latuff and the Guardian

August 23rd, 2011 by Dave Rich

Today’s Guardian carries a profile of Carlos Latuff, the Brazilian cartoonist whose work is used by many anti-Israel, anti-American and anti-globalisation activists in their political campaigning. The Guardian describes Latuff as “The voice of Tripoli”, because of his cartoons relating to the Libyan uprising; but their article typifies the superficial and dismissive treatment of antisemitism from anything other than far right sources, which has become sadly commonplace in that newspaper.

Latuff has an extensive back catalogue of grotesque anti-Israel cartoons, some of which echo traditional antisemitic imagery. He has a particular taste for comparing Israel with Nazi Germany. He entered, and won second prize in, the Holocaust Cartoon Competition held by an Iranian newspaper in 2006 – a competition intended to denigrate and deny the memory of the Holocaust. All of this has led to claims that Latuff’s cartoons promote the kind of anti-Zionist hatred of Israel that replicates, and potentially encourages, antisemitic attitudes towards Jews.

Jack Shenker, the Guardian journalist who interviews Latuff raises this with him, and Latuff responds as follows:

Not everyone has been so flattering. Since visiting the West Bank in 1999, Latuff has become known for his support of the Palestinian cause; some campaigners claim his work is antisemitic. “Part of the supposed ‘evidence’ for my antisemitism is the fact that I’ve used the Star of David, which is a symbol of Judaism,” he says wearily. “But check all my artworks – you’ll find that the Star of David is never drawn alone. It’s always part of the Israeli flag. Yes, it’s a religious motif, but in Israel it has been applied to a state symbol; and it’s the institutions of the state – the politicians and the army – that I’m targeting. Including the flag of Israel in a cartoon is no more an attack on Judaism than including the flag of Turkey would be an attack on Islam.” (emphasis added).

I took Latuff’s advice, and checked his cartoons. Within a couple of minutes I found this one, which clearly uses the Star of David alone, not as part of the Israeli flag:

I also found this one, which targets “pro-Israel citizen[s]“, presumably in countries other than Israel, rather than the institutions of the Israeli state:

This cartoon typifies Latuff’s portrayal of Israel and anyone who supports it as barely human, celebrating the deaths of Palestinian children and deserving of nothing but hatred.

Latuff also thinks that any claims that some criticisms of Israel may encourage antisemitism, or may be expressed in an antisemitic way, are not honest expressions of concern, but are cynical ploys to protect Israel:

But to be fair to Latuff, most of his cartoons are very clearly about specific Israeli political leaders and the Israeli army. His explanation to Shenker- and Shenker’s apparent acceptance of it – seems to assume that, as long as his cartoons are explicitly about Israelis, not about Jews, they cannot by definition be antisemitic. Yet Latuff draws on a range of themes that will be familiar to any student of the history of antisemitism. For example, this cartoon showing then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert emerging from a swimming pool filled with blood, while a waiter brings a glass of blood to drink, is evocative of the blood libel:

Or the Christian iconography in this cartoon, with its echo of the original antisemitic charge of deicide:

And the dark and sinister conspiracy power of ‘The Lobby’:

But Latuff’s speciality is that most modern of antisemitic libels, the comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany. This is the cartoon he drew for the Iranian Holocaust Cartoon Competition:

Here are some more:

Given that the Israeli army has universal conscription, his portrayal of Israeli soldiers as monsters, “born to kill” and bent on nothing but murder and destruction, inevitably demonises all Israelis:

I am sure that Latuff genuinely rejects that idea that his cartoons could encourage antisemitism. He clearly defines himself as an anti-racist. However, even allowing for the cartoonists’s licence to caricature, his cartoons portray Israel, Israelis and their supporters in a way that is not rational. While there is room for debate about how much they draw on antisemitic imagery, or could potentially have an antisemitic impact, there is much less doubt that they potray Israelis in a bigoted and hateful way: they are examples of anti-Israel racism at the very least, if not antisemitism, and the Guardian should take that seriously.