The current violence between Israel and Gaza has prompted two very different anti-Israel voices to utilise Judaism in their propagandist attacks upon the Jewish state.
The Independent cartoonist Dave Brown has twisted the wording and meaning of the biblical “eye for an eye” quotation in a cartoon of Israeli jets attacking Gaza (see here). It reads:
An eye for a tooth…a hand for an eye…a life for a hand …a people for a life…
Meanwhile, on his own blog (see here), Muslim community activist Inayat Bunglawala rhetorically asks:
Is Judaism the most racist of the world’s great monotheistic religions?
Bunglawala is a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, so what he says matters. (Not as much as it used to, but he is no antisemitic twitter loon – of whom there have of course been plenty in recent days.)
Bunglawala’s piece is a statement not an article. It mainly features his quoting an infamous vitriolic diatribe by Richard Dawkins against “The G-d of the Old Testament”: before and after which Bunglawala asks his question about Judaism being the most racist religion. (Chief Rabbi Sacks told Dawkins he was antisemitic for his diatribe. Dawkins denied it.)
In fact, Bunglawala makes no mention of Israel, none whatsoever. It may simply be an attack on Judaism. Nevertheless, let us be charitable and say that the timing suggests it is aimed at Israel, rather than at British Jews, or at all Jews.
Returning to Dave Brown, this is not the first time he has quoted the Bible. For example, in 2002, another of his anti-Israel cartoons (see here) depicted Ariel Sharon in biblical garb, beating Yasser Arafat over the head, literally using George Bush as a bludgeon. Sharon was saying:
Its our traditional weapon…the jaw of an ass.
However witty its attack upon George Bush as “an ass”, the cartoon’s wording (“our traditional weapon”) also emphasised Sharon’s Jewishness. It strongly echoed the antisemitic charge about Jews controlling politicians.
Many people regarded Brown’s “After Goya” cartoon from 2003 (see here) as far worse. It adapted the Goya painting Saturn Devouring his Children (see here), with Saturn replaced by Sharon, literally devouring a child, whilst saying “what’s wrong…you never seen a politician kissing babies before”. Brown was widely accused of having aped the antisemitic blood libel, but firmly denied this and won a Press Complaints Commission case.
In Brown’s latest offensive cartoon (and also in his Sharon/Saturn one), the Israeli jets do not bear Star of David markings. If they did, it may have caused more offence. The jets have no markings, so nothing in this latest picture explicitly tells you that it is about Israel. Instead, you infer it from the cartoon’s timing and from its Jewish biblical quotation. Consequently, whatever anti-Jewish aspect was conspicuously avoided by the Star of David omission is subliminally delivered by the salience of the Jewish paraphrasing.
Should the current conflict further deteriorate, we can expect to see much more of the above. As a rule of thumb, anti-racists could usefully ask themselves how they usually react when Islam is depicted like this.
Specifically, Dave Brown should note that “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot” refers to monetary compensation for an injury, or missing limb, and specifically not the amputation of the limb as a punishment. Dull as it may sound, the Jewish tradition is one of non-literal Biblical interpretation, with the Torah or Tanach (the Written Law) contemplated alongside the Oral Law as per the Mishna, Talmud and rabbinic teachings.
Nevertheless, there are far worse cases of its perversion than this. For example, that of Michael Adebalajo. Raised as a Christian, this Jihadist declared “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” after butchering Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of London.
No branch of Judaism advocates – far less perpetrates – chopping off body parts, be that hands, feet, heads or whatever. Just as Christians long abused the phrase “Chosen People” to wrongly allege that Jews regard themselves as superior beings, so has “eye for an eye” long been a similar calumny.