Jewish Caricature Contest: Kosher Anti-Semites

By Henryk M. Broder

Following the outrage over the Muhammad caricatures published in Western newspapers, Israeli artists staged a contest. They were looking for the best anti-Semitic cartoons. The results are in.

The Hungarian satirist Roda Roda once quipped that anti-Semitism had promise, “if only the Jews would adopt it as their own.” Sixty years after his death, the joke has become reality.

Jewish anti-Semites are nothing new -- just look at Karl Marx, Otto Wininger and Karl Kraus, to name just a few -- but they never banded together. That may be changing. More than one hundred Jewish artists and cartoonists created entries for an anti-Semitic cartoon contest announced by two Israelis in February.

Los Angelino Aron Katz, 24, took top honors when the winners were announced last week. Katz’s comic places a Jewish Fiddler on the Roof atop the Brooklyn Bridge as the twin towers of the World Trade Center blaze in the background. The panel is a graphic depiction of rumors heavily propagated on the Internet that Israelis and the Mossad intelligence agency, rather than Islamic fundamentalists, were behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. Katz donated the $600 in prize money to organizations including Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli charity that supports rights for Palestinians.

Second prize went to Ilan Touri, 32, from Sydney. His “Studio 6” depicts what Holocaust revisionists continually claim as Auschwitz’ real purpose -- the backdrop for a film.

"P.S. Don't forget to control the media"

“Our jurors didn’t make it easy on themselves,” said contest founder Amitai Sandy. Because the five judges, including legendary New Yorker cartoonist Art Spiegelman, couldn’t agree on a winner, they awarded points to each piece with Katz collecting the most. “Had it been only up to me,” said Andy, “the prize would have gone to another participant.”

To Daniel Higgins from England, for example, who portrayed a hook-nosed Moses presenting the Jews with a secret eleventh commandment -- “P.S. Don’t forget to control the media.” Or maybe Leandro Spett from Brazil for his "Matze Maker," pumping out crunchy crackers made of processed Palestinian children.

Amitai Sandy also likes a more subtle piece by Jeremy Gerlis from New York. In Gerlis’s cartoon, a castaway hides behind his island’s lone palm tree to avoid being sighted by a passing Israeli ship.

Sandy, who was born in the small village of Kfar Saba northeast of Tel Aviv in 1976, works as an illustrator for all major Israeli papers and a number of publishers. He studied visual communication at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem and served in the Israeli army, first in artillery and later in the kitchen. “After 18 months I’d had enough,” he says. Relying on a common method of avoiding military duty in Israel, he visited a psychiatrist and threatened suicide. He was excused from the second half of his three year military obligations.

Even before his tenure in the army he published Penguins’ Perversions, a subversive magazine focusing on comics, music and urban sub-culture. It lasted 21 issues. Since 2003, Sandy and four other artists have run the Dimona Comix Group, publisher of three comic books that are also marketed in the US.

Fight the fire with humor

When the Iranian daily Hamshahri used the outrage over Danish Muhammad caricatures earlier this year to announce an international cartoon contest focusing on the Holocaust (which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims never happened), Sandy felt a call to action: “We had to do something to fight the fire with humor.”

The first option was rejected immediately -- circulate jokes about Mullahs. “That wouldn’t have been right. You should only poke fun at your own kind.” And because self-deprecation is a Jewish tradition, “the right response to a crazy campaign” was quickly found: the "Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest.”

As soon as the contest went online, reaction came from around the globe. An Iranian-American in Los Angeles wrote, “I’ve heard that the Jews want to takeover the world. I hope it happens soon.” Sandy’s father, Ezra Sanderovich, lives in Singapore and wasn’t so impressed with his son’s idea, “Why do you always have to get involved in things that are none of our business?”

The Jerusalem Post asked the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and the Simon Wiesenthal Center for reaction. “We don’t think this is the right way,” said Yad Vashem. Light critique was also to be heard from the Wisenthal Center -- “Gallows humor,” they called the idea. Christian fundamentalists in the US, who love Israel, reacted more strongly: “How could Jews do something like this?”

Sandy had expected worse. In the end, he was “almost a little disappointed that nobody really got upset.” After all, the cartoons he posted on the Internet included all well-known Jewish clichés -- Jews as exploiters, blood-suckers, swindlers, war mongers and conspirators thirsting for world domination. “The contest for the best anti-Semitic cartoon was a demonstration of strength and self confidence,” he said in justification. “Before the others point their finger at us, we’ll do it ourselves and funnier. We’re kosher anti-Semites.”

Of the approximately 150 cartoons submitted, about a third were disqualified. Not because of content, but because of “poor quality.” Some artists made fun of Jesus or Muhammad “and that wasn’t our intent.” The remaining 100 will be exhibited in a Tel Aviv gallery beginning May 20 and can also be looked at on the Internet.

A good Israeli

Amitai Sandy, who says he belongs to the "extreme Israeli left" and recently voted for the Communist Hada list, feels he’s still a good Israeli.

“As an artist I have a lot more leeway in Israel than in any other country -- nobody censors me, nobody threatens me,” he says. He participates in demonstrations against the construction of the wall that will separate Israeli and Palestinian areas and exhibits with Palestinian artists. He doesn’t care whether his contest plays right into the hands of anti-Semites. “They don’t need me," he says. "They have enough ideas on their own.”

And so he quietly, and with a trained eye, reviews the truly anti-Semitic cartoons on www.irancartoon.com. Some, he admits, “are really well done.” While mostly amateurs took part in his contest for the best anti-Semitic cartoon, many professionals were among the 181 participants from 42 countries (including Russia, Switzerland and the US) that took part in the official Iranian contest.

Now Sandy’s hoping that the Palestinians can learn from the contest and someday sponsor the best anti-Palestinian cartoon contest. “That would be a sign of political maturity," he says. "But if someone tried that today, they’d have to fear for their life.”

Translated from the German by Andrew Bulkeley

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