UK Times' Netanyahu Cartoon 100+ Complaints, Murdoch Apology, Blood Libel

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See above a portion of the cartoon.(Credit: Times, via JPost, screenshot)

News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch and the Times’ editor apologized after criticism of the UK Sunday Times’ Jan. 27 cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Guardian reported. The cartoon, created by longtime artist Gerald Scarfe, showed the Israeli Prime Minister “wielding a long, sharp trowel and depicts agonised Palestinians bricked into the wall’s structure,” with blood apparently being used to hold the bricks together.

The cartoon was “published on Holocaust Memorial Day” with a caption of “Will cementing the peace continue?”  Originally the Times stood by the cartoon until Murdoch stepped in on Twitter, the Guardian noted.

In addition to complaints from groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Press Complaints Commission told iMediaEthics today that it has received more than 100 complaints over the cartoon, pictured in full below:


(Credit: YNET, screenshot)

In a Jan. 28 tweet, Murdoch called the cartoon “grotesque, offensive.” He wrote:

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

Before Murdoch’s tweet, The Times at first defended the cartoon, saying it was “aimed squarely at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people.” The Times added that it “condemns antisemitism” and defended the timing of the cartoon as “because Mr Netanyahu won the Israeli election last week.  “Acting editor” Martin Ivens added:

“The last thing I or anyone connected with the Sunday Times would countenance would be insulting the memory of the Shoah or invoking the blood libel. The paper has long written strongly in defence of Israel and its security concerns, as have I as a columnist. We are, however, reminded of the sensitivities in this area by the reaction to the cartoon and I will of course bear them very carefully in mind in future.”

Groups critical of the cartoon included the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Anti-Defamation League, and the World Zionist Organization-Israel.  The Board, which the New York Times described as “the main representative body for British Jews,” issued a statement that it complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the “appalling cartoon…which is shockingly reminiscent of the blood libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently antisemitic Arab press.”

The PCC’s Catherine Speller confirmed receiving the Board’s complaint and told iMediaEthics by email that so far, “the PCC has received over 100 complaints” related to Scarfe’s cartoon. Speller added:

“These complaints have been made primarily under Clauses 1 (Accuracy) and 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaints will now be considered under the terms of the Code.”

The Board’s James Martin told iMediaEthics by email that it filed its complaint “under a breach of clause 1” — accuracy — the same day the cartoon was published. In response to Murdoch’s apology, Martin wrote:

“We are grateful for Mr Murdoch’s apology and for readily accepting the offence caused, and we appreciate also Martin Ivens most recent statement.”

He added in his Jan. 29 email that “We contacted the Sunday Times and we along with other Jewish communal organisations are in a meeting with Sunday Times today.”  As the Guardian explained, Times editor Ivens apologized in person to “Jewish community leaders” calling the cartoon’s publication a “terrible mistake” and the publication of it on Holocaust Memorial Day “inexcuseable.”

Likewise, European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor commented, according to the UK Telegraph,

“This cartoon would be offensive at any time of the year, but to publish it on International Holocaust Remembrance Day is sickening and expresses a deeply troubling mindset.”

The Anti-Defamation League’s National Director Abraham Foxman responded to Murdoch’s apology, reported. Foxman is quoted as describing the cartoon’s message as “nothing subtle” and commenting on the apology:

“While Mr. Murdoch’s apology is welcome, we nevertheless found it disturbing that the newspaper’s senior editors have vigorously defended the cartoon as a form of legitimate criticism.  The cartoon, which is so shocking and reminiscent of the virulently anti-Semitic cartoons we see routinely in the Arab press, is clearly indefensible.”

Despite the outrage, daily Israeli newspaper Haaretz proposed “Four reasons why U.K. cartoon of Netanyahu isn’t anti-Semitic in any way” including that the cartoon “is not directed at Jews” and “does not use Holocaust imagery.”

In his own Jan. 29 statement about the controversy, cartoonist Scarfe wrote on his website:

“First of all I am not, and never have been, anti-Semitic. The Sunday Times has given me the freedom of speech over the last 46 years to criticise world leaders for what I see as their wrong-doings. This drawing was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people: there was no slight whatsoever intended against them. I was, however, stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust Day, and I apologise for the very unfortunate timing.”

The Associated Press noted that Scarfe “often makes use of blood in his cartoons,” citing a “recent cartoon of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, who was pictured as a green, wraith-like creature drinking greedily from an oversized cup labeled “Children’s Blood.”

iMediaEthics has written to Times’ publisher News International asking

  • What prompted the apologies after the Times’ initial defense
  • If News International will be making any more apologies in print or in person outside of Murdoch’s tweet
  • If this incident will prompt any new practices related to publishing sensitive cartoons

We’ll update with any response.

In November, iMediaEthics wrote when the Guardian was accused of anti-Semitism over its cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu.

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UK Times’ Netanyahu Cartoon Prompts 100+ Complaints, Murdoch Apology, Accusations of Blood Libel

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