The decision of the acting editor of the Sunday Times Martin Ivens to apologise personally to the Board of the Deputies of British Jews for publishing a cartoon in his newspaper lampooning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a searing example of the double standards of Western media on racial and religious issues. While it’s within the ethical obligations of a publication to make amends for unscrupulously hurting the sensibilities of a group or an individual, it also falls within the realm of media impartiality that this rule be applied uniformly and without favour or prejudice. The Sunday Times action begs another question: Would it act equally remorsefully if the cartoon had lampooned an Arab, African or Asian leader and invited the same ferocious reaction?
Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon published at the weekend depicts Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu paving a wall with the blood and bodies of Palestinians. The cartoon shows a glowering Netanyahu wielding a blood-splattered trowel, screaming Palestinians into the wall’s structure.
Jewish symbols, practices and beliefs enjoy a certain sanctimoniousness and immunity in American and European media which is denied to both Islam and Christianity. Christian beliefs and symbols are excoriated the most, and seldom attract opprobrium, except from the religious authorities. This can be attributed to two factors: first, the long, solid secular traditions of the West which have seen large swaths of population drifting away from religious beliefs, and second, their unflinching adherence to principles of media freedom. But anti-semitism is a phantom of dinosaurian dimensions which Jewish lobbies invoke to scare Western media, which cower at the slightest mention of the word.
At the same time, Muslims’ belligerent reaction to alleged insults stems from a lack of comprehension of Western ethos and the presence of lumpen elements in the community, who take to the streets at the slightest provocation.
The Sunday Times defended itself at first and issued a statement saying it was “a typically robust cartoon aimed squarely at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people.” But the apology represents a somersault, an admission that it has erred egregiously. The fact is that Scarfe’s drawing is an unadulterated representation of the truth, the reality on the ground, which has been reported in its chilling detail by the global media. By succumbing to the collective pressure of the Israeli government and Jewish organisations, the Sunday Times has crawled when it wasn’t even expected to bend.
Scarfe deserves kudos for daring to maul Netanyahu in a newspaper owned by pro-Jewish Rupert Murdoch. It’s not yet known what price the cartoonist will have to pay for exercising the freedom of expression. Murdoch himself has apologised on Twitter for what he described as a grotesque, offensive cartoon. If he hasn’t, he wouldn’t be living up to his image.