Scarfe’s cartoon may have been unpleasant, but was it really anti-Semitic? (Independent)

What is anti-Semitic is always unpleasant, but what is unpleasant is not always anti-Semitic. That was my take on Gerald Scarfe’s now infamous cartoon, depicting the Israeli Prime Minister wielding a bloodied knife over a wall dripping with blood and crushing presumably Palestinian victims between the cracks.

The image, published in the Sunday Times, would have put me off my breakfast, had I been reading the paper over breakfast. As political cartoons go, it’s not much for subtlety; the clear message is that the Israeli leader is an obstacle to peace and responsible for vast amounts of Palestinian bloodshed.

Now I’m no cheerleader for Netanyahu. In my view his continued support for settlement construction is obstructive and worrying, and my hope is that he will form a more moderate and peace-seeking coalition going forward. But you don’t need to be a Phd student of the history of the Middle East and the ongoing conflict between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours to know that the situation is just a little more complex than Mr Scarfe’s cartoon would have us believe.

If nothing else, the imagery of the cartoon – a wall cemented by Palestinian blood – is profoundly offensive, given that Israel’s controversial security wall (or fence, as much of it actually is) was built not to keep Palestinians as victims but to stem the tide of suicide bombers intent on causing mass bloodshed in Israel.

But antisemitic? Much of the commentary and discussion about the cartoon has been over its supposed association with the ancient blood libel against Jews; whereby Jews were accused of killing Christians to use their blood for religious rituals at festivals. Perhaps the most famous example of a blood libel occurred in thirteenth century Lincoln, when 18 Jews were hanged after being falsely accused of the murder of a local boy. So it’s not exactly baffling that a depiction of flowing blood, next to cartoons of innocent people being attacked by the leader of the Jewish state, might raise eyebrows among anyone with a basic awareness of history.

Still, plenty of historic bloodshed has had nothing to do with Jews, and cartoonists like Scarfe are known for pushing the boundaries of taste. Scarfe’s drawing, while undeniably unpleasant – and hardly a nuanced depiction of the political reality (where is Hamas in this picture?) – is not to my mind antisemitic.

The problem is the timing; publishing a cartoon castigating the Israeli Prime Minister on the one day the world has set aside to remember the Holocaust and its six million Jewish victims hardly screams of sensitivity. Scarfe may well not have known when the cartoon would appear, as he has claimed, but the editor could not have been blind to the date – after all, the paper’s explanation of the inclusion points to a feature criticising Holocaust-denier David Irving in the magazine of the same issue.

The point is that the Holocaust still means something. It is not just another news story, one tragedy among many, destined to become nothing more than tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping.

The Holocaust signifies humanity at its worst. It is not just a word, not just a useful comparison. It is millions of men, women and children shorn of all dignity, starved, denigrated and slaughtered. It is the brutal and systematic murder of millions, the persecution of an entire people for no reason other than their religion.

And it is still in living memory for a good proportion of the population. For many of those objecting to the cartoon today, it is the tragedy of those ancestors they never met, the grandparents and relatives who were gassed at Birkenau or lined up for slaughter at Auschwitz, the friends and loved ones who did not make it out alive.

And the day, the one day of the year, on which we recognise that and pledge for it never to be repeated is not just a convenient news hook, something for cartoonists or ignorant MPs to use as a peg for a point about the political situation in Israel or anything else.

When we allow a day of memorial for the victims of genocide to become a political tool, something has gone wrong. I do not believe the Sunday Times is in any way antisemitic, or that Gerald Scarfe is. But the cartoon is still deeply, deeply unpleasant.

To see the original and read the comments, click here.


Gossip Girl recap: Beauty and the Feast

So this week on Gossip Girl, we met Pippa. Well, not la Middleton exactly, but her Eurotrash cousin.

The Prince’s sister is in town for a spot of passive aggressive bonding with the future queen. Trouble is, Blair is suffering the effects of being with child, and is basically one big vominator.

Bulimia, Blair’s childhood eating disorder of choice, would have been the obvious explanation, but in trying to convince psycho princess that she’s not that, she lets the cat out of the bag about MiniBlair (and ignores the fact that the Princess is actually an ambitious throne-pretender with a thing for men of the cloth).

Of course, MiniBlair could be either European or American, depending on whether Chuck or the Prince is the father.

As Dan wisely notes, “even Blair Waldorf cannot bend DNA to her will.” Looks like this won’t be the perfect white wedding.

While Blair is battling the after-effects of a night of passion at a barmitzvah – still so, so wrong – Chuck is battling the lack thereof. He can’t feel anything, good or bad – even Dan’s questionable tickle offer was dismissed – and so he’s going around playing Hire-A-Thug to try and change that.

By episode end he seems to have regained his purpose, largely because Dan wants help hacking into Vanessa’s bank account (surely the password is something along the lines of “I’m so totally awesome and supercilious” before bookgate hits the fan. Something tells me his efforts will be in vain. Yay.

On the other side of the country (but not for long) Serena and fake cousin Ivy are rekindling their family ties. Basically, turns out the psycho thing wasn’t just a role she was playing. “Ivy” really is more than happy to steal someone’s identity and take the trust fund access Serena is handing her on a plate.

Speaking of which, a whole room for her shoes? Can’t they just go in the cupboard? It’s not like’s Serena’s clothes use all that much material.

And lest we forget, there’s Nate, continuing to pursue ridiculous and implausible relationships with women who could be his mother just because, well, frankly, he’s cute and he can.

I’m not sure which is more ridiculous, that Lloyd Blankfein wants to offer him an internship or that we’re supposed to take Liz Hurley seriously as a media magnate.

I mean, come on. Murdoch would never let Mrs Archibald fact-check a “lives of the rich and famous” expose. Amateur.

Josh Lyman, School Choices and Scoring Points (Huff Post UK)

Rahm Emanuel with his children

Rahm Emanuel, the former White House staffer, and the inspiration behind West Wing’s Josh Lyman, has had a bad news week. Politicians on this side of the Atlantic will sympathise. Just a few months into his first term as Chicago mayor – a position he had to fight darn hard for – he’s being accused of betraying his city’s public school system.

The reason? This avowed Democrat, a guy who pledged to champion the cause of education, decided to send his kids to private school.

For the Examiner, it was a “snub” and an insult to the Chicago school system, most other papers emphasised just how private and prestigious the school he’d chosen was.

A blogger for NBC Chicago noted snarkily that Rahm was rich enough to go to Thailand, while the rest of his neighbourhood could barely afford Thai meals.

“Decisions he makes in that private life may have public ramifications,” wrote Edward McClelland. “If the mayor doesn’t send his kids to public school, he’ll send a message that Chicago is not a city for the middle class, but a city for well-to-do families who can afford private school tuition.”

Time and again, this issue flares up, for politicians in different countries and of all stripes. Tony Blair dealt with it over the selective Oratory school, Nick Clegg too. It even came up in an episode of spoof series The Thick of It.

How can a politician not practice what he preaches, shriek the critics, as if they can solve problems only when their children are put at a disadvantage.

Hypocrisy? Maybe? But too often it’s beside the point.

This post first appeared on Huffington Post UK. Read the rest here.