PCC: 'Sharon cartoon was not anti-semitic'

David Brown’s cartoon: more than 100 complaints

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s complaint that a cartoon in The Independent depicting him eating a baby was anti-semitic has been rejected by the Press Complaints Commission.

The cartoon brought more than 100 complaints to the PCC accusing The Independent of reiterating the allegation of blood libel against the Jews.

Solicitors Mishcon de Reya complained on behalf of Sharon and the Embassy of Israel that the cartoon, in the 27 January issue, was prejudicial and pejorative, in breach of the discrimination clause in the Code of Practice.

It was published the day before the Israeli general election and two days after an Israeli attack on Gaza City. It depicted Sharon eating an infant while saying “What’s wrong… You never seen a politician kissing babies before?”. The cartoonist, David Brown, included the words “after Goya” at the bottom of the cartoon, a reference to Francisco de Goya’s painting “Saturn devouring one of his children”.

The solicitors claimed depicting Sharon eating a baby alluded to the blood libel which held that Jews preyed on Christian children and was therefore prejudicial of his race and religion.

Independent editor Simon Kelner denied that the cartoon was anti-semitic. He said that no Jewish symbols or Israeli insignia were present, and that there was no allusion to the blood libel.

Instead, he said the cartoon suggested that the attack on Gaza City may have been connected to the Israeli election. The newspaper had subsequently published a number of articles and letters about the subject, including pieces from prominent Jews who were on different sides of the argument. The baby in the figure represented the Israeli electorate being ruthlessly devoured by its Prime Minister.

He concluded by saying that it was vitally important to freedom of expression that the newspaper was able to publish an opinion piece which was critical of an individual’s politics without inevitably being accused of racism.

As far as the commission was concerned, Sharon had been singled out as the subject of the cartoon as an individual, but also as the head of a government and the leader of a political party, whose policies the newspaper clearly intended to satirise. It was reluctant to come to a decision that would in any way compromise the ability of newspapers to make critical or satirical comments about nations or governments through the use of cartoons.

It was not prepared to make a connection between the cartoon and the alleged blood libel.

The newspaper’s explanation was accepted by the commission and it considered that it would be “unreasonable to expect editors to take into account all possible interpretations of material that they intend to publish … that would be to interpret the code in a manner that would impose burdens on newspapers that would arguably interfere with their rights to freedom of expression.”

By Jean Morgan

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