Friday, 14 December 2012


YESTERDAY in Melbourne's The Age Michael Leunig defended his cartoon "First they came for the Palestinians", previously published in that newspaper, and attacked those who supported Israel and who found his work objectionable.
Leunig's cartoon takes the noble words of anti-Nazi cleric Martin Niemoller decrying the passivity of bystanders in the face of Nazi evil and substitutes the Nazis referred to in the original poem with Israelis: "First they came for the Palestinians and I did not speak out".
Leunig obscenely equates the actions of Israel in Gaza to those of the Nazis and asserts the people who were once the objects of Hitler's extermination and their descendants are now committing genocide against the Palestinians and are thus the present world's Nazis.
I wonder if Leunig paused to consider how a survivor of the Holocaust would react when they came upon his cartoon?
Understandably shocked, they would ask, "How is it possible for anyone to compare the organised, industrial murder of six million Jews in gas chambers, in death camps, in ghettos and in open fields to what is happening in Gaza? Why would any person liken Israel's protection of its citizens from rockets to the genocidal and bestial liquidation of the Jews?"
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Equating Israeli policies to those of the Nazis has been identified as anti-Semitic by the EU, the US State Department, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, since it calls for Israel's destruction.
Yesterday, Leunig reiterated some of the themes of his cartoon.
Amazed anyone would think comparing Israeli policy to Nazi behaviour is anti-Semitic, Leunig calls Israel's military policy "excessively homicidal" in yesterday's piece .
Equally worrisome, Leunig implies Israel is already in the process of becoming Nazi-like, saying "all nations that throw their military weight around, occupying neighbouring lands and treating the residents with callous and humiliating disregard are already sliding towards the dark possibilities in human nature".
Anyone with the vaguest knowledge of the Holocaust will know that by any measure comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is a kind of deliberate amnesia of the monstrous policies of the Nazis that minimises their genocidal extent and intent, and instead maligns Israel.
Consider how Leunig describes the way the Palestinians have been treated by "homicidal" Israel and see if you can hear the disturbing echoes Leunig is pushing, "The Palestinians have been massively robbed and abused, and are engaged in a desperate struggle for survival and liberation."
I wonder, did Leunig's "duty and conscience" compel him to sound the alarm all those years while thousands of rockets systematically fell on Israelis, attacks that Israeli author and peace activist Amos Oz called "a war crime and a crime against humanity"? Did Leunig ever express the "unspoken grief" of Israeli families who lost loved ones to terrorism?
Did he liken the actions of state genocides, brutal executions and large-scale massacres of civilians in Rwanda, Darfur, Congo, Nigeria, Syria, Myanmar, Somalia and Ethiopia to those of the Nazis? Did he call Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "excessively homicidal" for wanting to wipe Israel off the map? Or is this epitaph reserved only for Israel?
Why does Leunig absolve Palestinians of all responsibility for their situation and ignore their behaviour against Israel?
Criticism of Israeli policies is entirely acceptable and Leunig is entitled to his views. But such cartoons not only poison public debate, they close it. After all, how do you discuss the conflict with someone who compares Israelis to Nazis?
In his opinion piece this week, Leunig labels his critics in the Jewish community as "aggressive Israel supporters", "cynical", "bullying", "lazy", "false accusers" and "boys who cry wolf" who are engrossed in "obsessive and vapid denunciation". He accuses anyone who dares to see anti-Semitic tones in his cartoon as frauds who "are not really upset by any 'anti-Semitism' in my cartoons (there is none) but by the possible impact of a cartoon on the doubters".
Can you imagine any other community described in such an offensive way in an Australian newspaper?
In his cartoon, Leunig also descends into parroting another anti-Jewish screed, that of the nefarious, all-powerful Jewish lobby that is lurking behind the scenes, ready to pounce and stifle critics of Israel.
He writes that he and many others are silent about the Palestinians because they would be subjected to "hateful mail, doors closing, hostility, fear and spiteful condemnation".
This all-powerful cabal of elders did not prove omnipotent enough to prevent Leunig from publishing his cartoon and yesterday's piece.
In Leunig's world there is no lobby group or publicity machine for the Palestinians.
Conspiratorial stereotypes about a predatory Jewish lobby that intimidates Palestinian supporters into silence have no place in any newspaper.
The Anti-Defamation Commission, a human rights organisation, felt that it could not tolerate such inexcusable expression.
It asked The Age for an opportunity to provide a balancing response to Leunig's cartoon after it was directly attacked in another opinion piece that saw nothing troubling about Leunig's cartoon and instead accused the Jewish community of thoughtlessness and bitterness.
The ADC was told that The Age would not publish its objections because its claims about the cartoon were unreasonable.
So Leunig's "First they came for the Palestinians" is OK while offering a counterpoint is unreasonable.
Leunig accuses the Jewish community of closing doors.
That is exactly what The Age did.
It's a strange world.
Dvir Abramovich is chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission.

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