Over the last several days, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has been contacted by countless members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community outraged over Rob Rogers’ editorial cartoon of Aug. 7 entitled “Gaza Prison.” This outcry extends far beyond the Pittsburgh region to other places where Mr. Rogers’ pieces are syndicated.
Rob Rogers’ job is to get us all to think about the issues facing our world. This time, he took us to a dark and malevolent past.
Reaction to the cartoon from Jews around the country has included: “astonished,” “worse than vicious,” “sickened” and a “distortion of reality” that “reinforces anti-Semitic stereotypes.” One individual said he was “appalled by this display of anti-Semitism in an American newspaper.”
The first issue with the cartoon was the misrepresentation of Gazan Palestinians in a cage.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip eight years ago. For some time, Egypt and Israel were allowing cement into Gaza and look at the result: tunnels dug by Hamas, reinforced with cement, built in order to bring in missiles to be fired at civilians in Israel and to conduct operations to kill and kidnap Israelis.
Israel, even throughout Operation Protective Edge, has continued the delivery of humanitarian supplies to Gaza, including food and medicine. What other country at war does that for the enemy?
While questions over Israel’s actions are justified, debate cannot be constructive when using Jewish symbols in a way that promotes intolerance.
The second major issue is that the cartoon reminds Jews of the anti-Semitic propaganda that appeared in Nazi Germany.
Powerful and evocative imagery has both a cause and effect. A double standard of condemnation toward one side and silence toward the other when a conflict is seen as black and white creates consequences for Jews — or any targeted group. The same is true when the Prophet Muhammad is invoked to depict messages about radical jihadists that promote Islamophobia.
Using the Star of David, drawing Jews with long noses and using genocidal depictions of rockets overhead do not deliver just criticism of Israel; they pave the way to renewed anti-Semitism by bringing up old tropes associated with new harrowing and hateful images. Cartoons like Mr. Rogers’ that exhibit religious symbolism as political criticisms have been used to demonize and encourage bigotry against Jews and other ethnic and religious groups throughout history.
One of the most important concerns of our time is moral inversion — the presentation of evil as good or of good as evil. No country has had this happen to it more than Israel.
In this upside-down vision, Israel, a democratic country that has sought peace with its neighbors, is presented as a warmonger while terrorists are glorified. We have already witnessed one era in which the Jewish people were demonized and genocide against them justified.
There is no justification for the cartoon’s hideous associations to historic anti-Semitic messaging. The way in which Mr. Rogers characterizes Israel’s power over Palestinians minimizes an elemental security interest of the Jewish state — that of the right to self-defense in the face of thousands of rockets falling on its main urban centers.
Moral ambiguity contributes to the rising climate of global anti-Semitism. The path to violence begins within the environment created by such incitement. Mr. Rogers’ cartoon is synonymous with the language associated with anti-Semitism.
Some individuals profess that anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls offered a full-throated rebuttal to this thought when he recently stated: “Anti-Zionism invites anti-Semitism … Criticism of Israel that is based on anti-Zionism … is the refuge of those who do not accept the state of Israel.”
Writing for a newspaper gives one freedom of the press. With that freedom should come a sense of responsibility to represent the facts fairly and understand the impact that imagery can have. We urge the Post-Gazette to rethink how it is representing this tragic conflict where innocent lives are lost every day.
Woody Ostrow is chairman and Jeff Finkelstein is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.