Ark Angel

I would like to go back and take another look at the rather interesting exchange which took place recently between CiF Watch’s regular commentator Zachary Esterson and the cartoonist Martin Rowson with respect to this cartoon that appeared in the Guardian.

First, let’s take note of the title of this thread because it has relevance to one of Rowson’s later replies in which he challenged Zachary with the claim that the cartoon may be about some subject other than the flotilla.

Martin Rowson on the Gaza flotilla attack

Israel defends intensity of military force after autopsy results reveal total of 30 bullets in bodies of nine protesters

Now a reminder of the exchange between Zachary and Rowson:


Zacharyesterson

5 Jun 2010, 11:21AM

Yeah, the kindest thing you can say is that it is ridiculous. Birds don’t go about provoking soldiers to martyr them by setting about them with metal piping, staves or knives.

Rowson seems to be criticising the soldiers for not using one bullet per assailant in the dark, when they were set upon by dozens. What if the soldiers fired first to disable them, but they kept on coming?

I don’t recall Noah’s trying to run a military blockade to the end of allowing the government of one de facto state to do whatever it wants to further the end of its neighbour.

But Noah is an emblem of Christian and Islamic righteousness, the rainbow peace, counterpoised to the allegedly gratuitously bloodthirsty Jewish state.

Yes, I think it is antisemitic.

But Christianity and Islam have been anti-Jewish, in some form, or another, or antisemitic, for most of their histories. This is just a return to form.

But at least the Israelis clearly got to survive the flood.

CartoonistRowson

5 Jun 2010, 12:23PM

Forgive me for intruding, but I want to save zacharyesterson’s spinal column from being tied in knots. True, I’m surprised that no one so far (unless zapped by the moderators) has accused my cartoon of being the most disgracefully anti-semitic cartoon published since the closure of Der Sturmer – which is what I usually get in response to anything critical of Israel. But apart from the usual, kneejerk trope of equating all criticism of the state of Israel’s actions with anti-semitism, I think you’re pushing it a bit on the Noah’s Ark front.

Several things worth noting. There are no Israeli or Jewish insignia or emblems in this cartoon; there are ambiguities too, like the unicorns, where I’ve left intepretation to the minds of the readers (and got some interesting responses). And so far no one has sought to extrapolate from the presence of two walruses, some aardvarks and a beaver, among others, a coded critique of the Balfour Declaration.

But if you insist on taking Noah – now a universal symbol – as a specifically Jewish signifier, basically we’re all stuffed. And while I might enter the spirit of this thread and pedantically insist that Noah, being pre-Abrahamic, wasn’t even Jewish, on the whole I prefer to reflect, first, on how once more any kind of offence is in the eye of the beholder; second, how reaching for the nuclear option of accusing your opponent in any argument of racism is effective, but cheap; and third, teasing out every nuance of perceived offence embarks you down a road of universal paranoia and the institutionalisation of dear old Uncle Joe Stalin’s lovely tactic of thought crimes.

Well dandy. Tell me you disagree. Call me a idiot who can’t draw. But don’t start accusing me of anti-semitism, even unconscious anti-semitism which goes deep into my cultural conditioning. Because ultimately that means that everyone is wrong except you, irrespective of what they say. And that way madness lies.

love and peace

Martin Rowson

zacharyesterson

5 Jun 2010, 12:53PM

‘Forgive me for intruding, but I want to save zacharyesterson’s spinal column from being tied in knots. True, I’m surprised that no one so far (unless zapped by the moderators) has accused my cartoon of being the most disgracefully anti-semitic cartoon published since the closure of Der Sturmer’

Which I didn’t, of course. I hope I will not get zapped for expressing my opinion that it is an anti-Semitic cartoon of the lesser sort.

‘ – which is what I usually get in response to anything critical of Israel. But apart from the usual, kneejerk trope of equating all criticism of the state of Israel’s actions with anti-semitism, I think you’re pushing it a bit on the Noah’s Ark front.’

I beg to differ.

‘Several things worth noting. There are no Israeli or Jewish insignia or emblems in this cartoon;’

Just Israeli Jewish soldiers.

‘there are ambiguities too, like the unicorns, where I’ve left intepretation to the minds of the readers (and got some interesting responses). And so far no one has sought to extrapolate from the presence of two walruses, some aardvarks and a beaver, among others, a coded critique of the Balfour Declaration.’

OK. Have I?

‘But if you insist on taking Noah – now a universal symbol – as a specifically Jewish signifier, basically we’re all stuffed.’

OK. You’ve just said two contradictory things: that Noah is a) univerval b) a specifically Jewish signifier.

He is ‘universal’, precisely because he is a Christian and Islamic signifier. Whom you have counterpoised to specifically Israeli Jewish villainy. And both Christian and Islamic tradition counterpoise the virtue of ‘their’, appropriated Old Testament saints to the respective sinfulness, or villainy, of Jews.

‘And while I might enter the spirit of this thread and pedantically insist that Noah, being pre-Abrahamic, wasn’t even Jewish’

Nor said I he was. Which begs the question, why would you raise the subject? It is usually raised to ‘prove’ he wasn’t Jewish i.e. he is ‘really’ proto-Christian or Islamic. And it just so happens you have used him as an emblem of largely gentile Christian and Islamic virtue against Israeli Jewish vice.

‘on the whole I prefer to reflect, first, on how once more any kind of offence is in the eye of the beholder’

OK.  But you would say that, wouldn’t you?

‘second, how reaching for the nuclear option of accusing your opponent in any argument of racism is effective, but cheap’

By ‘effective’, do you mean that, somehow, I hit the mark, but that it was unsporting of me to do so?

‘and third, teasing out every nuance of perceived offence embarks you down a road of universal paranoia and the institutionalisation of dear old Uncle Joe Stalin’s lovely tactic of thought crimes.’

That’s very clever. But I prefer to stick to what I have written.

‘Well dandy. Tell me you disagree.’

OK.

‘Call me a idiot who can’t draw.’

But you can. Why would you want me to tell you can’t.

‘But don’t start accusing me of anti-semitism, even unconscious anti-semitism which goes deep into my cultural conditioning.’

But what if you are guilty of it? Doesn’t that proscribe anyone’s remarking or observing it?

‘Because ultimately that means that everyone is wrong except you, irrespective of what they say.’

I fail to see the logic of that, or the relevance. I am entitled to express my opinion, and the reasons for it. I did so precisely on the basis of what you ‘said’, in your picture. Now I do so on the basis of what you say here.

‘And that way madness lies.’

Uhuh? So I am mad to express my opinion, thus? I beg to differ.

‘love and peace’

So you say. But, frankly, I am not convinced.

Zachary Esterson

CartoonistRowson

5 Jun 2010, 1:20PM

Zach old chum – look, I’m going to spare all our blushes and my time – I have to hoover the house right now, then catch a train to Devon, though I doubt you need this much information – and not run back into traffic again today, but I need to clarify something.

I think that you are saying that, because I’ve used a figure who has accrued universal status (as visual shorthand, essentially, and because anything involving animals is intrinsically funny), but who also originally appeared in the literature of the myths of Judaism, this makes my cartoon and me antisemitic. Is that right?

And since when does the – again – universal uniform of state security, without specific insignia, immediately denote Israel, therefore Judaism, and therefore antisemitism?

And how do you know – given that some posters have described this cartoon as irrelevant – that they’re not, actually, right, and that this isn’t just a very, very bad cartoon about some other news story entirely, like the World Cup or something?

That last point is just me being frisky. Forgive me. But there are no racial stereotypes in this cartoon – unless it is now accepted by you that depicting someone as a heavily armed agent of state security automatically identifies them as Israeli/Jewish; nor are there any symbols denoting Israel or Judaism, unlike in Steve Bell’s cartoon last Tuesday.

So where is the antisemitism – that is, the irrational hatred of all Jews simply on the grounds of their Jewishness – apart from your assertion that using a universally recognised figure who is shared between Christianity, Islam, Judaism and universal popular culure is, by definition, antisemitic? Why isn’t it Islamophobic, or whatever you call an irrational hatred of Christians? And believe me, I’m down on those buggers big time, as you’ll discover if you investigate my oeuvre.

All in all, it reminds me of a story the MP Denis MacShane told me, about when he said, casually, to some of his Muslim constituents, in relation to some local problem, “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must come to the mountain”, and was instantly accused of Islamophobia.

In short, your argument ultimately seems to me to be of the kid in the school playground who thumps other children simply for looking at him.

Long may it serve you well, but right this second the siren call of the vacuum is stronger than this thread. Make of that statement what you will.

love and peace

Martin Rowson

zacharyesterson

5 Jun 2010, 1:52PM

‘I think that you are saying that, because I’ve used a figure who has accrued universal status’

Precisely because he is also a Christian and Islamic figure, and emblem of proto-Christian or quasi-Christian and Islamic virtue.

‘(as visual shorthand, essentially, and because anything involving animals is intrinsically funny)’

Yeah. But you chose biblical animals.

‘but who also originally appeared in the literature of the myths of Judaism, this makes my cartoon and me antisemitic. Is that right?’

No. That would make any non-Jewish depiction of ‘Old Testament’ stories anti-Semitic.

‘And since when does the – again – universal uniform of state security, without specific insignia, immediately denote Israel, therefore Judaism, and therefore antisemitism?’

a) Merely depicting any Jew, Israeli or other, is not anti-Semitic
b) You are depicting Israeli Jews. Why do you pretend otherwise?

‘And how do you know – given that some posters have described this cartoon as irrelevant – that they’re not, actually, right, and that this isn’t just a very, very bad cartoon about some other news story entirely, like the World Cup or something?’

Because I’m not an idiot?

‘That last point is just me being frisky. Forgive me. But there are no racial stereotypes in this cartoon’

You are counterpoising Noahic virtue to Israeli Jewish vice. You have admitted to doing so because he is a symbol of ‘universal’ i.e. Christian and Islamic virtue, clearly signifying to the virtue of the largely gentile Christian and Muslim passengers and dead on the Mavi Marmara, again counterpoised to the alleged villainy of the Israeli Jewish soldiers who shot them.

You have chosen a biblical story, involving a boat, in which to cast Israeli Jews as the villains, because of its cultural resonance. And it has cultural resonance for the reasons I have stated, and to at least some of which you have admitted.

‘unless it is now accepted by you that depicting someone as a heavily armed agent of state security automatically identifies them as Israeli/Jewish’

Well, they are Israeli Jews. End of.

‘ nor are there any symbols denoting Israel or Judaism’

Counterpoised to ‘universal’ i.e. Christian and Islamic Noahic virtue.

If you depict ‘universal’ i.e. Christian and Islamic symbols, against Jews, of one kind, or another, you imply Jewish ones.

‘unlike in Steve Bell’s cartoon last Tuesday’

Didn’t see it.

‘So where is the antisemitism – that is, the irrational hatred of all Jews simply on the grounds of their Jewishness’

You have defined ‘antisemitism’ to suit yourself. It consists in what I have said: the counterpoising of ‘universal’ i.e. Christian and Islamic Noahic virtue to Israeli Jewish vice, in the form of a biblical story or narrative, used precisely because of its ‘universal’ resonance i.e. traditional Christian and Islamic narrative of their absolute virtue (for that is what Noah signifies, the virtue that alone saves from destruction) in contrast to a Jewish sinfulness that also has an absolute or cosmic quality.

As I said: it constitutes ‘reaching for the nuclear option’.

‘ – apart from your assertion that using a universally recognised figure who is shared between Christianity, Islam, Judaism and universal popular culure is, by definition, antisemitic?’

Which I never said.

‘Why isn’t it Islamophobic, or whatever you call an irrational hatred of Christians?’

Because it isn’t directed against Christians or Muslims. Quite the contrary, in fact.

‘ And believe me, I’m down on those buggers big time, as you’ll discover if you investigate my oeuvre.’

Really? Will we see Muhammed ticking off those Muslims that do or threaten bad things in his name, any time soon? Will we see a cartoon of contemporary Muslims slaying any of the original Salafis?

‘All in all, it reminds me of a story the MP Denis MacShane told me, about when he said, casually, to some of his Muslim constituents, in relation to some local problem, “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must come to the mountain”, and was instantly accused of Islamophobia.’

I fail to see you point. It makes no sense in relation to what I have written whatsoever.

‘In short, your argument ultimately seems to me to be of the kid in the school playground who thumps other children simply for looking at him.’

Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you? Most of all if you think I have a point.

CartoonistRowson

5 Jun 2010, 2:24PM

Zachary – this is it, honestly. To save electricity have it your own way, though I still don’t see how an anti-Israeli cartoon is therefore an antisemitic one, unless I conceded the Zionist argument – unlike a lot of Jews, as it happens – that Israel = Judaism. But let it lie. My intention was not antisemitic, but if you conclude that the result was – and that that, for whatever perverse reason, makes you feel better, so be it.

However, I absolutely insist that you give me Biblical chapter and verse where the following animals are specifically mentioned by name, as you claim that my choice of biblical animals compounds the awfulness of my antisemitism:
Walruses
Polar Bears
Llamas
Kangeroos
Gibbons
Gorillas
Aardvarks
Okapis

As the last animal was only “discovered” – or least the type specimen first described – in 1903, I’d be intrigued to hear your answer.

love and peace

Martin Rowson


Zacharyesterson

5 June, 2010, 3:01 PM

‘Zachary – this is it, honestly. To save electricity have it your own way, though I still don’t see how an anti-Israeli cartoon is therefore an antisemitic one’

Nor said I ‘therefore’. You seem to think an anti-Israeli cartoon is NOT therefore an anti-Semitic one.

‘unless I conceded the Zionist argument – unlike a lot of Jews, as it happens – that Israel = Judaism.’

But you have introduced ‘Judaism’ into the discourse, by using biblical imagery, and counterpoising the virtuous Noah, and his coterie, representing sundry largely gentile, or Turkish, Christians or (very) Muslims, to villainous Israeli Jews.

‘But let it lie. My intention was not antisemitic’

That may well be the case.

‘ but if you conclude that the result was – and that that, for whatever perverse reason, makes you feel better, so be it.’

It does not ‘make me feel better’, nor is it ‘perverse’.

‘However, I absolutely insist that you give me Biblical chapter and verse where the following animals are specifically mentioned by name, as you claim that my choice of biblical animals compounds the awfulness of my antisemitism: Walruses, Polar Bears, Llamas, Kangeroos, Gibbons, Gorillas, Aardvarks, kapis’

Are you saying you are NOT depicting, or attempting to depict, Noah, his ark and his two or seven or every species? Or that those soldiers are not meant to depict Israeli Jewish soldiers?

‘As the last animal was only “discovered” – or least the type specimen first described – in 1903, I’d be intrigued to hear your answer.’

It’s irrelevant. It is obvious you are trying to depict Noah, his ark etc, and you have already acknowledged as much.

Any cartoon is by definition open to interpretation because different people with different cultural backgrounds see within it different things. My own interpretation of the above drawing was similar to Zachary’s on some points and a little different on others. What I saw was the following: Noah saved humankind using a ship/ ‘Free Gaza’ is saving humankind also using ships. Noah was chosen for this task by God because of his righteousness/ ‘Free Gaza’ is the righteous party in this story/Israelis are masked and devoid of human characteristics.  Noah’s dove with olive branch has become the universal symbol of peace/ Israelis kill peace, for no justifiable reason and with trumped-up excuses.

The bottom line is that this cartoon tells its viewer that Israel is responsible for the fact that there is no peace; Israel is a killer state. It also downplays and even ridicules the threat to Israeli civilians. It stereotypes and demonises Israelis as aggressive, militaristic and uniform and that stereotyping makes it racist.

Beyond the possible interpretations of the cartoon, there are some other interesting points raised by the above exchange between Zachary and Rowson. Rowson opts for the ‘Livingstone formulation’  in no uncertain terms when he writes:

“True, I’m surprised that no one so far (unless zapped by the moderators) has accused my cartoon of being the most disgracefully anti-semitic cartoon published since the closure of Der Sturmer – which is what I usually get in response to anything critical of Israel. But apart from the usual, kneejerk trope of equating all criticism of the state of Israel’s actions with anti-semitism, I think you’re pushing it a bit on the Noah’s Ark front.”

He goes on to defend his cartoon by  claiming that:

“[t]here are no racial stereotypes in this cartoon – unless it is now accepted by you that depicting someone as a heavily armed agent of state security automatically identifies them as Israeli/Jewish; nor are there any symbols denoting Israel or Judaism, unlike in Steve Bell’s cartoon last Tuesday.”

As a defence against an accusation of anti-Semitism, this point raised by Rowson is particularly interesting in light of his own 2006 cartoon. Do the words ‘enough rope’ come to mind here?

The final point of interest is the question of who gets to define anti-Semitism? The Stephen Lawrence case raised many questions in the UK on the subject of perceptions and definitions of racism, as well as the subject of institutionalized racism. One of the many conclusions of the 1999 Macpherson report into the incident was that

The definition of ‘racist incident’ should be: ‘any incident which is perceived to

be racist by the victim or any other person’.

It is definitely time for Mr. Rowson to have a serious rethink of his attitudes: his ark shows him to be no angel.

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