It’s one thing when a couple of fans ask anxious questions, or when a professional purveyor of gevalt such as myself makes an issue of a reference in Doonesbury to tired anti-Jewish tropes about vengeful Gods, etc.
It’s quite another when Rabbi David Sapertsein, the veteran civil rights fighter, the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, the guy who delivered the invocation when Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, takes time out to write a letter.
Here it is:
Dear Mr. Trudeau,
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America include 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1,800 Reform rabbis, I write out of concern about the Sunday, May 31st edition of your popular comic strip, Doonesbury.
The strip, we hope and assume unwittingly, perpetuated centuries of anti-Semitic canards about Biblical-era moneylenders – who were almost uniformly Jewish – as the enemies of Jesus and the villains of the New Testament. As you know, similar caricatures have been used throughout the years to incite hate against the Jewish community and have cultivated and perpetuated offensive stereotypes.
This is, of course, not a small matter, nor is it only of historical interest. A recently released study by the Anti-Defamation League reports that American Jews are the religious group most often targeted in hate crimes. Whether intentional or not, public expression that smacks of anti-Semitism, even in cartoon form – and especially by someone as well-regarded as yourself – is cause for concern.
To be clear, I write as a fan. Satire is an invaluable means of focusing public attention on issues facing our society. It can amuse and illuminate, as you have shown repeatedly throughout your career. I hope my reading of the cartoon is correct that the focus appears to be on the current financial crisis; in this case, however, a line was crossed that allowed a pernicious stereotype to find its way into the discourse about the current economic challenges faced by our nation and world. If you agree with me that these challenges are not the fault of any one individual, group or religion, then I hope you share my concern that your cartoon might be read as blaming Jews.
In light of this incident, I hope that in the future, you will pay particular attention to ensuring careful consideration of the weight of the allusions made in your artwork and the many ways in which they may be interpreted.
Rabbi David Saperstein