Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Image of Cartoon Widely Seen As Anti-semitic Hasn’t Faded

June 5, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, it also can draw a few hundred protesters.

On Wednesday, about 200 people protested what they considered an anti-Semitic political cartoon that ran May 30 in the Chicago Tribune.

The noontime rally at the Tribune Tower in Downtown Chicago was organized by the Zionist group EXIST, which stands for Examining Israel, Security & Terrorism. Other Jewish groups across the Chicago area joined the protest.

The cartoon by Dick Locher, a cartoonist syndicated through Tribune Media Services, depicts a grotesque, hooked nose figure — presumably Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — with a Star of David on his jacket. The looming figure stands before a chasm labeled “Mideast Gulch.”

A kneeling figure, presumably President Bush, is carefully laying dollar bills across the chasm. The Sharon figure stares at the money and says, “On second thought, the pathway to peace is looking a bit brighter.”

On the other end of the path, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat waits with arms crossed.

The cartoon’s message, according to critics, is that Israel’s motivation for peace is triggered not by the endless bloodshed of recent years but by American money.

In the days since the cartoon ran, Jews and non-Jews alike have voiced outrage against the Chicago Tribune for printing what they say is an anti-Semitic cartoon that obliterates the line between politics and blatant ant-Semitism.

The image plays on old stereotypes of Jews as money-grubbers and is reminiscent of propaganda of the Middle Ages, Nazi Germany and the Arab press today, they say.

The cartoon “is worthy of the Arab press, which regularly shows Jews in such a way, but it is not worthy of an American newspaper,” said Rabbi Michael Siegel, spiritual leader of Chicago’s Anshe Emet Synagogue, who spoke at the rally. “We demand that the heads of this newspaper acknowledge that cartoon for what it is, and apologize to the Jewish community, the people of Chicago and the State of Israel.”

Siegel urged Chicagoans to write to the Tribune protesting the cartoon, to cancel subscriptions and to request that advertisers withdraw financial support from the paper, which has been criticized for its allegedly anti-Israel leanings since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000.

“The Tribune’s coverage of the Middle East and Israel has been a sore point with many in the community for some time,” said Jay Tcath, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. “This cartoon was perhaps the most visible and troubling manifestation of that.”

Locher defended the cartoon Monday in an interview with Editor & Publisher Online.

“I was trying to go to bat for the American taxpayer,” Locher said on the magazine’s Web site. “Israel is a good friend, but let’s get an accounting of where the money is going.”

In addition, Locher said he always draws a similar big nose on Arafat, and did not intend for the depiction of Sharon to be anti-Semitic.

“Editorial cartoonists work with exaggeration,” he said.

The Anti-Defamation League said it was “disappointed and saddened” by Locher’s response.

“Rather than accepting this as a ‘teaching moment’ to educate the public about the evils of anti-Semitism and the persistence of anti-Jewish images through the centuries, Locher unfortunately has decided to stand behind a disturbing work that has offended many in the Jewish community,” the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said in a statement.

Don Wycliff, public editor for the Tribune, who has been heavily criticized by the Chicago Jewish community for his allegedly anti-Israel editorials, wrote the newspaper’s response in an editorial last Sunday.

Rabbi Siegel reacted strongly to Wycliff’s editorial.

The title of Wycliff’s “piece says it all: ‘When a cartoon offends readers.’ Don, you have missed the point once again,” Siegel said. “The issue is the cartoon, not the headcount of those offended. This cartoon is offensive on any measure and you could not bring yourself to say the words, ‘I apologize on behalf of this newspaper for this garbage in our paper!’ “

At its regularly scheduled meeting earlier this week, representatives of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Chicago discussed further possible action, including a press conference with representatives of Chicago’s other faith and ethnic communities.

The purpose would be to drive home the need for editorial standards that protect the public from racist words and images that can incite hatred, Tcath said.

Recommended from JTA