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New Zealand is Latest Locale in Mideast Editorial Cartoon Battle

August 20, 2003
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Editorial cartoons seen as anti-Semitic have ruffled feathers in the Jewish community in the United States and Australia.

Now a similar squabble has led to the firing of a prominent cartoonist in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s major newspaper dropped award-winning cartoonist Malcolm Evans for the way he caricatured Jews in cartoons dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Evans’ cartoons were featured five days a week in the New Zealand Herald, the country’s only newspaper with national circulation.

Evans says he was fired because he refused to be told what he could and could not draw.

But the paper’s editor, Gavin Ellis, told JTA, “Although Evans was freelance, on legal advice I cannot discuss why his services have been terminated. His claim that he was sacked for refusing to stop drawing cartoons of Israel’s government is incorrect and denied.”

In June, the Herald published an Evans cartoon equating the situation in the West Bank with apartheid. Evans had drawn the word “apartheid” as graffiti on a wall, replacing the second “a” with a Star of David.

Following complaints from readers, Ellis wrote in an editorial, “Whereas the Israeli flag embodies that symbol, it is also representative of the Jewish religion. The Herald is at pains to separate the policies of an elected government from one of the world’s great religions.”

He added that the cartoon had not been “the preferred choice,” and that Evans had been told to submit another. However, the cartoon still found its way into the paper.

Evans had drawn for the Herald for seven years and had won New Zealand’s Cartoonist of the Year award. He said in an interview that he had no problem with the editor’s right to refuse to publish a cartoon but that he would not allow others to dictate what he could or could not draw.

Acknowledging that his cartoons were one-sided, he said, “The world would be a much poorer place without the input of the Jewish people. I try to be fair, but there is no way I can accept the government of Ariel Sharon,” Israel’s prime minister.

The firing follows an apology last week from the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, which had published a cartoon comparing the wall Israel is building to keep out terrorists to the wall surrounding the Warsaw Ghetto.

In recent months, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune also published cartoons on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that many Jews found offensive.

A leader of Auckland’s Jewish Council, Geoff Levy, said, “Many of Evans’ cartoons have been totally offensive. We met with Mr. Evans in order to try to settle the problem, but he refused to answer when we asked him his views on Israel’s right to exist.”

Levy, who is also president of the Anti-Defamation League in New Zealand, said that a complaint had been lodged with the Human Rights Commission on the basis that Evans’ work would incite racial hostility. He said the paper had told the council that it regretted the publication of the apartheid cartoon.

Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, Gabby Levy, said that he discussed the matter with the newspaper’s editor on an informal basis but did not file any formal complaint.

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