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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Major Anti-Semitic Motifs in Arab Cartoons

Filed under: Antisemitism
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

  • The main recurrent motif in Arab cartoons concerning Israel is “the devilish Jew.” This image conveys the idea that Jews behave like Nazis, kill children and love blood. The similarity with themes promulgated by the Nazis is evident. Many Arab cartoons praise suicide bombing or call for murder. The collective image of the Jews thus projected lays the groundwork for a possible genocide.

  • A caricature may have as much influence on public opinion as an editorial.

  • Palestinian cartoonists often place emphasis on the anti-Semitic accusation of “ritual murder” of children. This is underscored by their claim that Israelis target Palestinian children. To dehumanize Jews, Arab cartoonists often depict them as malevolent creatures: spiders, vampires or octopuses.

  • Several Arab hate motifs also have permeated Western society as they resonate with the long-standing anti-Semitic prejudices of the Christian world.


Genocide’s Groundwork

“The collective image of the Jews created by Arab cartoons lays the groundwork for a possibility of genocide. My collection of Arab caricatures demonstrates this. One can argue about whether these genocidal ideas are conscious or subconscious. My view is that they are still at the subconscious stage.”

Dr. Joël Kotek, a political scientist at the Free University of Brussels, searched the Internet daily for anti-Semitic cartoons in the Arab media for over two and a half years and found about 2,000. Even an initial superficial analysis revealed that the cartoons not only targeted Israel, but were aimed at all Jews. His subsequent research resulted in a book co-authored with his brother Dan Kotek. Published in French, its title translates as In the name of anti-Semitism: The image of the Jews and Israel in the caricature since the second Intifada.1

In a world where image plays a central role, the cartoon, Kotek stresses, has become a popular and efficient means of communication. A caricature may have as much influence on public opinion as an editorial.

The visual impact of these drawings is further strengthened by the fact that many Arab cartoonists are quite gifted illustrators.

Kotek says: “The main recurrent theme in these cartoons is ‘the devilish Jew.’ By extension, this image suggests that the Jewish religion must be diabolic, and the entire Jewish people evil. I even found a Greek Orthodox cartoonist of Lebanese origin, who conveys the message that the Jewish religion has caused the State of Israel to be so ‘evil.’ The cartoons convey the idea that Jews behave like Nazis, leading readers to conclude that the only logical solution is their elimination. As the Arab world is becoming increasingly convinced of these ideas, they have no inhibitions showing them on a multitude of websites.”


Ten Major Themes

Several hundred Arab cartoons from Kotek’s collection are categorized according to ten anti-Semitic themes in his book: “The first theme is based on the oldest anti-Semitic motif, demonization of the Jew. In the Islamic world the Jew’s status – like that of Christians – is that of a dhimmi, a second-class citizen.

“Israel, an entire state of these ‘inferior creatures,’ has won military victories against the Arab world. By their logic, this was only possible, they believe, because Jews are ‘satanic beings.’ In the cartoons I collected, the Jew is depicted as inhuman and an enemy of humanity. This dehumanization is necessary to justify the hoped for elimination.

“On 28 December 1999 – well before the second Palestinian uprising – Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official Palestinian Authority journal, published a cartoon expressing this core idea. It depicted an old man in a djellaba, symbolizing the twentieth century, taking leave of a young man wearing a tee-shirt symbolizing the twenty-first century. In between them stood a small Jew with a Star of David on his breast, above which an arrow pointed to him saying, ‘the illness of the century.’2

“A few months later on 22 March 2000, the same journal ran another cartoon showing a large Pope talking to a small Jew with the skin, feet, and tail of an animal, and a big hooked nose, wearing a kippa. The Pope exclaimed ‘Peace on Earth’ while the Satanic-looking Jew calls out ‘Colonies on Earth.'”3



A second central theme in the cartoons Kotek has collected is the Jew as a murderer of God. “This is originally a Christian motif. Bernard Lewis has shown how this theme had been appropriated by the Islamic world. This representation serves in efforts to obtain the sympathy of some Christians by adapting one of their central myths.

“Lewis said that the first manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Middle East originated among Christian minorities there who were inspired by Europeans. These ideas initially had only a limited impact. The poison spread after 1933, when Nazi Germany promoted hatred of the Jews in the Arab world. Thereafter, the Palestinian conflict enabled the diffusion of an anti-Semitic interpretation of history.4

“In the Muslim worldview one cannot kill God, but can wound Him. Their discourse says that not only did the Jews betray Mohammed, but before that, they had turned Jesus – a prophet, according to Islam – into a martyr. In a dangerous mutation, Islamic anti-Semitism says, as if it were to the Christians, that the Jews treat Palestine as they treated Christ. In this way they transform the story’s main characters: the Israelis have become the Romans and Jesus has become a Palestinian.

“Whenever there is a report from Bethlehem, the Israeli soldiers are depicted by Arab cartoonists as Romans, while Bethlehem is described as Christ’s birthplace. In the Islamic world the motif of the Jews wounding the prophet is not ancient. Its inventors are Christian Arabs in the 1980s.”


Israel as a Nazi State

“The third motif in these cartoons is Israel as a Nazi state. This is based on two contradictory allegations, which the Islamists try to reconcile. Their first claim is that the Shoah never happened. Their second contention is that if it did, it has caused more damage to the Palestinians because they believe they are being treated worse than the Nazis treated the Jews.

“Long before Sharon came to power, the theme of the Israeli as a Nazi was well-represented in the Arab caricature. According to it, all Zionists from Peres and Barak to Sharon are inspired by Nazi methods. The paradox is quite evident if one remembers the Arab sympathies for the Nazis during the Second World War. After the war many Arab intellectuals denied the crimes the Nazis committed during the Holocaust. These were rarely denounced.

“A cartoon in the Egyptian Al-Akhbar shows Barak dressed as a Nazi with a Hitler moustache, blood dripping from his hands.5 In another caricature in the Egyptian daily Al Goumhouriya from 1996, Hitler is shown wearing a swastika band on his arm, while telling Shimon Peres, wearing a Star of David band on his arm: ‘I made a mistake by not understanding the importance of American support.’6

“A 1993 cartoon in the Syrian daily Teshreen shows one soldier with a Star of David on his helmet and another with a swastika on his helmet. The caption reads: ‘The Security Council has studied the case of genocide of the Palestinians.’ The long list is of Israeli crimes; the small list of Nazi crimes.7 In the Lebanese Daily Star in 2000, four consecutive drawings show how Sharon, with a Star of David on his lapel, becomes Hitler with a moustache, and on his lapel, a swastika. The cartoonist Jabra Stavro, born in Beirut, has won many prizes.”8



Kotek says: “The fourth motif – zoomorphism – is a very common theme throughout the world. To abuse one’s adversaries, one dehumanizes them by turning them into animals. In Nazi, Soviet and Romanian caricatures, the Jew is often depicted as a spider, perceived as an evil animal. Stavro in the Daily Star portrays Barak, with a Star of David on his breast, as a spider interrupting the peace process.9

“The two other predominant anti-Semitic zoomorphic motifs are the blood-thirsty vampire and the octopus. The vampire image is a classic theme used by anti-Semites. I have not found any other people besides the Jews represented as such. This genocide-preparing design originates in Christian imagination.

“Another caricature by Stavro in the Daily Star of 23 October 2000, depicted a spider with a Star of David on its body and the head of Ehud Barak in a web on which the word ‘war’ is written many times. A cartoon in the weekly La Revue du Liban shows an octopus with the Star of David on its body, its tentacles strangling Fatah, Jihad and Hamas. This is another cartoon by Stavro.10

“The Arab cartoonists often follow the Nazis as far as the bestial representation of the Jews is concerned. The messages transmitted are that the Jews are destructive, inhuman and evil. In 1934 a Nazi cartoonist drew an octopus with a Star of David whose tentacles covered the globe.11 A 2002 cartoon from Russia shows a Star of David with America throwing coins on it. The star then mutates into an octopus with rockets and planes in its tentacles.12


Snakes, Pigs and Cockroaches

“Occasionally, other animals are used to dehumanize the Jews. Emad Hajjaj, a well-known Ramallah-born cartoonist living in Jordan, designed a two-headed snake with Stars of David on its body, depicting the heads of Sharon and Barak.13 The cartoon’s message is simple: these persons are two faces of the same monstrosity. It was published in the Jordanian daily Al Dustour.

“Sometimes one also finds pigs representing the Jew in contemporary Arab cartoons. This classic dehumanizing motif has its origins in the Middle Ages, though everybody knew that the pig was a forbidden animal to the Jews.

“This approach of zoomorphism exists in every culture and has cultural specifics. The snake is used by almost everybody. It appeared very often in French caricatures about the Germans before the Second World War and vice versa. The Hutus in Africa consider the Tutsis cockroaches.

“In the Israeli press one rarely finds cartoons depicting Arabs as animals. In such instances, they do not appear in mainstream papers but originate from extremist bodies such as the forbidden Kach movement or the Women in Green. These occasionally present Arafat as a pig or snake.”14


“Masters of the world”

“The fifth anti-Semitic motif in Arab cartoons echoes the classic conspiracy theme, that ‘the Jews control the world.’ This explains Arab thought as to why they have not been able to win against these people. Before 1967, the classic theme – also in the Soviet world – was that the Israelis were the aircraft carrier of the United States in the Middle East.

“Today the opposite idea is depicted. Israel’s opponents allege that the Jews dominate the United States. By implication, they also claim that the Jews are the ‘masters of the world’ – a classic conspiracy theme exploited by the Nazis. For the communists, the Jews were the bourgeoisie and the capitalists; for the Nazis they represented the essence of capitalism.

“Many Arabs wonder why the United States supports Israel rather than their own cause. They find this mysterious and have developed a simple response: The Jews dominate the world. As the Arab world is in a rather poor state, they claim that its masters, i.e., the Jews, are the cause of their problems. This motif is identical to that exemplified in the Russian Czarist falsification of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Thus, subconsciously, they want to get rid of these ‘evil conspirators.’ In the caricatures Israelis are rarely shown. When they are, they are often represented as ultra-orthodox Jews, which is another absurdity.

“The gifted American caricaturist of Algerian origin, Bendib, designed a monkey with a Star of David on its breast sitting on top of the globe on which small figures of the Pope and an Arab are drawn. The monkey says: ‘Jerusalem: from New York City to Kuala Lumpur, undivided, eternal capital of Israel; everything else is negotiable.’15 In this cartoon the domination motif is thus combined with that of zoomorphism.”


The Jew, a Corrupting Force

“The sixth recurring anti-Semitic motif is that of the Jew as a corrupting force. This is a derivative of the theme that Jews dominate the world with their money. Arab anti-Semites allege U.S. presidents are linked to Jewish banks and other Jewish money. What the Arabs forget in the caricatures is that George W. Bush was their candidate in the last American elections. Most Jews, who are liberals and thus Democrats, voted for Al Gore. Jews also supported Clinton. In the perception of the cartoonist, however, everything becomes possible.

“Bendib draws God holding a fat bag of dollars. On it the names of major Jewish organizations are written: ‘ADL, AIPAC, ZOA.’ God outstretches his hand to Bush, who slaughters a child on the altar of the Holyland Foundation for needy Muslim children. The caption reads: ‘And the Almighty dollar [represented by God] said: “Sacrifice me, a Muslim son, or else.” And George the W. said “You’ve got it Lord, if this improves my chances for a second term.”‘16

“A caricature in Teshreen shows bearded Jews with sidelocks and a bag stepping on Hitler to access an open safe filled with money on which is written: ‘U.S.’ The Holocaust is thus introduced as a motif of blackmail in order to extract money.”17


Blood Libel Motif

“Yet another major theme in Arab cartoons is the bloodloving or blood-thirsty Jew. This originates in Christian anti-Semitism. The Christian anti-Semitic libel alleged the Jews needed Christian blood for their Passover service. Its claim is that the Jew is evil, as his religion forces him to drink blood. In today’s Arab world this image of unbridled hatred has mutated into the alleged quest for Palestinian blood.

“There are so many of these cartoons that I could select only a few for my book. Blood-drinking Jews are frequently shown by Al Ahram, one of Egypt’s leading dailies. On 21 April 2001, it printed a cartoon showing an Arab being put into a flatting mill by two soldiers wearing helmets with Stars of David. The Arab’s blood pours out and two Jews with kippot and Stars of David on their shirts drink the blood laughingly.18

“Another well-known Egyptian cartoon portrays Sharon with horns and blood dripping from his mouth.19 A Jordanian cartoonist Rasmy shows a plumber repairing a number of taps. From the American tap comes oil, from the Turkish, water and from the Israeli blood.”20

Kotek says that to the best of his knowledge, the blood theme is anti-Semitic, and not a general racist theme. No other people has been accused of drinking blood. The origins of this myth are in twelfth century Christian England, where the blood libel was invented.



“The eighth recurring anti-Semitic theme in Arab cartoons is the most extreme. The concept that the Jews not only murder, but preferably target children, is what the cartoonists try to convey through their imagery. This depicts the Palestinians primarily as children or babies. Thus, Arab and Muslim propagandists turn Palestinian children into the paradigm of the victim, despite the fact that most of their dead are adults.”

Kotek observes: “The Palestinians do live a tragedy on a daily basis and have had over the last decade about 5,000 dead. Many Israelis have also been killed. During the same period of time, two million Sudanese have died; three million Africans around the big lakes; 200,000 Bosnians; 150,000 Algerians and 100,000 Chechenians. The media, however, concentrate on the Palestinians.

“A Palestinian caricature shows the Statue of Liberty lifting with her right arm a Palestinian child dripping blood. In her left hand, she protectively holds Barak.21 A Kuwaiti cartoon shows an old Jew wearing a kippa and carrying a gun, shafting a child into a burning oven to bake matzot. The reference is both to the Shoah – which now the Palestinian child is portrayed as undergoing – and ritual crime.22

“The official website of the Palestinian Authority’s press service carries a caricature of Sharon with a blood-covered axe slaughtering a baby, or fetus, against a background of a butcher’s hooks with children hanging from them, next to a sign saying ‘Palestinian blood.’ A large sign on the counter says ‘Sale.’23

“In the Qatari journal Al Watan, Sharon is shown drinking from a cup on which is written ‘blood from Palestinian children.’ On the bottom of the cup it says ‘Made in the U.S.A.’24 In Al Hayat al-Jadida, Sharon offers the bleeding head of a young Palestinian on a plate to George Bush.25 The earlier-mentioned cartoons of the Jew as a blood-thirsty vampire thus combine two anti-Semitic themes in one design.”


Arabs want Peace, Israel does not

“The ninth anti-Semitic motif used is that Israel is a ‘perfidious’ country which does not want peace. The theme of ‘the perfidious Jew’ is an ancient one in Islamic anti-Semitism. Mohammed is said to have tried to make peace with the Jews at times, but, they allege, he was systematically betrayed, and he murdered them.

“Rasmy shows a Palestinian throwing his weapons on the floor saying: ‘I give up my weapon to convince you.’ An Israeli soldier from behind the wall kills him saying, ‘That’s how I believe you.’26 In a Syrian cartoon, an Israeli offers a ball to Arafat holding a dove. On the top is written ‘The Oslo Accords.’ The ball explodes, killing the Arab. The Israeli walks away strangling the dove.”27



Apologies for Suicide Bombers and Terrorism

“The tenth motif concerns apologies for suicide bombers. I collected many cartoons calling for outright murder. In the hundreds of designs I analyzed on this theme I did not find a single one depicting the Israeli as a civilian. He is always a soldier or an ultra-orthodox Jew. He has no father, mother or child.

“A Jordanian cartoon by Rasmy shows a Palestinian with his face covered and dynamite on his body, saying to a Russian Jewish immigrant shown as an ultra-orthodox Jew: ‘Come into my arms.’28 Another one by Emad Hajjaj shows a Palestinian mother raising her arms, holding up her children who are depicted as suicide bombers.”29

Kotek concludes that these caricatures often express a new type of anti-Semitism. “They are frequently ‘calls for murder.’ To the cartoonists, death seems the only worthy punishment that ‘the Zionist enemy’ merits. As Pierre-André Taguieff notes in his book on the new Judeophobia,30 this Islamic-Jihadic version is explicitly genocidal. It defines its battle as a total elimination of the absolute enemy.”


The Fascination of a Child

When asked how he became so interested in cartoons, Kotek says that when he was nine years old – shortly before the Six Day War – a book published by an Israeli scholar on anti-Semitic caricatures already fascinated him. “Some books you read when you are young, can influence your entire life.

“Belgium has always focused a great deal on cartoonists and their iconography. Living there, one’s mind is more open to this art form. I even wrote an article on Hergé, Belgium’s most important cartoonist, who was an anti-Semite.

“I was thus predisposed toward the caricature. It is a simple and convincing tool to demonstrate quickly the extremely serious developments taking place in the Arab world. Their themes are used in the Western world as well. The similarity of these cartoons with those of the Nazis is evident, which has already been demonstrated in an earlier book by Arieh Stav.”31

In order to obtain the copyright for the caricatures, Kotek wrote to many cartoonists in the Arab world. As Belgium has an anti-Israeli image, especially in view of the law suit brought against Sharon, many of those queried automatically assumed that he was anti-Israeli. Quite a few gave him permission to use their cartoons without payment.


A Peace Camp Rightist

“In Europe, being an anti-racist makes one automatically a leftist. When you fight anti-Semitism however, you are seen as a right-winger – a supporter of the Likud and of Sharon. This is untrue, as I am a conscious Jew who belongs to the peace camp. I see myself as a friend of Israel, yet critical of some of its policies. But once you become aware of the enormous Arab hate and demonization of Israel you have to defend Israel. I am horrified by the impact of anti-Zionism combined with the great ignorance I often find among people about Israel.

“The cartoons in my book – representative of a much larger collection – show how old Christian myths of the diabolic Jew are resuscitated in the Arab world. Palestinian cartoonists often lay the emphasis on ritual murder of children. They then try to give this tenability by claiming that Israelis target Palestinian children.”

Kotek says that these allegations have also permeated Western society as they resonate with the long-standing prejudices of the Christian world. He follows the French and Belgian media closely. “It occurs regularly that when French or Belgian radio reports a Palestinian being killed, they also tell his age. This is the only conflict in the world in which the age of the victim is mentioned.

“In the collective sub-conscious of many Christians, and now Arabs, anti-Semitic myths cannot be eradicated. They present the Jews as ‘the Eternal Jew,’ a warmonger and a danger for the world. This is no longer just an Arab concept. Many recent polls in the European Union confirm how strong these prejudices have permeated this continent.”

Interview by Manfred Gerstenfeld

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1. Joël et Dan Kotek, Au nom de l’antisionisme: L’image des Juifs et d’Israël dans la caricature depuis la seconde Intifada (Brussels: Éditions Complexe, 2003). [French]
2. Al-Hayat al-Jadida, 28 December 1999, Kotek, op. cit., p. 53.
3. Al-Hayat al-Jadida, 22 March 2000, Kotek, op. cit., p. 52.
4. Bernard Lewis, “Islam: What Went Wrong?” in The Atlantic Monthly, January 2002.
5. Al Akhbar, 3 October 2000, Kotek, op. cit., p. 60.
6. Al Goumhouriya, 24 April 1996, Kotek, op. cit., p. 62.
7. Teshreen, 15 April 1993, Kotek, op. cit., p. 63.
8. Daily Star, 3 April 2002, Kotek, op. cit., p. 63.
9. Daily Star, 23 October 2000, Kotek, op. cit., p. 64.
10. La Revue du Liban, 8 December 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 65.
11. Kotek, op. cit., p. 158.
12. Ibid.
13. Al Dustour, 3 February 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 66.
14. Kotek, op. cit.., p. 152.
15., Kotek, op. cit., p. 69.
16. Kotek, op. cit.,p. 71.
17. Kotek, op. cit., p. 71
18. Al-Ahram, 21 April 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 76.
19. Al-Haqiqa, 5 May 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 79.
20., Kotek, op. cit., p. 77.
21. Omaya, 28 October 2000, Kotek, op. cit., p. 91.
22. Al-Rai Al-Ram, 5 April 1988, Kotek, op. cit., p. 83.
23. Official website of Palestinian Authority, Kotek, op. cit., p. 82.
24. Al-Watan, 24 July 2002, Kotek, op. cit., p. 80.
25. Al Hayat al-Jadida, 6 October 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 84.
26., 23 September, 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p. 94.
27. Al-Thawra, 1 October 1988, Kotek, op. cit., p. 94.
28., 7 March 2001, Kotek, op. cit., p.96.
29., 27 August 2004, Kotek, op. cit., p.95.
30. Pierre André Taguieff, La Nouvelle Judeophobie (Paris: Les Mille et une Nuits, 2002). [French]
31. Arieh Stav, Peace: The Arabian Caricature; A study of Anti- Semitic Imagery (Jerusalem: Gefen, 1999).

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Dr. Joël Kotek was born in Gent in 1958. He studied history at the Free University of Brussels and has a doctorate in Political Science from the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po) in Paris. He teaches Political Science at the Free University of Brussels, specializing in the subject of European Integration. He is also director of Training at the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation in Paris.


The cartoons in this interview have been taken from Dr. Kotek’s book. Other cartoons with English explanations from this book can be found in the booklet, “Fighting Anti-Semitism,” published jointly by the JCPA and the office of the Minister for Diaspora and Jerusalem Affairs, Natan Sharansky. A Hebrew version of this booklet can be seen at: