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

Manfred Gerstenfeld on Cartoons and Extremism: Israel and the Jews in Arab and Western Media, by Joël Kotek

Filed under: Antisemitism, World Jewry
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 21:1-2 (Spring 2009)  

Cartoonists in the mass media must use broad stereotypes which are easily recognizable by a majority of viewers. In contemporary society, in which almost all knowledge is superficial and fragmented, caricatures remain an effective tool for conveying opinions, including hate messages, in a concise manner. This is particularly true for countries with a high percentage of illiterate people, such as in the Arab world.

This book by Joël Kotek, who teaches at the Free University of Brussels, provides a selection of anti-Semitic cartoons from his large private collection. It was originally published in French in 2003.[1] This new edition is updated and includes, for instance, anti-Semitic reactions in the Muslim world to the Danish Mohammed cartoon crisis. It also brings examples from the 2006 Holocaust hate cartoon competition by the leading Iranian daily Hamashahri, owned by the Tehran municipality.

The caricatures in this book can be divided in two groups. The first are those which incite hatred, murder, or extermination of Jews. The second are anti-Semitic cartoons. Many are from the Arab world where hatred of others is disproportionately intense, in particular loathing of Jews and Israel.

By analyzing the hundreds of cartoons in this book one can easily understand how many expressions of anti-Semitism can be brought back to one core theme. Jews, and nowadays also Israel, embody the absolute evil. They are the source of all that goes wrong in the world. Even an untrained person could group the caricatures into some sub-categories. These include the lust for blood – both in general and particularly in relation to children – often for religious purposes; striving to dominate the world by controlling both power and money; and the presentation of the Jews and Israel as subhuman.

Kotek draws parallels between cartoons from Nazi papers and other twentieth-century anti-Semitic media and current ones from the Arab world. He shows how anti-Israelism uses the same motifs as anti-Semitism. This provides further proof that the former is a new mutation of the latter. The cartoons published come from many countries, illustrating the globalization of hatred.

Part of the analytical infrastructure for Kotek’s work was laid by an earlier book by Arie Stav.[2] However, the explosive growth in the publication of anti-Semitic hate caricatures took place mainly after that book was published.

One of the cartoons, intended as anti-Israeli, leaves open an anti-Christian interpretation. At the time of the Israeli siege on Palestinian terrorists hiding in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in spring 2002, one of Italy’s leading cartoonists, Giorgio Forattini – in what is considered to be one of the country’s quality journals, La Stampa – showed the child Jesus in a manger while outside stands an Israeli tank bearing the Star of David. The drawing’s title is “Tanks at the Manger.” The child Jesus is saying, “Do you want to kill me again?” a reference to the accusations of deicide brought against the Jews for centuries. However, the terrorists hiding in the Bethlehem church were Muslims. Did Forattini imply that in his view Palestinian murderers are the sons of God? Or did he compare the founder of Christianity to these criminals?

With one exception, the best known European hate cartoons are included in the book. One of these classics of new anti-Semitism was published by the British daily The Independent: a cartoon by Dave Brown showing then-Israeli-Prime-Minister Ariel Sharon as a child-eater. In this context it should be pointed out that the libel that Jews use the blood of gentile children for religious purposes originated in England during the Middle Ages. In answer to protests, the UK press complaints commission cleared the cartoon. Thereafter it won the UK “Political Cartoon of the Year Award for 2003” of the Political Cartoon Society. The award was presented to Brown in November 2003 at the offices of the prestigious Economist weekly by Labour MP and former Minister for Overseas Aid Clare Short.[3]

In another classic hate cartoon, the Greek daily Ethnos, close to the socialist party Pasok which was in power at the time, depicted two Jewish soldiers dressed as Nazis, with Stars of David on their helmets, stabbing Arabs. The accompanying text read: “Do not feel yourself guilty, my brother. We were not in Auschwitz and Dachau to suffer, but to learn.”[4]

Greece and Norway are the two European countries where extreme anti-Semitic cartoons appear most frequently. Kotek includes for instance Finn Graf’s cartoon which was published in Norway’s third largest daily, Dagbladet, depicting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as a Nazi.[5] The German-born Graf is greatly appreciated by part of the Norwegian elite. In March 2007 he was made a knight in the prestigious Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav by King Harald V. The Council of the Order, in its evaluation, declared that his drawings “were an inspiration for all who draw and illustrate.”[6]

The book also contains cartoons that depict all recent Israeli prime ministers as murderers or criminals. Among many in the Arab world, the mindset is that Israeli politicians are criminals, whatever party they belong to.

The one classic European twenty-first century hate cartoon which is absent from the book is from the daily Dagsavisen, which is close to the Norwegian Labor movement. It presents an ultra-orthodox Jew reading from a new mutation of the Ten Commandments: “Murder, kill, liquidate, execute,” and so on.[7]

In an interview which, since it was published on the internet over four years ago, has had hundreds of thousands of page views, Kotek said: “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.”[8]

Since then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became Iranian prime minister and Hizballah and Hamas have grown stronger. Among many in the Muslim world the genocidal hatred of Jews and Israelis is now very much a conscious one.


*     *     *



[1]. Joël and Dan Kotek, Au nom de l’antisionisme (In the name of anti-Semitism, Brussels: Editions Complexe, 2003). [French]

[2]. Arie Stav, Peace: The Arabian Caricature. A Study in Anti-Semitic Imagery (Tel Aviv: Gefen Books, 1999).


[4]. Ethnos, 7 April 2002. [Greek]

[5]. “Olmert the Nazi,” caricature by Finn Graff, Dagbladet, 10 July 2006. [Norwegian]

[6]. (the official royal website).

[7]. “The Seven Synonyms of Death,” caricature by Dave Coverly, Dagsavisen, 7 January 2004. [Norwegian]

[8]. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Major Anti-Semitic Motifs in Arab Cartoons,” an interview with Joël Kotek, Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism 21, 1 June 2004.

*     *     *

Manfred Gerstenfeld is chairman of the Board of Fellows of the JCPA and an editor of JPSR.