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

The Mohammed-Cartoon Controversy, Israel, and the Jews: A Case Study

Filed under: Antisemitism, Israel, Radical Islam, World Jewry
Publication: Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

No. 43
  • In the Mohammed-cartoon controversy, the Western world faced fundamental questions that will continue to evolve in the coming years. These include: the nature of Western identity; the internal solidarity of the Western world; to what extent Western societies can be intimidated; how Muslim violence should be confronted; whether a Western Islam can evolve; to what extent some of the Muslims living in the West are a fifth column for a violent non-Western culture; and whether right-wing trends in the West will increase.
  • Israel and the Jews were drawn – almost inevitably – into the controversy between Muslims and the West once the violent protests against the cartoons rapidly accelerated in the first week of February 2006. This was yet another manifestation of the hard core of anti-Semitism that portrays the Jews as responsible for all evil in the world.
  • Western media contrasted Muslims’ sensitivity about the cartoons with the stream of far more offensive anti-Semitic cartoons published in Muslim media. The Middle Eastern boycott of Danish firms also raised some questions about Danish boycotts of Israel.
  • Israel faces a serious risk of Western scapegoating as the Muslim-Western controversy develops over the coming years. In an increasingly unpredictable world, Israel may need to establish a rapid-analysis force to assess emerging global events.


In the Mohammed-cartoon controversy, the Western world faced fundamental questions that will continue to evolve in the coming years. These include: the nature of Western identity; the internal solidarity of the Western world; to what extent Western societies can be intimidated; how Muslim violence should be confronted; whether a Western Islam can evolve; to what extent some of the Muslims living in the West are a fifth column for a violent non-Western culture; and whether right-wing trends in the West will increase.

Israel and the Jews were drawn – almost inevitably – into the controversy between Muslims and the West once the violent protests against the cartoons rapidly accelerated in the first week of February 2006. This was yet another manifestation of the hard core of anti-Semitism that portrays the Jews as responsible for all evil in the world.

As so often happens, some of Israel’s extreme Muslim enemies blamed it for the conflict. Many Western media contrasted Muslims’ sensitivity about the cartoons with the stream of far more offensive anti-Semitic cartoons published in Muslim media. The Middle Eastern boycott of Danish firms also raised some questions about Danish boycotts of Israel. Yet another aspect was that Jewish personalities and organizations made statements about the affair.

The cartoon controversy offers lessons and insights about attitudes toward Jews and Israel. A description of how the conflict developed and its impact on the main parties can enhance understanding of the various Jewish and Israeli aspects of the affair.

From there, one can better define the evolving issues to be observed in the future. This enables focusing on those aspects of the Muslim-western cultural conflict that will become increasingly important and may affect Jews and Israel in substantial, yet unpredictable, ways.

How Did the Conflict Evolve?

In September 2005, the Danish daily Jyllands-posten published twelve cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed. It did so in reaction to the fact that a Danish book author could not find anybody to illustrate his biography of Mohammed.2 The Arab ambassadors in Copenhagen protested the cartoons. A debate began in Denmark, but it faded rapidly and the matter seemed closed.

The cartoon conflict was rekindled by several Danish imams who went to the Arab world to agitate against Denmark. In Egypt in December, they met with the Grand Mufti, Muhammad Saiid Tantawi, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League. Later that month they attended the summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Mecca. Besides the cartoons from the Danish daily, they also showed other material, including a photograph of pigs from an agricultural festival that later turned out to be unrelated to any Muslim issue.3 The imams’ visits to Arab countries led to calls from various Muslim sources to boycott Denmark.4

On 10 January 2006, a small Norwegian Christian paper called Magazinet reprinted the cartoons. On 26 January, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Denmark and a widespread boycott of Danish products began. On 30 January, Jyllands-posten declared that, while the cartoons had insulted many Muslims, they were not against Danish law. Early in February, various European papers published some of the cartoons to underline their support for freedom of the press.5

Many Muslims consider all depictions of the Prophet offensive even though there have been many such pictures in the Islamic world.6 Papers in a number of Muslim countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, also reprinted the Danish cartoons, and were punished for it. Many Westerners agreed that some caricatures were insulting to Muslims, particularly the one showing Mohammed with a bomb in his turban.

Violence in Muslim Countries

Throughout February, these cartoons sparked anti-Western violence in many Muslim and several other countries. The disturbances had mostly dissipated toward the end of the month. The Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus were burned down, as were the Swedish and Chilean embassies, which were in the same building. The Danish mission in Beirut was burned as well. Demonstrators in Tehran attacked the Danish, French, and Austrian embassies with stones and firebombs, and threw rocks at the British mission.7

In the Libyan town of Benghazi, the Italian consulate was stormed. In several countries, Western businesses as well as government buildings were attacked. Christians and their possessions were among the targets of assault in countries such as Lebanon and Nigeria.

By the end of February, the cartoon controversy had taken close to two hundred lives in Afghanistan,8 Lebanon, Kenya,9 Somalia, Libya,10 Pakistan, and Nigeria. The riots in the latter country were particularly lethal, the death toll there alone exceeding 120.11 Most of the dead globally were Muslims, many of them killed by other Muslims. Others – particularly in Nigeria – were Christians. Burning Danish flags became almost a ritual, but other flags such as the American, French, German, and Israeli ones were set alight as well.12

For many weeks, Danish citizens had to be apprehensive even when visiting non-Arab countries.13 In Surabaya, Indonesia, students at an Islamic boarding school signed a pledge that they were ready to die to defend Mohammed’s honor, and said they would demand an apology from any Danish citizens they met in the city.14

A widespread boycott of Danish products in the Arab Middle East, and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the Muslim world, has greatly diminished exports to this area. As a result some workers in Denmark and the Middle East have been laid off. Most experts agree that the anti-cartoon turmoil in the Muslim world was to a large extent organized and not spontaneous.

Palestinian Reactions

The reactions in the Palestinian areas fell in line with the more violent ones in the Arab world. Masked Palestinian gunmen threatened to kidnap foreigners. Armed men kidnapped a German citizen from a hotel in Nablus, who was freed shortly afterward by Palestinian police.

Because of the intimidation, the European Union closed its offices in Gaza City and ordered its staff to leave the town. Gunmen of Fatah and Islamic Jihad came to the offices and said they would remain closed until the Norwegian and Danish governments apologized for insulting Muslims.

In East Jerusalem, Muslim activists called on residents to boycott Danish products, and painted Danish flags on streets so that people would walk over them.15 The Israeli police prevented East Jerusalem youths from burning a Danish flag.16 The Associated Press reported that five hundred children from a Hamas-affiliated school in Hebron stomped on a Danish flag and shouted anti-Danish slogans.17

Unarmed European observers of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron fled after crowds overpowered the Palestinian police, smashed windows, and threw stones at the observers’ building.18

Reactions of the Attacked Countries

The Danish government temporarily withdrew its embassy personnel from Syria, Iran, and Indonesia and advised its citizens to leave these countries.19 It also closed its general consulates in Lebanon and Tunisia.20 The Danish government stated that it had not intended to offend anybody, but also pointed out that free speech prevails in Denmark and a government is not responsible for what its citizens do within the limits of the law.

The European governments were initially in disarray and slow to show solidarity with Denmark. Norway directed its ambassadors to apologize to Muslim governments. EU foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana went to the Middle East to express solidarity with Muslims without stressing the European value of press freedom.

This led the VVD, the Dutch liberal party, to request that Dutch foreign minister Ben Bot criticize Solana publicly for being too apologetic. Bot said he would only do so in a closed meeting of EU foreign ministers. The Danes, in turn, asked the Dutch not to let the matter escalate. As Bot remarked in the Dutch parliament: “The Danes have said: please stop. These are our cartoons. This is our problem.”21 Finally, the Dutch convinced the EU to make a more balanced statement.22 The VVD and several right-wing politicians considered that the entire statement was superfluous. One of them told this author in private: “At least we Dutch weren’t quite as bad as all the other European states on this.”

The BBC reported that it is believed the Swedish government recommended that an internet provider cut off a Swedish website that showed the cartoons.23

Chirac and Dieudonné

Once again, a senior French reaction contrasted with the country’s reality. President Jacques Chirac, focusing mainly on the weekly Charlie Hebdo, condemned the republication of the Mohammed cartoons as a provocation. Other French papers that had published some cartoons earlier in February included France Soir, Libération, Le Figaro, and Le Parisien.24

Also in February, however, the Paris Appeals Court dismissed a complaint of the Consistoire Central, the union of French Jewish communities, against the half-African comedian Dieudonné. The latter had said in an interview with Lyon Capitale: “The Jews are a sect, a fraud, it is one of the worst, because it is the first one.”

The court found that this was not a racial slur, stating: “rather than a human community, the Jewish religion was targeted.” It said the accused had “attacked in the same way the Muslim and Catholic religions, saying that the Jewish religion had a particular responsibility as the first monotheist religion.” The court added: “The sentence derives from a theoretical debate on the influence of religions and is not an attack on a group of people.”25

Other Western Reactions

One example of a Western politician showing signs of intimidation was Canadian defense minister Gordon O’Connor. He expressed concern that the few minor Canadian papers that had published the cartoons could cause threats to the Canadian troops in Afghanistan.26

U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, while warning that the protests might spin out of control, blamed the Iranian and Syrian governments for provoking the anti-Western riots in their capitals.27 The Americans, however, did not go out of their way to back the Europeans; hardly any American papers published the cartoons.

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said he saw no evidence that Arab governments had stoked the riots, but those countries where embassies had been attacked should pay for the damage.28 A Danish letter writer in the Jakarta Post noted astutely that the only Korans destroyed were those in Western embassies burned by the rioters.29

Columnist Dennis Prager attacked the Europeans, writing: “As long as Muslim demonstrators only shouted ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel,’ Europe – and the rest of the world’s Left – found reasons either to ignore the Nazi-like evil inherent in those chants – and the homicidal actions that flowed from them – or to blame America and Israel for the hatred.”

He added:

But like the earlier Nazis, our generation’s fascists hate anything good, not merely Jews and Americans. And now the Damascus embassy of Norway, a leading anti-Israel “peace at any price” country, has been torched. And more and more Norwegians, and Brits, and French, and Dutch, and Swedes, and the rest of the European appeasers who blamed America for 9-11 and blamed Israel for Palestinian suicide bombings, are beginning to wonder whether there just might be something morally troubling within the Islamic world.30

The Controversy, Israel, and the Jews

Israel and Jews were involved in the controversy in several ways. First, some of Israel’s enemies claimed it was behind the conflict. The main accuser was Iranian president Ahmadinejad, one of the world’s leading genocidal anti-Semites, who declared: “They [who insult the founder of Islam] are hostages of the Zionists. And the people of the U.S. and Europe should pay a heavy price for becoming hostages of Zionism.”31

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbullah, marched at the head of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Muslims. He claimed that if it had been the Jews who were offended, the West would have acted quickly. “Is the Islamic world less important than a bunch of Zionists? We cannot acquiesce to this.…We will uphold the messenger of God not only by our voices, but also by our blood.”32

Ahmadinejad’s attitude represents the extreme anti-Semitic concept that Jews cause all major evil in the world. Nowadays this is promoted mainly, though not exclusively, by forces in the Muslim world. One of the best-known examples is the widespread belief among Muslims that the Mossad, Israel’s secret service, was behind the September 11 attacks, despite the overwhelming evidence that all the terrorists were Arabs. In February 2006, the Syrian state-controlled paper al-Tawhra hinted that Israel was responsible for the expanding bird flu phenomenon. It said Israel had spread the virus in the Far East to mislead the world but aimed to attack the Arabs.33

Later that month, Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Khameini claimed that Zionists and foreign forces were behind the bombing of the gold-domed Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, on 22 February. His words were echoed by Ahmadinejad, who said that “these heinous acts are committed by a group of Zionists and occupiers that have failed. They have failed in the face of Islam’s logic and justice.”34

Daniel Pipes, a leading American expert on Islam, wrote that he had been accused of being one of the initiators of the cartoon controversy by a “fringe anti-Semitic writer named Christopher Bollyn,” who asserted: “The anti-Muslim cartoon scandal is clearly turning out to be a key event in the Zionist Neo-Cons’ ‘clash of civilizations,’ the artificially constructed struggle to pit the so-called Christian West against the Islamic states and peoples.”35

Second, many demonstrations in Muslim countries included Israel as a target. In Malaysia, thousands of protestors marched in the rain to the Danish embassy shouting, “Long Live Islam. Destroy Denmark. Destroy Israel. Destroy George Bush. Destroy America.”36 At a rally in Tehran, Iranian students held signs calling German chancellor Angela Merkel “a stupid Zionist.”37

Anti-Semitic Cartoons versus Mohammed Cartoons

A third way in which matters concerning Jews became involved in the controversy, was the Muslim attitude toward hateful cartoons about others. The violent demonstrations awakened the West to the extreme sensitivities of parts of the Muslim world. Western media however also stressed Muslim insensitivity to the feelings of others. The Mohammed cartoons were increasingly contrasted with the far more offensive anti-Semitic cartoons in the Muslim media, while also mentioning the insults many Muslims continue to heap on other religions.

Western media also pointed out that whereas the Mohammed cartoons were incidental, the Arab and Muslim anti-Semitic cartoons are constant. As for moderate Muslim voices in the cartoon controversy, they were drowned out by the violent ones. One well-known moderate who joined the boycotters was Egyptian Nobel Prize winner for literature, Naguib Mahfouz.38

Columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote:

What passes for moderation in the Islamic community – “I share your rage but don’t torch that embassy” – is nothing of the sort. It is simply a cynical way to endorse the goals of the mob without endorsing its means. It is fraudulent because, while pretending to uphold the principle of religious sensitivity, it is only interested in this instance of religious insensitivity.

Have any of these “moderates” ever protested the grotesque caricatures of Christians and, most especially, Jews that are broadcast throughout the Middle East on a daily basis? The sermons on Palestinian TV that refer to Jews as the sons of pigs and monkeys? The Syrian prime-time TV series that shows rabbis slaughtering a gentile boy in order to ritually consume his blood? The 41-part (!) series on Egyptian TV based on that anti-Semitic czarist forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” showing the Jews to be engaged in a century-old conspiracy to control the world?

Krauthammer concluded that true Muslim moderates are those who protest desecrations of all faiths.

Those who don’t are not moderates but hypocrites, opportunists and agents for the rioters, using merely different means to advance the same goal: to impose upon the West, with its traditions of freedom of speech, a set of taboos that is exclusive to the Islamic faith. These are not defenders of religion, but Muslim supremacists trying to force their dictates upon the liberal West.39

Jews as God-Killers and Satanic Beings

Many Arab cartoons show Jews as God-killers; satanic beings; subhumans – that is, animals – thirsty for blood, particularly that of children; trying to dominate the world; and corrupt. Israel is regularly presented as a Nazi state. Even the state-owned papers of Egypt, with which Israel is at peace, regularly publish such caricatures.

Belgian political scientist Joel Kotek has collected many Arab anti-Semitic cartoons, mainly published in the 21st century, and analyzed them and their major motifs in detail. In an interview, Kotek said the collective image of the Jews that is projected lays the groundwork for a possible genocide.40 During the cartoon controversy, visits to the JCPA website that carried Kotek’s interview and examples of the anti-Semitic cartoons greatly multiplied.41

In an article in Le Monde, Kotek considered two of the Mohammed cartoons offensive, saying they should neither have been forbidden nor published. But these rules should first and foremost be applied in the Arab press, of which he said: “Contemporary Arab caricatures are the most intolerant and biased ones in the new century.”42

British media-watcher Tom Gross published a selection of anti-Semitic cartoons from various Arab sources. These also showed the Arab world’s extreme disrespect for the values of others.43

Hamshahri, a leading Iranian newspaper, announced a Holocaust-cartoon contest. Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-posten, said he would publish these as well.44 Later the paper’s editor in chief, Carsten Juste, said the paper would not do so.45

The Arab European League (AEL), a “moderate” Belgian-Muslim organization, published a cartoon of Anne Frank in bed with Hitler in which Hitler says, “Write this one in your diary, Anne.” The Hague-based CIDI (Dutch Center for Documentation and Information on Israel) filed a complaint in Amsterdam noting that a cartoon that questions the Holocaust is punishable under Dutch law.46

In an ill-advised move, an Israeli graphic artist launched an Israeli “Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest.”

Jewish Reactions

Several Jewish organizations reacted to the cartoon controversy. The Anti-Defamation League published a statement saying it opposed “religious, racial and ethnic stereotyping in the media. We found some of the cartoons in Jyllands-posten troubling, particularly the direct linkage of Mohammed and violence.” As for the outbreaks in Muslim communities: “the use of violence, threats, boycotts and other extreme reactions are highly inappropriate and bode ill for future debates involving Islam, democracy and free speech.”

The ADL added that the controversy had overlooked the despicable anti-Jewish caricatures appearing daily in newspapers across the Arab and Muslim world. The leaders of countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the statement pointed out, had claimed they could do nothing about this on grounds of “freedom of press.”47

After meeting with French prime minister Dominique de Villepin, French chief rabbi Joseph Sitruk declared that he shared Muslims’ anger about the Mohammed cartoons. The right of satire, he added, ended where it became a provocation.48

Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress, declared: “We condemn all forms of propaganda that carry prejudice toward any faith. But people in glass houses should not throw stones.”49

Later in February, an American Jewish Committee delegation visited Denmark to demonstrate solidarity with its government and people. The delegation noted that this was the first solidarity visit “to Denmark by a non-governmental organization in the wake of the cartoon crisis.”50 The American Jewish Congress, however, came out in favor of staying out of the controversy.51

The Dutch Jewish website published an article by the Christian theologian Hans Jansen, author of a major book in Dutch on Muslim anti-Semitism.52 In the article Jansen listed many Arab papers that had published anti-Semitic cartoons in the current century.53

In an interview, Ronnie Naftaniël, director of CIDI, said one should be able to joke about religions but not about ethnicity or the Holocaust. He explained this on the ground that while choice of religion is free, ethnicity and persecution are not.54

Boycotting Danes: Israeli Aspects

A fourth aspect concerning Jews related to the anti-Danish boycott in many Muslim countries. A major victim of the economic boycott in Muslim countries was Arla, a Swedish-Danish dairy group that lost about $1.5 million in business per day throughout February.55 Even Middle Eastern outlets of the French Carrefour supermarket chain stopped selling Danish goods. Some shops left the Danish goods in place but with signs saying “Danish products.”56 This discriminatory method had earlier been applied against Israel, for instance in some Norwegian shops.

There were rumors that Arla had been boycotting Israel. The company published a press release denying this and saying it had business in Israel that it intended to expand.

Arla was also involved in another fallout of the boycott. A soccer match between Israel and Denmark was scheduled for 1 March 2006 in Ramat Gan, Israel. Amid rumors that it would be canceled, on 21 February the Danish coach, Morten Olsen announced that the game would be played despite fears of anti-Danish protests by Islamists. The Danish team’s main sponsors, Arla and the Dong energy company, decided to remove their logos from the players’ shirts.57 A few days before the game they retracted.

Danish Boycott of Israel

In 2002, the General Workers Union in Denmark (SiD) was among the first European bodies to call for a boycott of Israeli goods. The union itself canceled a preliminary order for products from the Israeli company Radix.58

The Muslim boycott of the Danish firms sparked a movement to “buy Danish” in the Western world. However, the American commentator. Debbie Schlussel wrote that she would not participate in sympathy buying since Danish firms had been boycotting Israel in recent years:

Sorry, but we are NOT all Danes now.…Denmark – and ALL of its media, Jyllands Posten included – has long been consistent with the other Scandinavian countries in being a harsh critic of Israel and its meek attempts to respond to Islamic terrorism and Arab anti-Semitism….Denmark’s Channel 2 broadcast a “documentary” about the Israeli “raid” on Jenin that was full of lies and completely defamatory. The “raid” on this terror stronghold (in which less than 25 died) was in response to the blowing up of many Jews peacefully celebrating Passover (the “Passover Massacre”). Denmark re-broadcast this phony “documentary” within the LAST MONTH!59

Schlussel might have added that Denmark has for many decades promoted the role of a small part of its population in saving the country’s eight thousand Jews by bringing them to Sweden. At the same time, it has made efforts until now to obscure other aspects of the war, including the fact that its six thousand Waffen SS volunteers killed many Jews in Eastern Europe.

Who Has Won?

One useful tool for identifying evolving issues that should be watched and may be relevant to Israel and Jews is to assess who has won so far in the cartoon controversy. It seems the major winner in this round is the violent segment of Muslim culture, even though by the end of February most of those who had been killed were Muslims. The Islamist worldview may well consider them martyrs.

There are several reasons why violent Muslims can rightly see themselves as winners so far. A number of Muslim countries have withdrawn their embassy personnel from Denmark. This enables the rioters to claim that their actions did not represent fringe sentiments and led to measures taken by their governments.

Despite all the talk of press freedom, the substantial auto-censorship toward Islam in European media has only increased. This shows that Muslim intimidation of the West has won considerable success.

Lawsuits and Threats

Muslim organizations are trying to enhance this trend. In the Netherlands, six Muslim bodies and sixty-seven individuals sued right-wing parliamentarian Geert Wilders and Pieter Broertjes, editor in chief of the Volkskrant daily that had published the cartoons. They also announced that in future they would sue media more frequently.60

France’s roof organization of Muslims, the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), said it would sue the papers that had published the cartoons. Yet, during the three weeks of the major autumn disorders in France, in which almost all the rioters were North or West African Muslims, the CFCM could not reach a common position.61

Patrick Sookhdeo, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity and advises the British army on security issues related to Islam, said that Muslim clerics in Britain consider that they have won the cartoon controversy. Sookhdeo, who several years ago correctly predicted that there would be suicide bombings in the United Kingdom, said most clerics think that the British government, having been very critical of the countries in which the cartoons were published, has capitulated to Islam. They believe, he added, that if a spokesman for British Muslims threatens violence to other groups, the British government will cave in again.62

The feeling that the Muslim world had won emboldened the Iranian government to demand an apology from the German daily Der Tagesspiegel for a cartoon that showed Iranian football players with explosives attached to their chests. Malte Lehming of the paper said it would not apologize. Der Tagesspiegel announced that the cartoonist, Klaus Stuttmann, had received three death threats and gone into hiding.63 Earlier, the Danes who had drawn the cartoons for Jyllands-posten also had to go into hiding.

Who Wins in the Long Term?

In the long run, a victory for the violent elements in Muslim culture may create more problems than gains for their societies. A constantly increasing number of Westerners now view contemporary Muslim culture as far more violent than any other major culture. The cartoon controversy adds a new chapter to the long dossier of charges against Muslim radicalism.

Many disparate elements contribute to this steadily evolving image of Muslim brutality. Western media recalled the fatwa against the writer Salman Rushdie as a precursor of the current violence against dissenters.

BBC News quoted the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, stating that: “The author of the book ‘The Satanic Verses,’ which has been compiled, printed and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet and the Koran, as well as those publishers who were aware of its contents, have been sentenced to death.”64

In a new version of these religious calls for murder, various Muslims offered rewards for the killing of the Danish cartoonists. An Afghani Taliban commander offered a reward of 100 kilograms of gold for whoever killed one of them.65 A minister of the Indian state, Uttar Pradesh, offered $11.5 million for whoever beheaded one of the cartoonists.66

Perceptions of Violence

The many international conflicts in which Muslims are involved, most dramatically the ongoing mass murder of Muslims by other Muslims in Darfur, further strengthen the Western perception of Muslim violence. More visible are the suicide bombings, now mainly perpetrated by Muslims against other Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan but also elsewhere. During February, bombings in Iraq killed far more people than did the cartoon controversy worldwide. Bloodshed increased further when the mosque in Samarra was bombed, with hundreds murdered in the following days.

These perceptions of violence are added to those of the September 11 attacks in 2001, the 11 March 2004 bombings in Madrid, and the 7 July 2005 suicide terror in London as well as the failed attempts there on 21 July.

The trials of Muslim terrorists in Europe involve ongoing exposure of intended violence, while additional terrorists are frequently arrested. The February trial in London of Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri drew much attention. He was convicted on six charges of soliciting murder and two of stirring up racial hatred. The judge said he had directed his anger at virtually every country.67 Despite the fact that his extreme racism and anti-Semitism had long been known, the British authorities had allowed him to preach freely from 1990 to 2003.

In the French autumn 2005 disturbances, it was well noted that the rioters were almost exclusively Muslim. Other segments of French society in equally disadvantaged conditions did not participate.

More Long-Term Consequences

The cartoon controversy has also further strengthened the widespread perception in the West that many Muslim immigrants, even if they hold European nationalities, are an alien element. As noted, the furor in the Muslim world only developed many months after the cartoons’ publication, when Danish imams went to the Middle East to draw attention to them.

There may also be economic consequences for the Muslim world. Danish firms lost much business in the Middle East overnight. Arla had spent forty years building up its activities there. Direct foreign investment in the Arab Middle East is already very low and so is the technology transfer that comes with it. The cartoon controversy has further increased investment risks.

Above all, however, the West has seen that the Muslim world can rapidly mobilize violence over minor matters. Future Western clashes with the Muslim world are almost inevitable, mainly because of the substantial violent elements in contemporary Muslim culture. Meanwhile, Western calls for dialogue will continue. The Dutch liberal parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, herself of Somali origin, asserted that it was more important for Europe to understand that a significant Muslim minority in Europe does not accept liberal democracy than to believe in dialogue.68

One such call for dialogue was made by the Danish government, which announced that on 10 March 2006 an interfaith conference would be held with Muslim participation.69 The government also said it would donate to a UN agency, Alliance of Civilizations, that works to overcome prejudices, and further announced that it would hold a cultural exhibition on Islam later this year.70

Provocateurs in Both Cultures

None of this will solve the fundamental problems. In the Western world, those who rejoice in provoking Muslims have again seen how easy it is to do. For example, Italian minister Roberto Calderoli of the populist Northern League donned a T-shirt with one of the cartoons; he had to resign a few days later.71

In another example, as the cartoon controversy was escalating the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, as mentioned, republished the cartoons. The regular issue sold out rapidly and was reprinted several times.

The right-wing British National Party announced it had distributed five hundred thousand leaflets in which one of the cartoons was juxtaposed “with a photograph of Muslim demonstrators carrying banners urging violence and death against publishers of the cartoon.”72

On the other side, many forces in the Muslim world exulted in the battle and saw it as benefiting them by intensifying Muslim ire against the West. Future Muslim reactions may be even worse, as their violent elements have seen from their first-round victory that intimidation and aggression against the West can work.

The cartoon controversy has further sharpened many questions about the nature of contemporary Islam and related issues, such as Muslims’ integration into Western societies. How these will develop is of great relevance to Israel and Jews, even if not necessarily in the same way. Identifying these issues now enables following key developments and reacting more rapidly in the future.

The Nature of Western Identity

Societies often identify themselves via contrast with other societies. Andrei Markovits and others have stressed that one major reason for misdirected European anti-Americanism is that it helps Europe build an identity.73 The culture clash over the cartoons has stimulated much debate on where the Western and Islamic cultures differ. Central is the issue of freedom of speech, along with other aspects.

For instance, the frequent flag burning by rioters and demonstrators shown on television raised the question in Denmark as to the meaning of the national flag. The international incitement against the Danish government by local Muslim leaders posed questions about the country’s multiculturalism.

A separate issue concerns solidarity in the Western world. If the lukewarm European support for Denmark, a fellow EU member, is not discussed, new challenges from the Muslim world will raise the issue again.

Intimidation of the Western Political System?

In the controversy so far, parts of the Western political system have caved in because of fear of Muslims’ reaction. Why did the Norwegian government ask its ambassadors to apologize? It has never done so for the many anti-Semitic cartoons published in the country. Why did the Swedish government recommend closing a website that showed the cartoons when, again, it has not done so with anti-Semitic websites in the country?

Western governments have had almost nothing to say about the frequent extreme anti-Semitic cartoons in the Arab world, including in many government newspapers there.

Other governments have at least stood up for their country’s values to some extent. The Danish authorities stressed that while they may have disliked the Mohammed cartoons, they are not illegal. In the past there have been many manifestations of the West’s intimidation by Muslim aggression. The most blatant was the newly-elected Zapatero government’s withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq after the March 2004 bombings in Madrid.

Will Muslim Intimidation of the Media Continue to Succeed?

Another important question to follow closely is to what extent the intimidation of the Western media will work. The Boston Globe‘s Jeff Jacoby discussed a case where it had, noting that Boston’s leading ”alternative” newspaper The Phoenix had decided not to print the Mohammed cartoons. This, he commented, was unexpected as “its willingness to push the envelope was memorably demonstrated in 2002, when it broke with most media to publish a grisly photograph of Daniel Pearl’s severed head, and supplied a link on its website to the sickening video of the Wall Street Journal reporter’s beheading.”

Jacoby added that the paper candidly admitted why it did not reprint the cartoons, and he contrasted this with many other papers’ high-minded editorials. He praised The Phoenix editors for confessing their fear of retaliation by

bloodthirsty Islamists who seek to impose their will on those who do not believe as they do. . . . Simply stated, we are being terrorized, and . . . could not in good conscience place the men and women who work at The Phoenix and its related companies in physical jeopardy. As we feel forced, literally, to bend to maniacal pressure, this may be the darkest moment in our 40-year-publishing history.74

The issue here is not whether Western papers will abstain from publishing cartoons offensive to religions, which might be considered a step toward a more civilized media culture. From the Jewish standpoint, more important is whether they will censor themselves from publishing anti-Muslim cartoons while continuing to publish anti-Semitic ones. In Europe, one country where both extreme anti-Semitic cartoons and statements have appeared regularly is Greece, which has hardly been involved in the current controversy.75 Even more important is to what extent Western media will impose self-censorship as far as Islamic violence, terrorism, and other crimes are concerned.

Another issue to follow is what efforts Muslim organizations and leaders will make to stop the violence. Since it is not yet clear to what extent the cartoon controversy was orchestrated and by whom, the recent attempts to defuse the conflict may offer insights into who guided the disturbances.

Is a Specific, Mainly European Islamic Behavior Emerging?

The Muslim violence in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Africa underlined the relatively peaceful character of the demonstrations by Muslims in European countries. Some speculated that this was because, after the murderous attacks in Madrid and London and the French autumn riots, European Muslims are well aware that many Europeans hold negative views of their communities.

Observers have expressed hope that over the coming decades, a European Islam will emerge that accepts European liberal-democratic culture on issues such as forced marriage, women’s rights, the avoidance of honor killings, curbing racism among Muslim minorities, and generally respecting the law. The largely peaceful nature of the anti-cartoon demonstrations in Europe could have been considered encouraging, even if in London placards were carried that called for murder.

During the riots, however, the Sunday Telegraph published survey results that dampened such assessments. According to an ICM poll, four out of ten British Muslims wanted Sharia law to be introduced in parts of the country. One out of five had sympathy for the “feelings and motives” of the suicide bombers who murdered over fifty people in London on 7 July 2005.76

Will Right-Wing Parties Be Further Strengthened?

Another major question to be followed is how far the Muslim violence has further strengthened European right-wing parties, some of which are strongly anti-Semitic.

After the 2005 autumn riots, when Jean-Marie Le Pen’s name was omitted from survey questions, the number of Frenchmen supporting certain extreme-right positions had increased. Sixty-three percent said “there are too many immigrants in France” (compared to 59 percent in 2003.) Forty-eight percent agreed that “one no longer feels totally at home in France” (44 percent in 2003.)77

A Danish poll in mid-February showed increased support for the Danish People’s Party, which opposes immigration. It stood to win 18 percent of the votes, compared to 14.4 percent a month earlier.78

Consequences for Israel

The oil embargo during the Yom Kippur War marked the first time Arab intimidation of the West worked on a large scale. The initial success of Muslim violence and threats in the cartoon conflict may embolden the Arab world to increase its threats against the West if it does not pressure Israel to make further concessions.

Many in the Western world deflect Arab pressure by making demands on Israel. As the Muslim-Western conflict further intensifies in the coming years, the scapegoating of Israel is a serious risk.

This does not necessarily have to be successful. Preventing it, however, requires a much better capability to formulate and execute political strategies than Israel has at present. As the world becomes increasingly unpredictable, establishing a rapid-analysis force for global events may become a priority for Israel.

Meanwhile, it would be wrong to assume that the cartoon controversy has radically changed Western attitudes toward violent Islam. The conflict is only one more event in a learning process that will gradually improve the West’s understanding of its opponents in the clash of cultures. Further conflicts are inevitable, and each will somewhat more enhance Western democracies’ comprehension of what they are up against.

*     *     *



1. The author is grateful to Frayda Laufer and other participants in the JCPA’s PHAS project who collected much of the research material for this essay and commented on the drafts.
2. Flemming Rose, “Why I Published Those Cartoons,” Washington Post, 19 February 2006.
3. “Cartoon blijkt foto varkensfeest,” Volkskrant, 10 February 2006. [Dutch]
4. Hassan M. Fatah, “At Mecca Meeting, Cartoon Outrage Crystallized,” New York Times, 9 February 2006.
5. “Chronik der Proteste gegen die Mohammed-Karikaturen,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 6 February 2006. [German]
6. Hans-Peter Raddatz, “Verbotene Bilder,” Die Welt, 7 February 2006. [German]
7. Nasser Karimi, “Iran President Lashes Out at U.S., Europe,” LA Daily News, 12 February 2006.
8. “Annan Says Protests over Cartoons Being Fuelled by Extremists,” Bloomberg, 27 February 2006.
9. AP, “Muslims’ Fury Rages Unabated over Cartoons,” Jerusalem Post, 11 February 2006.
10. “Annan Says Protests over Cartoons Being Fuelled by Extremists,” Bloomberg, 27 February 2006.
11. “Nigeria: At Least 123 Killed as Anger over Cartoons Fuels Existing Tensions,” Reuters, 23 February 2006.
12. Adrien Jaulmes, “Caricatures: Le malaise des chrétiens libanais,” Figaro, 11 February 2006. [French]
13. “Danes Urged to Quit Indonesia after Threats over Cartoon,” Haaretz, 11 February 2006.
14. “Muslim Hard-Liners ‘Ready to Die,'” The Scotsman, 10 February 2006.
15. Khaled Abu Toameh, “German Kidnapped in Nablus Released,” Jerusalem Post, 2 February 2006.
16. “East Jerusalem Youths Try Burning Danish Flag,” Jerusalem Post, 11 February 2006.
17. AP, “Developments in Cartoon Controversy,” New York Times, 13 February 2006.
18. “Observers Remove Equipment from Hebron after Riot,” Jerusalem Post, 11 February 2006.
19. AP, “Iran Blames U.S., Europe in Cartoon Crisis,” New York Times, 12 February 2006.
20. “Caricatures: Copenhague ferme plusieurs ambassades,” Figaro, 12 February 2006. [French]
21. “Denemarken maant Nederland tot rust,” Trouw, 23 February 2006. [Dutch]
22. “EU wijzigt verklaring spotprenten op Nederlands verzoek,” Volkskrant, 17 February 2006. [Dutch
23. “Sweden Shuts Website over Cartoon,” BBC News, 10 February 2006.
24. “French Papers in Cartoon Lawsuit,” BBC News, 12 February 2006.
25. Blandine Grosjean, “Dieudonné à nouveau relaxé en appel,” Libération, 10 February 2006. [French]
26. “Harper Regrets Publication of Cartoons,” Toronto Star, 14 February 2006.
27. Brian Knowlton, “Rice Warns Cartoon Protests Could ‘Spin Out of Control,'” New York Times, 12 February 2006.
28. AP, “Annan Doesn’t See Syria, Iran in Protests,” New York Times, 13 February 2006.
29. Hans Chr. Jensen, Jakarta Post, 28 February 2006.
30. Dennis Prager, “First They Came for Israel, Then They Came for America,” World Net Daily, 7 February 2006,
31. AP, “Iran Blames U.S., Europe in Cartoon Crisis,” New York Times, 12 February 2006.
32. AP, “Nasrallah to US: ‘Shut Up,’ about Muslims,” Jerusalem Post, 9 February 2006.
33. Roee Nahmias, “Syrian Paper Accuses Israel of Having Spread Bird Flu to Kill Arabs,” Ynet News, 9 February 2006.
34. “Ahmadinejad Warns West over Shrine Blast,” Reuters, 23 February 2006.
35. Daniel Pipes, “The Cartoon Jihad and Me,” FrontPageMagazine, 21 February 2006.
36. AP, “Malaysia Holds Biggest Anti-Cartoon Protest,” Ynet News, 12 February 2006.
37. “Aufruhr in islamischer Welt,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 7 February 2006. [German]
39. Charles Krauthammer, “Save Us from ‘Moderates,'” Seattle Times, 13 February 2006.
40. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Joël Kotek, “Major Anti-Semitic Motifs in Arab Cartoons,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism 21, 1 June 2004.
42. Joël Kotek, “Pas de censure, mais des limites pour tous!” Le Monde, 6 February 2006. [French]
44. Orly Halpern, “Iranian Paper Wants Holocaust Cartoons,” Jerusalem Post, 14 February 2006.
45. Assaf Uni, “Danish Paper Cancels Plan to Republish Cartoons about Israel,” Haaretz, 9 February 2006.
46. Ashley Perry, “Muslim European Group Posts Anti-Semitic Cartoons,” EJPress, 6 February 2006.
47. “ADL Statement on Danish Cartoons Depicting Mohammed,” ADL, 2 February 2006.
48. “Embarras et inquietude chez les responsables politiques franחais,” Le Monde, 3 February 2006. [French]
49. “European Jews Express Anger, Frustration amid Furor over Cartoons,” Jerusalem Post, 8 February 2006.
50. “AJC Leaders Visit Denmark in Solidarity,” AJC Press Release, 23 February 2006.
51. Marc Perelman, “Groups Split on Cartoons,” Forward, 3 March 2006; Marc Stern, “Fight over Dubai Ports Deal Is Not Ours to Lead,” Forward, 3 March 2006.
52. Hans Jansen, Van jodenhaat naar zelfmoordterrorisme (Heerenveen: Groen, 2006). [Dutch]
53. Jansen mentions the following papers: Akhbar al-Khalij (Bahrain), Al-Ahram al-‘Arabi, Al-Ahram, Al-Gumhouriyya, Al-Wafd, Al-Usbu’, Al-Ahali, Al-Akhbar, Karikatir, Rouz al-Yousuf, Al-Liwa’ al-Islami, Al-Ahram al-Masa’i (Egypt), Al-Watan (Qatar), Al-Riyadh, Al-Watan, Arab News (Saudi Arabia), Tishrin (Syria), Ad-Dustur, Al-Ra’i (Jordan), Al-Rai al-‘Amm (Kuwait), Al-Mustaqbal, Al-Safir (Lebanon), Al-Watan (Oman), Al-Quds, Al-Ayyam, Al-Hayat al-Jadida (Gaza and West Bank), Al-Ittihad (United Arab Emirates), Al-Hayat, and Asharq al-Awsa. &articleid=53835&token=36076913MegKcfTaLedSbbRa.
54. “Naftaniël: Grapjes over religie moeten kunnen,” Trouw, 17 February 2006. [Dutch]
55. Eric Pfanner, “Danish Companies Endure Snub by Muslim Consumers,” New York Times, 27 February 2006.
56. Neal Heathcote, “Consumer Boycotts Sweep Middle-East,” BBC News, 14 February 2006.
57. 1,2506,L-3219456,00.html.
58. Avi Shmoul, “Danish Union Calls for Israel Boycott,” Haaretz, 18 April 2002.
59., 13 February 2006.
60. “Aanklacht van moslims tegen Volkskrant,” Volkskrant, 23 February 2006. [Dutch]
61. Sophie de Ravinel, Figaro, 18 November 2005. [French]
62. Alasdair Palmer, “The Day Is Coming when British Muslims Form a State within a State,” Sunday Telegraph, 19 February 2006.
63. “Iran Demands Apology over German Cartoon,” Guardian, 15 February 2006.
64. Paul Reynolds, “Cartoons and the Globalization of Protests,” BBC News, 23 February 2006.
65. “Karikaturen-Streit: Kopfgeld auf Cartoonisten ausgesetzt,” Die Presse, 9 February 2006. [German]
66. “Indiase minister: beloning voor doden tekenaars,” Volkskrant, 18 February 2006. [Dutch]
67. “Hamza Jailed for Seven Years,” Guardian, 7 February 2006.
68. Sander van Walsum, “De muur tussen vrij en onvrij zal vallen,” Volkskrant, 10 February 2006. [Dutch]
69. AP, “Conferentie moet Deense dialoog tussen religies bevorderen,” Volkskrant, 23 February 2006. [Dutch]
70. “Denmark Makes Overtures in Cartoon Row,” Reuters, 24 February 2006.
71. “Italy Minister Trial over Cartoons Sought,” UPI, 22 February 2006.
72. “British Party Distributes Danish Cartoon,” UPI, 23 February
73. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Andrei Markovits, “European Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism: Similarities and Differences,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism 16, 1 January 2004.
74. Jeff Jacoby, “When Fear Cows the Media,” Boston Globe, 19 February 2006.
75. Manfred Gerstenfeld, interview with Moses Altsech, “Anti-Semitism in Greece: Embedded in Society,” Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism 23, 1 August 2004.
76. Patrick Hennesey and Melissa Kite, “Poll Reveals 40pc of Muslims Want Sharia Law in UK,” Sunday Telegraph, 19 February 2006.
77. “Les idées du Front national s’imposent dans l’opinion,” Le Monde, 14 December 2005. [French]
78. Anna Willard, “Europe’s Far-Right Yet to Cash In on Cartoons Row,” Reuters, 15 February 2006.

*     *     *

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld is Chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is an international business strategist who has been a consultant to governments, international agencies, and boards of some of the world’s largest corporations. Among his ten books are Europe’s Crumbling Myths: The Post-Holocaust Origins of Today’s Anti-Semitism (JCPA, Yad Vashem, WJC, 2003); American Jewry’s Challenge: Conversations Confronting the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005); and Israel and Europe: An Expanding Abyss? (JCPA and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2005).