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Arab Anti-Semitism in Cartoons – After Peace

Arieh Stav
Policy Paper No. 1, 1997


The Arab attitude to Israel was shown by the late Professor and former IDF intelligence chief Yeshophat Harkabi, surveying public expression in the Arab world, to be implacably hostile. Following the post Yom Kippur war talks and then the Camp David agreement, some Israeli perceptions viewed Egypt's gain of the Sinai as likely to remove her grievances.

Thereafter, in pursuit of objectives derived from Madrid (1991), matters were enacted exceeding the national consensus, that have rent the Israeli body politic asunder engendering controversy whose bitterness may be glimpsed in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Israel has signed a peace treaty with Jordan, giving up its historic claim to Transjordan; a "declaration of principles" with the PLO, in accordance to which it has agreed to the division of western Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel), including a waiver of the historic Jewish claim to Judea and Samaria, the cradle of the Hebrew nation and the raison d'etre of Zionism; Israel has agreed to discuss the transfer of the sovereignty of the Old City of Jerusalem, its ancient capital and the City of David, to a foreign power; and it has declared its willingness to either partial or complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights, and its return to Syria.

None of Israel's willingness to go along with Arab demands has been, nor have signed agreements, successful in changing popular Arab attitudes, as far as the mass media suggest; and among the intelligentsia attitudes are even worse. Hence for example the findings of Professor Raphael Israeli (Hebrew University):

"Sadat's peace initiative has not really effected any change in Egyptian, let alone Arab, attitudes towards Israel. Moreover, judging from the Egyptian caricatures and articles written in the post-November, 1977 era, one might even be led to believe that the level of hostility Egyptians felt with regard to Jews and Israel may have been heightened."

A series of caricatures bears out the level of hostility (images particularly important where there are high rates of illiteracy).

Deification Versus Demonization: Unity of Contrasts in Image of the Jew

The anti-Semitic caricature derives its content from a negation, religious, moral, racial, social, and political in character, unique among the forms of caricature. It exceeds the usual bounds, in both content and form, just as hatred of Jews is sui generis, in that it exceeds the pathological range of xenophobia. The anti-Semitic caricature is entirely devoid of the element of humor inherent in caricature as an art form, and it is unique in its Nazi and Arab expressions, in that it presents its object, the Jewish human being, both as an individual and in his generality, as worthy of physical annihilation. Inadequate as a term, caricature in this case suggests an image to be fixed in the viewer's mind singling out the Jew, to be presented under the backdrop of the three previous peak periods of Western anti-Semitism: the late Middle Ages, the modern period, and Nazism.

The Middle Ages: The Anti-Semitic Libel vs. Esthetic Innocence

These were a period of anti-Semitism par excellence.

The Dualism of Christian Dogma in Respect of the Jews

A problem for the early Church was that annihilation would remove the witness to Christianity's triumph, but the Jews, by existing, seemed to negate the heirs' completeness of inheritance (see the writings of John Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo).

Denigrating Content vs. Restraint in Form

There was a problem of how to depict the wickedness of the Jew, without actually negating his very humanity. The solution was a unique combination of anti-Semitic libel without physical distortion. There was religious libel, theological accusation, but not dehumanization. The Jewish image is usually depicted with objectivity and restraint. Examples can show how the stereotype lies in the caption rather than the form and content being united in the image.

The Modern Period – Unity of Form and Content

Jewish emancipation was met with dislike by the emerging bourgeoisie who felt threatened in a range of ways. Among intellectuals Voltaire competes with Fichte for recognition as the father of secular anti-Semitism. Marxism, which certainly joins the monotheistic religions as one of the most prevalent, and comprehensive, dogmas in history, contained the bacillus of anti-Semitism as the image of the Mammon-worshipping capitalist, the mythological underpinning of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: "What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Mammon...." (Zur Judenfrage ["Toward the Jewish Question"]). The Jew is now the enemy of the people, of society, of the working class, subject to a satirical press with anti-Semitic caricatures.

The Anti-Semitic Caricature as the Antithesis of Esthetic Canon

The Jew would be depicted as the antithesis of the Graeco-Roman concept of beauty, both masculine and feminine: it is only by being fully aware of the ideal of beauty imprinted in the minds of the nineteenth century European that one can begin to understand the degree of denigration involved in the portrayal of the obese, flaccid, crooked-nosed, bow-legged Jew, with hairy body, protruding eyes, saliva dripping from the sides of his mouth. Thus, it was in the nineteenth century that the archtypical Jew in anti-Semitic stereotyping that we know today, was given its final form, both esthetically and in content. The portrayal of Jews by the Nazi, Soviet, and Arab literature merely vary on that stereotype. Examples make this very clear.

Nazism – License to Exterminate

The human divinity and the human devil ... The Jew is the opposite of a human being, his antithesis ... The handiwork of another god ... The Aryan and the Jew ... are as far from each other as the beast from a human being ...The Jew is a hostile being, foreign to nature. Adolf Hitler

Ripping the Human Mask Off the Jewish Devil

In the Nazi Weltanshauung, Nordic man, the embodiment of human perfection, faced the Jewish subhuman, the incarnation of evil. Thus were the Jews classified separately from the human race, and inferior to it. The Jew needed revealing from behind the devilish mask which presented him as human. What came to be known as the "Nazi caricature," mainly through the caricatures of Philip Ruprecht (Fips) in Julius Streicher's Der Sturmer, was merely a faithful expression of Hitler's thoughts concerning the Jew as "the opposite of a human being."

Der Sturmer – Graphic Depiction of the Subhuman

By the end of the 1930s, the polarization between the Nordic ideal and its Jewish antithesis had been completed. Instilment of hatred of the Jews into the minds of the Germans through the most comprehensive, concentrated, and purposeful indoctrination campaign in history was aimed at raising the German war effort in World War II to the level of a high moral calling in the struggle of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness. The image of the Jewish subhuman was etched into the German consciousness as a human-like devil, the annihilation of whom is a precondition for the realization of the Nazi dream. The path to the factory-like annihilation of the Jews was now open, not merely from moral turpitude, nor for lack of inhibition or pangs of conscience, but rather as a rising up to a moral mandate of the highest order.

Islam – From the Middle Ages to the Modern Period

One is inclined to agree with Bernard Lewis, that while the history of Islam is free of the anti-Semitic horrors of medieval Christendom, it did not experience the uplift of anything comparable to Western liberalism and Jewish emancipation. What theology did not provide was made up for by historical reality.

Israel and the Ethos of the Jihad – The Roots of Arab Hostility

A corollary to the injunction of the jihad, and its manifestation in politics, is the territorial application of the sacred principle of "Muslim Sanctification," the Dar el-Islam (House of Islam). The one sovereign, non-Islamic entity in the region is an anomaly, geographically in the heart of the Dar el-, while at the same time, a part of the Dar el-Harb: not only have the Arabs not been able to extirpate Israel, but every attempt they made to annihilate the "Zionist entity" has met with defeat on the field of battle. This is an intolerable affront to a culture that worships war as an ethos, and violence as a principle. Israel thus geographically and strategically as well as religiously represents an intrusion into the Arab world. In Arab literature there is no willingness to recognize Zionism or the right of Jews to have a sovereign state: years have passed, but the attitude that Israel is a transient phenomenon has not changed. A typical expression of such refusal to see Israel as a sovereign entity is its non-appearance on Arab maps; Egyptians adamantly refuse to include Israel in maps of the Middle East, and continue to mark Eretz Israel as "Palestine". Hence, in contrast to the theological or racial hatred of Jews in the west, Arab anti-Semitism stands on the firm bases of both a social ethos and long-range strategic thinking.

The Arab Caricature – An Esthetic Imitation

Since Islam traditionally forbade the figurative visual arts, Arab caricature is an imitation, detached from the esthetic roots of Islam in general and of the Arab world in particular. Taking a ready-made, off-the-shelf anti-Semitic caricature from Europe does more than free the Arab artist from the need to draw an authentic paradigm of his own. It is also a convenient way for the Arab propaganda machine to fulfill its primary goal of dehumanizing the Jew; it also renders Arab anti-Semitism an integral part of its European counterpart. In terms of time and space, the Arab caricature exceeds anything previously known in the annals of the hatred of Israel over the ages. Never before has an entire civilization, spread over 22 countries, constantly, day after day for decades, in hundreds of newspapers, denigrated the image of the Jew and his country. Moreover, if we judge the Arab caricature in terms of virulence, we will find that it exceeds anything that preceded it, including the Nazi caricature, hitherto adjudged as embodying the nadir of the hatred of Israel. In one respect the Arab representation goes beyond all the previous models it uses: it graphically depicts the actual extermination that is in store for Israel, if the opportunity presents itself, when even the Nazis were hesitant about the world’s and their own public opinion if they were too explicit.

The Arab caricature incites hatred and releases pent-up frustration, and through jihad it serves the aims of war, and in war, calling for the extermination of the enemy is legitimate.

Dominant Themes in Arab Caricatures

The materials (with examples included in the original paper) are within a time and geographic frame determined by the peace accords with Egypt and the peace process: Egyptian materials date from the Camp David accords, while materials from other Arab countries involved in negotiations, date from the commencement of preparations for the Madrid Conference in 1991. Caricatures from "rejection states" tend to be no more venomous than the others, rather less so: a dominant theme is the foolishness of Arabs who fall prey to Israel’s wiles.

A. The Peace Process as a Jewish Trap for the Arabs

The Arab media have viewed the Peace Process as a symmetric dichotomy: (a) It is a Zionist plot to destroy the Arabs, or (b) It is an opportunity for the Arabs to destroy Israel.

B. The Peace Process as an Opportunity to Destroy Israel

Until the Six Day War, Israel was perceived as just a nuisance, the extermination of which was just a matter time; hence, it was depicted as the "Zionist midget" or "dwarf". After 1967 Israel was seen as a satanic threat to the whole Middle East, and an element of fear was now added to hatred, and the Israeli was portrayed as a monster armed from tip to toe. More recently a terrified little figure is represented as the knives of Gaza and the West Bank are poised to cut him up.

C. Israel – A Judaeo-Nazi Entity

The idea of Judaeo-Nazism is one of the central recurring themes of Arab propaganda: caricatures appear almost daily with swastikas identifying Israel. This derives from post 1967 Soviet and later ("Peace for Galilee" and Intifada) Western models and may appear paradoxical considering Arab admiration for Nazism.

D. Demonization

Demonization is intended mainly to present the Jew as an anti-human of satanic powers, war against whom is part of the struggle of the forces of light against forces of darkness. Such Arab demonization is a continuation of the historical trend.

E. Zoomorphy

The intention is to deny the enemy any semblance of humanity, thus rendering his annihilation implicitly understood, just as spraying bugs or trapping rats is undertaken without moral inhibition or pangs of conscience. Zoomorphy is among the most common motifs in anti-Semitic Arab caricature exceeding in scope and quantity anything preceding it. The animals that appear most often are the snake, octopus, the spider, the mad dog, the locust, and the worm.

F. The Blood Libel

Even though the blood libel in the Christian sense is devoid of theological roots in Islam, it has enjoyed wide dissemination and is one of the motifs of Arab anti-Semitic propaganda. The man responsible for conferring on the blood libel "canonical" status was Syrian war minister Mustafa T'las (through his The Matzoth of Zion through which he gained a doctorate and it became a best-seller in the Arab world).

G. Israel – A Criminal Entity

The principal message, according to this theme, is the delegitimation of Israel as a sovereign entity, since its very existence is a danger to human well-being.

H. Israel and the United States

The Soviet view is given an Arab twist: the American people in general, and the administration in Washington in particular, are nothing but tools in behalf of Jewish schemes.

I. Israel as the Grave

The theme of "Palestine" as the grave of Israel and the Jews serves to alleviate Arab distress over Israel's very existence, prosperity, and strength, which palpably contradict the principles of Islam. It represents the totality of Arab anti-Semitism which focuses on the destruction of the Jews as a precondition for the deliverance of Islam and the unity of the Arabs, pending fulfillment of the goals of the jihad.

"Peace does not lie in charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of the people." – J.F.K.

This topic was expanded upon and published in a book
Peace: The Arabian Caricature - A Study of Anti-Semitic Imagery.
For the complete text of this book, click here.