Flotilla cartoon followup

Icon Aug 26, 2010

Sometimes I don’t notice things in cartoons that I really should. It is somewhat inexcusable given how many of these I see. As an example: The Carlos Latuff Israel as octopus vs Peace flotilla, from a couple of months ago. I did not see the swastika that replaced the Star of David on the Israeli flag.

Which brings me to the octopus and Israel. The octopus has been used as an anti-semitic symbol, but is also very commonly used as an a metaphor for government. It is the dual nature of the octopus metaphor is political cartoons: the representation of the ‘monstrous’ governments and organisations, but it also can be used to demonise and dehumanise of a group when represented by a non-human, particularly one as alien as an octopus. Of the cartoons I have seen dealing with Israel: some are obviously anti-Semitic, but other are merely representing a government, like any other, and criticising the policies, institutions or members of that government. And some unintentionally (or intentionally) cross the (vague) line between.

In this case of the Latuff cartoon, I think it could be argued either way (and these are not mutually exclusive categories), and there is a discussion on Wikimedia for those interested.

What I find problematic isn’t representing the state of Israel as an octopus1, but replacing the Star of David with a swastika. I just don’t think it was necessary, and undermines the message in the cartoon. It least, the message I thought it was trying to tell. It would be less so, if there was a stronger, more specific, correlation between Nazi policy/behaviour and the attack by the IDF on the flotilla. The rather vague claim that Israel is behaving like Nazi Germany doesn’t really hold in this instance (unless someone can instruct me otherwise?).

To reiterate: I don’t think this cartoon is intentionally anti-Semitic, I do think the use of a swastika is (very) problematic.

A few questions: What is the role of authorial intent and what is read into something like the above? Just because the artist intend only to criticise Israeli policy, does that exclude it from being anti-Semitic?

1 I utterly reject the claim that the octopus is one of a few zoomorphic symbols that are specifically anti-Semitic. It was used to represent groups and governments before Israel, and continues to be used to represent groups and governments outside Israel. It has been appropriated for use in anti-Semitic cartoons, however the monstrous octopus is not inherently anti-semitic (not sure I’m making myself clear?)