Note: If the cartoon doesn't appear in email, you can see it at www.jamesgblaine.com Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon in last Sunday’s Times of London is not especially funny, and its publication on Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day was bad timing. But it is hard-hitting and makes a clear and important point about Israeli activities in Palestine, which is what newspaper opinion pages are supposed to do.
Predictably, the backlash from the Israeli government and its supporters was immediate: they accused Scarfe of anti-Semitism, including “blood libel” (the accusation that Jews use the blood of murdered children in religious rites). Equally predictably, it was effective: Scarfe’s newspaper threw him under the bus within hours of publication.
First up was the publisher: “Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times,” tweeted Rupert Murdoch, whose commitment to the principles of journalism is an inch deep. “Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.” The paper followed its leader: After a hastily convened meeting with “representatives of the Jewish community,” the Times “apologises unreservedly for the offence we clearly caused."
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While the reaction was less frightening than the fatwa issued in the wake of the 2005 “Mohammad” cartoons, it was no less insidious. It illustrates the proclivity of the press to bow to the powerful and censor itself. If Scarfe wasn’t speaking for the Times, why did the paper pull his cartoon (whose publication date is set by the editor, not the cartoonist)? Does it only publish opinions that agree with its own? Has the Times of London finally become the British version of Murdoch’s American flagship, Fox News?