Review: Cartoons and Extremism

Dirtier than the sword: evil imagery


By Joel Kotek
Vallentine Mitchell

Joel Kotek cites Napoleon’s observation that “A good sketch is worth more than a long discussion” as an indication of the potency of the cartoon form and the danger that results when it promotes hatred. First published in French, this study investigates the portrayal of antisemitic themes in cartoons in the Arab and Muslim world, the echoing of these subjects and images in Western media, and observes how they contribute to the increase in antisemitism.

He explores how anti-Jewish cartoons produced by the Muslim media and far right anti-Israel extremists reflect the imagery of antisemitic cartoons published in Western countries in earlier centuries, which accused Jews of deicide, infanticide, cannibalism, ritual murder to obtain blood, and participation in a global conspiracy dedicated to world domination. Kotek traces these anti-Jewish myths to their origins from the Middle Ages onwards, and, using numerous illustrations, details how they were developed.

Kotek investigates how these themes reappeared in cartoons in the Middle East after the establishment of the state of Israel and shows how they were adapted, republishing illustrations from newspapers and websites.

The book shows how the anti-Zionism of cartoons which claim to attack only Israeli politics revive the imagery of the old European antisemitism. Later chapters reveal how many recently published cartoons promote new Judeophobic themes, depicting Israeli forces and leaders as Nazi-like oppressors and executioners, or personifying Israel as the corrupt West.

Unfortunately, some of Kotek’s points are weakened by lack of example. He stresses that the response of the French press to the Dreyfus affair unified the language and codes of iconic antisemitism but shows only two Dreyfus cartoons. Similarly, Kotek notes that, after the defeat of France by Germany in 1870, French artists published cartoons depicting Germany as Satanic and vampire-like, but no examples of these cartoons are included.

Several cartoons are produced with fuzzy lines, or printed too small for their detail to be able to be seen clearly. A number are not fully translated and the sources of some are not identified.

Still, Cartoons and Extremism powerfully indicates how contemporary antisemitic cartoons endanger peace in the Middle East and are an incentive towards violence against Israel and the Jewish people. Kotek’s book issues a timely call for education, peace, and respect on all sides.

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