The Sunday Times dedicated its editorial last weekend to apologising for “crossing the line” after publishing a cartoon depicting the Israeli prime minister “revelling in the blood of Palestinians” on Holocaust Memorial Day.
The paper, which received several thousand letters in response to Gerald Scarfe’s drawing, acknowledged that a mistake had been made and that including the image “detracted from a day that marks one of the greatest evils in human history”.
The Sunday Times had always “understood and reported” Israel’s legitimate security concerns, the newspaper said. It added that, while it was legitimate to caricature any leader, “it is another thing to reflect in a caricature, even unintentionally, historical iconography that is persecutory or antisemitic.
“Publication of the cartoon would have been a mistake on any day but the fact that last Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day compounded the error,” said the editorial.
The paper also devoted its entire letters page to the issue, printing the views of 17 correspondents.
David Ward: There’s a machine that protects Israel from criticism
Andrew Kaufman, of the Association of Jewish Refugees, wrote that “this insensitive imagery… could easily have come from the pages of Der Sturmer.”
“All over the Middle East, people are brutally killing and maiming one another. Not so the Israelis,” wrote Miriam Gross. “Why then publish a viciously anti-Israeli cartoon?”
But cartoonist Steve Bell used his regular Guardian spot to mock the outcry over Mr Scarfe’s cartoon, with a comic strip depicting Rupert Murdoch and Benjamin Netanyahu joking about smashing “an auntysemutic trope”.
The Sunday Times’ contrition was also not matched by Liberal Democrat MP David Ward, who was formally disciplined by his party last week for accusing “the Jews” of failing to learn the lessons of the Shoah. A meeting with senior Jewish officials, including members of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and LibDem leaders was due to take place on Thursday this week.
On Wednesday, the MP told the Guardian that there was “a machine… designed to protect the state of Israel from criticism. And that comes into play very, very quickly and focuses intensely on anyone who is seen to criticise the state of Israel. And so I end up looking at what happened to me… and that is winning, for them.”
Mr Ward, who is MP for Bradford East, argued that what was comparable “was the treatment of people by people”.
He said that, in the 1930s, before the concentration camps were built, persecution of the Jews started with “what was regarded as low-level cases of nastiness and harassment to begin with, and then escalated.
“And when you look at — wherever it may be — the West Bank, and a declared intent by the Israeli Defence Forces to harass, often just annoy Palestinians — in terms of a checkpoint that will be only open on certain days… it is really just to harass, in many cases to move the Palestinians, to just give up and move on,” he continued.
Mr Ward also denied that it was his use of the term “the Jews” that had prompted the outrage. “We would have been having this same conversation if I’d not used those words,” he insisted.