On Pesach, The New York Times published an anti-Semitic cartoon in its international edition. The distasteful image depicted a blind US President Donald Trump wearing a yarmulke, being pulled along by a dog with the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a Star of David on its collar. Kobby Barda, who heads the Gal Program at the Academic Center of Law and Science in Hod Hasharon, Israel, was the first person to bring attention to the cartoon on social media.
Thanks to his efforts to call the Times to task, together with a number of Israeli diplomats, American congressmen and Jewish organizations that joined the chorus of condemnation, the paper published an apology in its “Opinion” section last Sunday, and an “Editors’ Note” in its international edition on Monday. On Tuesday, an editorial called the cartoon “appalling” and its appearance evidence of the danger of anti-Semitism and “numbness to its creep.” The following day, the Times announced that the editor who had chosen to publish the cartoon would be disciplined, and that it had canceled the contract with the syndicate that provided the cartoon.
The Times will also update its bias training to include a focus on anti-Semitism, according to a note sent to employees by A.G. Sulzberger, the newspaper’s publisher, and it will no longer run syndicated cartoons drawn by artists who have no direct ties to the newspaper.
Describing the cartoon as “offensive,” Mr. Sulzberger said it had been “downloaded and published by a single production editor working without adequate oversight.” The newspaper is also changing its procedures to ensure that the situation will not repeated. “Though I’ve been assured there was no malice involved in this mistake, we fell far short of our standards and values in this case,” he wrote.
Mr. Barda’s area of expertise is American politics and the ties between Israel and the US. He wrote a thesis on the establishment of AIPAC, and published the first book written in Hebrew about Donald Trump, The Key to Trump’s Mind.
I spoke to Kobby Barda last Thursday.
Q: You deserve a lot of credit for alerting the world about that cartoon.
A: I got a lot of coverage in Israel, but I don’t have a foothold in the American media, and I haven’t gotten any credit for bringing about the original apology. I happened to see the cartoon on the Twitter feed of one of my friends, who attacked the Times and wrote, “Isn’t that anti-Semitic?” but no one picked up on it. When I saw that, I resolved that something had to be done. The fact that the cartoon had been up for 24 hours without anyone protesting was what really bothered me, and that’s why I wanted to send a clear message that it was unacceptable.
Q: What was your first step?
A: The first thing I did was to share it on social media and ask people to do likewise. The cartoon was shared thousands of times. I also tagged anyone I could think of in American politics. Then I sent Consul General Dayan a text message asking him for his help. He was the one who approached the Times and demanded an apology. I also used my position as spokesman for the Israeli Professional Football League to ask the journalists with whom I have a relationship to contact the Times. I also sent the cartoon to one of Congressman Lee Zeldin’s aides and to just about every conservative media outlet. The idea was to draw attention to the cartoon so it could be turned into a story so people would realize that the Times had done something wrong. Not everyone agreed with me at first. Several people told me that there wasn’t any story to tell, including some highly respected Israeli journalists who felt it was a legitimate cartoon. But eventually a lot people understood that it was evil.
Q: What did you find so offensive about it?
A: It had all of the signs of Der Stürmer in 1939. Putting a yarmulke on the head of a non-Jew is an old tactic that was employed by the Nazis in their propaganda. Whenever they wanted to portray a non-Jew as being under the influence of the Jews, they’d put a Jewish symbol on him. President Trump, wearing sunglasses to indicate that he’s blind to reality and needs a seeing eye dog to lead him around, was also dressed in a black suit to convey that he’s ultra-Orthodox, which is also something the Nazis would do, lumping all Jews together in the same category. Then you have Netanyahu’s portrayal as a dog, which is meant to characterize him as subhuman. The Muslims do that a lot these days, although they usually use pigs and monkeys instead. And let’s not forget that the artist gave Netanyahu a big nose, which has always been used in anti-Semitic caricatures. And he was portrayed as a dachshund, which is a breed that is used for hunting. Then you have the orange, yellow and red background, jarring colors that evoke Armageddon. The Portuguese artist included just about every anti-Semitic cliché he could think of.
The next day someone sent me the other cartoon of Netanyahu that was making the rounds where he’s taking a selfie on Mount Sinai, and I didn’t see anything objectionable, although I really didn’t understand what the cartoonist was trying to say. “That one’s okay,” I said. “There’s nothing anti-Semitic about it, it’s just political criticism.” But the first one was right out of Der Stürmer.