How antisemitic propaganda seeps into the cultural mindset

The Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet published a cartoon this week which would have made the editor of Der Stuermer proud.

The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement on Wednesday condemning a cartoon appearing in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, which grossly demonized Jewish ritual circumcision, as “deeply offensive and appalling.”

The cartoon, which was printed on May 28, depicts a bloodied crying baby lying on a table with his toes being cut off with pruning shears and severed toes scattered around.  A bearded and hatted man is holding what appears to be a Jewish holy book in one hand, while with the other, he holds the baby down on the table with a pitchfork.  A woman, who is also holding what appears to be a prayer book, says to entering policemen “Mistreating?  No, this is tradition, an important part of our belief!”  The police say, “Belief?  Oh yes, then it is all right.”

“This grotesque cartoon of a bloodied, mutilated baby, suffering at the hands of adults, is a deeply offensive and appalling distortion of a core Jewish ritual,” said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman. “The image harkens back to the centuries of anti-Semitic illustrations depicting Jews engaged in ritual ceremonies involving gratuitous and fabricated bloodletting.”

“In no way can this sickening cartoon be justified as an acceptable graphic representation in support for the campaign to legislatively restrict ritual circumcision, which unfortunately has gained some traction in Europe.

“We call on the editors of Dagbladet to issue an official apology and for other government and societal leaders in Norway to speak out against this monstrous cartoon and its deeper messages,” he said.

In November 2011, ADL voiced concern to the Dagbladet regarding a cartoon equating the situation in the Gaza Strip with the Holocaust.

The European Jewish Congress has previously said that it is “carefully considering the possibility of taking legal action” over the cartoon.

The Algemeiner adds:

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish Human Rights NGO,  who is currently attending the Global Forum on Antisemitism in Jerusalem, denounced the “blood libel cartoon” as “so virulently anti-Semitic it would make Hitler and Himmler weep tears of joy.”

“We call upon Norway’s leaders to denounce this incitement to hate and especially urge the Ombudsman for Children’s Rights to denounce this outrageous denigration of a core Jewish rite dating back to the biblical times of Abraham,” Cooper added.

Incredibly, the cartoonist innocently claims he never meant to offend the Jews and was just commenting on religion in general:

According to the JTA, “Dagbladet cartoon artist Tomas Drefvelin said he did not mean to draw Jews in his caricature, which he meant ‘not as criticism of either a specific religion or a nation [but] as a general criticism of religions.’”

“I gave the people in the picture hats, and the man beard, because this gives them a more religious character … Jew-hatred is reprehensible. I would never draw to create hatred of a people, or against individuals,” he added.

Riight. So that’s why he didn’t draw a picture of Muslims performing anything religious, let alone something as cruel as female genital mutilation; and he also didn’t mention Christians of any denomination. It’s funny how “religion” only made him think of men with hats and beards holding a baby while cutting bits off him.

Honest Reporting remarks:

While Drefvelin may not have intended to employ classic anti-Semitic tropes and caricatures, his cartoon now takes its place as the latest in a long line of fiendish depictions of Jews in black coats and hats carrying out outrageous and morally offensive acts designed to inspire reactions of disgust from the public.

Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, compared the cartoon to Nazi propaganda, which often exaggerated Jewish rituals to give them a demonic appearance. “This is a violent cartoon which is meant to inspire hate and contempt against one particular people,” he said.

Speaking of Nazi propaganda and the ease with which antisemitic tropes are absorbed almost sub-consciously into the public mind,  my friend and commenter Brian Goldfarb (who also writes at Engage and at Simply Jews) wrote the following item which fits in well with this subject, entitled “On deconstructing and denouncing Richard Wagner”:

Like many, maybe even most, of my fellow Jews, including lots of lovers of classical music, I am less than enamoured of Richard Wagner and his music. I find that I cannot separate the man and his beliefs from his music and neither, it seems, can Robert Wistrich, Neuberger Professor of History at the University of Jerusalem and Head of the Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism (yes, that Vidal Sassoon, the hairdresser: more on him below).

A small personal preamble: one Christmas Day (remember, I live in the UK, and it’s a holiday here), with nothing better to do (no family around, miserable weather outside, rubbish on television), I switched on the BBC’s classical music radio station. They were playing religious music: fair enough: Britain is, at least nominally, a Christian country. But then, horror of horrors, they decided to play some Wagner, from The Ring Cycle, of all things! Come on, I yelled at the radio (which took no notice), this is PAGAN, not Christian, music, and rushed to turn it off. I had other reasons, of course: Wagner was Hitler’s favourite composer – which would be enough to condemn anyone in my eyes, but is hardly a considered critical judgement; the Bayreuth Wagner festival used to reek of antisemitism and Nazi propaganda; and, anyway, I didn’t like his bombastic and overly teutonic music at all. It even puts me off Bruckner, in whose music I can detect strong Wagnerian influences. We once, at a concert, rushed out of the hall immediately the Bruckner symphony ended, just in case they played an encore! You could have fitted a whole Haydn symphony into his First Movement and got more joy at hearing wonderful music in the process.

Anyway, back to Wagner and Robert Wistrich. Writing in the Times of Israel on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth (22 May, 1813), he examines the links between Wagner and antisemitism. Even bearing in mind that the term “antisemitism” wasn’t even coined until the 1860s, Wistrich finds Wagner guilty as charged. Wistrich starts as he means to go on:

“There is little doubt that the great German composer Richard Wagner was one of the most virulent anti-Semites in modern history as well as being Adolf Hitler’s most revered cultural role-model.”


Fair enough, but what’s his evidence for that unequivocal opening line?

Indeed, as the good academic that he is, Wistrich raises the obvious intellectual objection to his own opening line:

“is it, in fact, correct to see in Wagner a kind of proto-Nazi before his time?

He goes on to raise further objections:

“What, indeed, we might ask, would modern music be without Wagner’s aesthetic revolution, his universal artwork…of the future, his dramatic expressiveness or masterful merging of text and music? Even the legendary Jewish conductor Leonard Bernstein had to admit: “I hate Wagner, but I hate him on my knees.””

Wistrich himself makes further intellectual objections to the simplistic, straight line ‘Wagner = Nazis’ when he says that

“It might, of course, be objected that Wagner can hardly be held responsible for the monstrous way in which the Nazis implemented some parts of his vision half a century later.”  

Of course he can’t. Still, even though many Wagnerians were, and are, nice people who wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone eat meat, raw or cooked, Wagner can’t escape adverse judgement, not when a critic as perceptive as Nietzsche (a former fan) “denounced Wagner’s art as diseased, narcotic, morbid, hysterical and brutal. His scathing portrait of Wagner as a master of hypnotic trickery, a neurotic tyrant with an actor’s genius, an incomparable histrionic personality – seems at some points to uncannily prefigure Hitler.”

And we must remember that Nietzsche himself has been badly misused by the far right.

Read the full article. It is highly recommended:

And a final note on Vidal Sassoon: for anyone who missed the obituaries on him recently, Sassoon was too young to be called up to fight fascism during World War 2. So, as a good Jewish boy from the working class of East End London, he attached himself to the 43 Group – 43 Jewish ex-servicemen who pledged themselves to fight, literally, the resurgent fascists of Mosley’s Union Movement on London’s streets. As an apprentice ladies hairdresser, he occasionally turned up for work somewhat bruised (having fought a street battle the night before). One story goes that, in response to the shop manager asking what happened, he replied that he’d tripped over a hair ribbon! Be it noted that he volunteered for (and fought in) the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 (he had, by then, done his UK National Service in the army).

He became the “go-to” hairdresser of the 1960s, famously creating Mary Quant’s iconic “bob”. Having made a fortune as a result of his fame, he then spent a large amount of this fortune on funding the Institute for the Study of Antisemitism that bears his name at the U. of Jerusalem.

He never forgot his roots.

What these two seemingly disparate stories tell us is that no matter how irrelevant an artist’s views appear, they can seep into the public sub-conscious through their art. Wagner’s antisemitism inspired Hitler. Drefvelin has apparently  imbibed his antisemitism unconsciously, for he claims not to understand what is antisemitic about his cartoon. Who will be influenced in turn by his cartoon?

We must challenge antisemitism wherever it is found, even in something as irrelevant as a cartoon.

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12 Responses to How antisemitic propaganda seeps into the cultural mindset

  1. Andrea says:

    Dry Bones strip is deliciously right ! Before Nazis gave a bad name Kultur was spreading Aryan myths and racial/religious theories on different levels of human kind. I had the chance to visit a beautiful public library in France where XIX century historical and “scientific” books are available -most of them written by German and French but also with strong contribution from Italians and Americans. Most of them are simply inconceivable through today cultural lens but at the time they achieved status of scientific essays. Nazist final solution and second world war made these theories less appealing but legacy still persists in some academical corners.- and we are talking about high scholarity level.

    Mr. Goldfarb took a very interesting point on Wagner and crucial questions arise in my mind : could Art and hate co-exist ? Are Art and Kultur neutrals in respect of moral values ? Wagner reached high levels of genius but his vision of life was intrinsically vicious at least in a political meaning.

    Having said that one small and maybe negligible point of the post needs to be detailed.
    Anti -circumcison propaganda is of course anti -jewish but Muslims as well paid their bill in Germany for this. If I am not wrong the famous juridical statement against circumcision was in fact due to an accident occurred to a Muslim child because of supposed poor sanitary condition in the surgery ( you know…the usual Western image of dirty middle easteners people )
    It was maybe the only episode where local Jews and Muslims joined the same side whilst out of Germany there was not any significant common understanding of this episode from both communities.This is the evidence of the deep lack of understanding between Jewish and Muslims even on most basical common beliefs… apart from very few local situations .

    • anneinpt says:

      Thank you for your comment which was very enlightening as always, Andrea. It’s always a pleasure to read what you have to say, particularly about Europe and its culture. I don’t know enough about it, despite having been born and raised in London.

      You ask “can Art and Hate coexist? Are Art and Kultur neutrals in respect of moral values ?”. In theory they can I suppose, but I think in practice emotions infuse good art and culture – that’s the whole point of them after all. Music is harder to pin down because it’s neither visual nor verbal, so in theory a nice piece of music is just that. But again, can one separate it from the composer? Wagner is an extreme example, but I don’t know if this is the case with other composers.

      Regarding circumcision – yes, you are quite right that the original anti-circumcision lobby, at least in Germany, arose out of a botched Muslim circumcision, and that the Jews and the Muslims have joined common cause.

      However this is not the only time Jews and Muslims have cooperated in Europe. They have similarly joined forces in many countries, e.g. the UK, Holland, Switzerland etc. to fight the anti-Halal and anti-Shechita lobbies which campaign against kosher and halal slaughtering animals for meat.

      The particular problem with the cartoon was not that it was anti-religion. It was anti-Jewish. The men depicted are not typical Muslims. Although they are not drawn clearly, at a glance you can tell that they are Jews. Muslims do not wear hats or black jackets like that, and you will never find an anti-Muslim circumcision cartoon in Europe, while you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of anti-Jewish ones.

      The cartoonist might genuinely believe that he is not anti-Jewish, but that in a way is worse. He has absorbed the antisemitic iconography without even being aware of it, which shows just how dangerously insidious it is.

      • Andrea says:

        Thank you for your warm hospitality – I am alwaws feeling at home here. Most of blogs concerning Israel seems written by Americans or American -Israelis with contribution of Republican Party oriented commenters with some level of criticism toward european culture. Nothing bad about it – they have some good reasons on their side when it comes to support of Israel and EU is an easy target for her own faults.
        Yet I was happy when I found your blog : English language and style , female touch, contribution from Eire supporters of Israel and good balance between European and American readers.
        I read also pro Israeli blogs in Italian but they are too much….Italian. They are written….aloud ( sorry for non sense ) I mean in a passionate way and contributors are unpolite . Reason is maybe that a lot of anti -israel militants are “trolling” .
        Thera are also some excellent blogs in French language and some written by Sefardis Jews.
        I like Sefardis and Mizraims since I am deeply mediterranean in my heart. My ideal place is something in between Rome, Athens and Alexandria in a time before religious hate, let’s say before Romans turned into Christian. Oh I am daydreaming of course.
        happy anniversary for your blog anyway !

        • anneinpt says:

          I’m blushing at your compliments. :-). I’m delighted you’ve found a “home” here at my blog and I’m very happy that you are a regular commenter ehre. You bring a completely different insight to me and my readers – a European, Gentile, pro-Israel and genuinely interested viewpoint.

          Since you like Sefardim and Mizrachim and are Mediterranean at heart, you would likely feel very much at home in Israel. You’ve just described a typical Israeli city! 😀

          Thank you for the happy anniversary wish – it’s for my “good news Friday” posts. (My blog anniversary is in January.)

  2. Brian Goldfarb says:

    And thank you, Andrea, from me as well.

    As a social scientist, I would note that art of all sorts is always culture specific as well as time-bound. In one sense, this is what good Art History courses are all about: what are the influences on this work of art, historically, politically, and so forth.

    I have just caught up with a tv programme on J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) which focussed on his “industrial” paintings. The commentators (historians, artists, at least one biographer of Turner) all argued that these paintings (such as “The Fighting Temeraire” and “Rain, Steam and Speed”) could not have been painted without his knowledge of the developments in science and industry taking place in his lifetime. Living in London, he knew these scientists, such as Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday. They even argued that his painting of clouds was influenced by the classification of clouds that occurred at this time, as well as his painting of storm scenes by his knowledge of the Beaufort Scale of wind speeds.

    Thus, it is always difficult to separate the artist from the times in which they work, as well as for the actual work they create. This means that even if we shouldn’t, we tend to identify the writer, for example, with the characters they create and assume (unless it is plainly wrong to do so) that they share their views. Especially if these are the central characters in the work.

    This can work in reverse: in the 1920s and 30s, many writers of fiction in English tended to write any Jewish characters in a very stereotyped manner: greasy, Levantine, thick-lipped, thick accents…Bryan Cheyette, Professor of English at Reading University, wrote a book titled “Constructions of ‘the Jew’ in English Literature and Society: Racial Representations 1875-1945” some years ago on exactly this theme.

    So, we might ask, why did Wagner write the Ring Cycle, with the characters he did? I’ve attempted an answer above, but I would argue (at much greater length, but this is not the place to do so) that it is impossible to separate art and the artist from their time and place.

    • Andrea says:

      I have to thank you for having kindly replied and your mention of “Construction of the Jew “. Anti-Levantine sterotypes still persist today but from illiterate and uneducated people ( who are unfortunately high percentage ). There was a period that social scientist and historians represented Oriental civilization like moral corrupted and insane. If only we take texts for schools written before the seventies we easly find only dispotic pharaons, corrupted babylon, greedy Jewish merchants and bloody saracens with few or no mention of art and scientific achievement. Not only but fall of Roman Empire was also attributed to oriental corruption and racial mixture with Jews and Levantine people ( one for all- Harvard reputed historian Tenney Franck ).
      The fact we rightly fight Islamist oppression and influence does not mean that we have an anti-Levantine or anti-Arabs spirit. I think to be personally far from any Eurocentric or Western supremaciest view. Israel is also the answer that European, American and Levantine Jews could co-exist in a succesfully way. In the long run difference between Askhenazis and Sephardis will disappear even in respect of scientific and technological achievement.
      Wagner is a fascinating topic but my knowledge is not deep enough and shamefully since I am living in a city well reputed for her Opera theatre ( La Scala ). Let’s say that I am so enthusiastic for Verdi that I do not miss Wagner ( I am jocking of course )

  3. Gurnemanz says:

    “The Ring” is not pagan, it is not connected to any religion per se. The characters of pagan gods(like others) are mere allegorical vehicles, you have to see beyond them to appreciate the work. I agree if they wanted Wagner for Christmas that “The Ring” is not a good choice(they should have gone for “Tannhauser” or “Parsifal” instead) but not for the reasons mentioned.

    As for separation of the art from it’s creator…I agree it is not always possible, but in this case the creator is not what he is cracked up to be.

  4. Colin Stephenson says:

    Wagner also wrote work inspired by Christian legend & Nietzsche criticised his Parsifal on this count
    Christianity took a lot from Pagan lore but so did Judaism – perhaps more in one of its embryo stages – & Memorial Candles, Bar Mitzva celebration & indeed Kabalah are all inspired by Catholicism or perhaps simply the sociological effect of living among these societies

    Of course anti-semitism is revolting, horrific & absolutely inexcusable. But let’s avoid throwing the baby with the bath water

    • anneinpt says:

      Christianity took a lot from Pagan lore but so did Judaism – perhaps more in one of its embryo stages – & Memorial Candles, Bar Mitzva celebration & indeed Kabalah are all inspired by Catholicism or perhaps simply the sociological effect of living among these societies

      Hmm. Who’s to say perhaps the influence worked the other way round?

  5. oogenhand says:

    Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    Interesting hierarchy of Muslim and Jewish interests in Europe. WN-Anti-Semites will have to do some contortions to explain this phenomenon.

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