Critics fail to see the funny side of SMH and Oz Gaza cartoons

Aug 4, 2014


“I immediately thought of my Palestinian friends. There is no one in the world who loves their children more than the Palestinians. Can you imagine how it would feel to see the cartoon after having lost a child in an Israeli airstrike?” – George Browning.

By Myriam Robin

A Palestinian advocacy group slams The Australian, as The Sydney Morning Herald apologises for publishing controversial cartoons.

The Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network has slammed a cartoon published in The Australian that depicts a Palestinian militant with a hooded face bending down to pat his young child on the head, telling the boy to “go out to play and win the PR war for daddy”.

George Browning, the former Anglican bishop of Canberra and current APAN president, told Crikey he was shocked by the cartoon. “I immediately thought of my Palestinian friends. There is no one in the world who loves their children more than the Palestinians. Can you imagine how it would feel to see the cartoon after having lost a child in an Israeli airstrike?”

But Oz editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell rejects the assertion that the cartoon is of an ordinary Palestinian, telling Crikey it depicts a “Hamas terrorist, hence the black face covering and automatic weapon over his shoulder”.

“The cartoon could not be clearer,” Mitchell said. As for The Australian’s broader coverage, Mitchell says the paper’s editorials “have lamented the loss of life of innocent children several times and at length over the past fortnight”, as have the paper’s news stories and features.

This morning’s edition of The Australian admits the cartoon, which first ran in July 31st edition of the paper, has “drawn some controversy”. In an un-bylined piece in its  media section, Mitchell is quoted as saying the cartoon has prompted letters from all sides of the debate, including many that were supportive. “It’s very unusual to receive so many letters in support of a cartoon,” he said.

Also in this morning’s edition is an opinion piece by Bill Leak, who drew the cartoon, where he explains his thinking around what he drew. “If you work as a cartoonist and you don’t want to become just another ideologue taking a predictable, unthinking approach to the issues … it’s necessary to make the effort to acquaint yourself with the facts before making any comment at all,” he wrote.

“I tried first to imagine how I’d respond if the people in the suburb adjoining the one I lived in wanted to wipe mine off the map. And they showed the meant business by raining missiles down on the local shopping centre … I next tried to imagine how I’d feel if, after years of trying via every means possible to defend myself, hit back and get them to cut it out, they elected a terrorist outfit to run the council. I’m quite sure that if these fanatics then adopted a strategy of stashing their armaments in hospitals and schools so that when my side retaliated it became impossible to destroy their weaponry without killing their civilians and children, I’d regard that as just about the last word in barbarism”.

Leak then condemns the Australian Greens for criticising a cartoonist for “doing a drawing that revealed the sad, unspeakable truth”.

But Browning said Leak’s justification was “totally unacceptable”:“It expresses not the slightest sympathy for those whose children have been killed in Gaza but rather insists that his cartoon had ‘revealed a sad, unspeakable truth’. The ‘truth’ of which he speaks is that the Palestinians send their children out to play hoping that they will be killed by Israel. There is not a shred of evidence for this. It’s the most naked racial slander. I find it utterly incomprehensible that The Australian would continue to employ him as a cartoonist.”

The controversy comes as The Sydney Morning Herald apologised for a cartoon featuring an old man with a hooked nose reclining on a lounge chair with a Star of David on the back as he uses a remote to blow up a Palestinian area. After criticism about the cartoon first surfaced in the Australian Jewish News, as well as in the letters pages of the SMH, the paper today apologised, saying its position on the cartoon was “too simplistic and ignored the use of religious symbols”.

The paper’s editorial board explained that given the cartoon was based on photographs of the conflict, and the cartoonist in question often drew the elderly with exaggerated features, its editors had believed the cartoon was not anti-Semitic. However, the paper acknowledged that the cartoon bore a similarity to those circulated in Nazi Germany — “menacing cartoons that continue to haunt and traumatise generations of Jewish people”.

Browning told Crikey that given the SMH had apologised, The Australian should do the same.

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