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Antisemitic cartoons make a comeback

Antisemitic depiction of a Jew in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo (Photo: Screenshot/El Mundo)

One of the bellwethers of hostility toward Jews, over the centuries, has been the disgusting display of antisemitic cartoons depicting Jews as greedy, ugly sub-humans who are to be disdained and shunned by society. 

These despicable cartoons appeared as early as the late 1800s, illustrating exaggerated racial characteristics of Jews who “controlled the stock exchange, lack of model code or allegiance to country, criminal activities such as white slavery and blackmail,” although the earliest known anti-Jewish cartoon dates back to 1233, which showed “three bizarre-looking Jews standing inside a castle which is being attacked by a host of cartoonish horned, beak-nosed demons.”

Other images included those who killed Christ, vampires, devil worshippers, blood eaters and puppet masters. In short, there was no end to the libelous and defamatory ways in which Jews were insidiously portrayed.  

Despite the passage of hundreds of years, it looks as if not much has changed since antisemitic cartoons are making a comeback. Just last Thursday, El Mundo, the well-known Spanish newspaper, opted to run an article entitled, “The Hour of the Spies in the Gaza War,” accompanied by one such cartoon that substituted guns to illustrate the eyebrows of an Orthodox Jew whose eyes were replaced by two Jewish stars. Instead of a mouth, a Chanukah menorah took its place. 

But, as unthinkable as the publishing of this cartoon was, it was not the first time that such a depiction has appeared in Spanish print. Similar drawings appeared in the 1930s, just prior to the Holocaust, when Jews were viewed as sinister characters who were often capable of violence. Garnering a harsh response, the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) stated, “Not only is invoking age-old antisemitic tropes irresponsible journalism, it is also incredibly dangerous at a time of rising antisemitism globally.”

This is not just one, unfortunate misplaced error because similar images have also recently been used by Harvard’s Palestine Solidarity Committee together with the Harvard African American Resistance Organization. In their goal to call attention to the Palestinian cause, they pulled out an old drawing, from the Civil Rights Movement, “showing a white hand, marked with a dollar sign inside a Star of David, tightening nooses around the necks of a Black man and an Arab man.”

The posting of such a malicious cartoon is not by accident. It is purposely done to advance a sentiment that is being felt by more and more people whose political ideologies are adversely opposed to emerging societal standards that seek to view Jews through an oppressor lens and the enemies of the disenfranchised. Consequently, there is a serious conflict between the need for victimhood, as a protected class, and the preservation of the good name and reputation of Jews. Because promoting the former is dependent upon sullying the latter.

The representation of Jews as distasteful, frightening and aggressive creatures helps to promote a narrative that demonizes the people as well as their homeland. It serves to cast doubt on their humanity, their ethics, their motives and, most of all, their desirability to be counted among those worthy enough to be seen as guiltless and innocent. It is, therefore, a carefully calculated and crafted effort to diminish the standing of Jews and call into question their very existence.

Cartoons, which often capture societal changes and trends, can be so much more effective than the written word, because, as the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” And this is the graphic power which is transmitted, even without the use of words.” The visual depiction penetrates the viewer’s mind, manipulating the image and standing of the very people they are trying to irreparably damage. 

One example illustrates this well. “In 1942, the Dutch weekly magazine Volk en Vaderland, (People in the Fatherland) which propagated the political opinions of the Dutch National Socialists in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, published a comic strip entitled “Rare, maar ware commentaren” (Odd, but true comments). The illustrator, Peter Beekman depicted current events and the various perceived enemies, Jews in particular, providing insight into how the genre was deployed in the Nazi propaganda machine.” 

Through these cartoons, Jews were depicted as greedy people, different from everyone else. Seen as inferior to Germans, those who were held up to be the master race, the cartoons were able to be a useful and even accepted tool in “openly expressing an anti-Semitic viewpoint.” 

Despite Jews having lived in the Netherlands since the Middle Ages, where they became fully integrated into Dutch society, the moment they were portrayed as Christ-killers, perceptions began to change. The impact it had, made a difference. As non-Jewish Dutch people were incorporated into the notion that they, too, were part and parcel of the superior Aryan race, the political cartoon images began to do their work. 

It wasn’t long before they paved the way for the anti-Jewish policies to be introduced and quickly adopted. As a consequence, Jews were systematically isolated from Dutch society and seen to be the inferior and unseemly characters that had been caricatured by Beekman.

Why would anyone doubt that the same strategy is being used today to demoralize and denigrate Jews in a way that furthers an ever-growing popular trend towards casting blame upon the Jews as being the cause of what ails our world? This is, after all, a propaganda war, designed to change perception and opinion while, at the same time, it replaces the victims who suffered a savage massacre, rebranding them into legitimate targets who deserved just what they got. 

The total blindness and deception which infected whole populations, throughout Europe, was executed over the course of a few short years. Slowly but methodically people’s thinking and rationale were taken over and responsible for the evils that they witnessed but refused to call out. 

It’s called indoctrination and conditioning. Once you successfully train people to think a certain way, whether it’s motivated through fear or the desire to be part of a programmed culture, which moves to one drumbeat, then the rest is easy. It’s just a matter of time before everyone obediently rejects the despised image.

It’s not hard to see why cartoons have been a useful weapon in changing hearts and minds, even if only subliminally at first, reaching the deep recesses of the mind, without someone being fully aware of how it is psychologically affecting them. 

But these stereotypes, which are nothing more than image destroyers, in an amusing form, must be called out for the vicious attack that they engender because to Jews, they definitely are no laughing matter! 


A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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