CHRIS MOREY AGANST THE PRESSA complaint from Chris Morey argues that a cartoon published in The Press on April 9, 2012 is anti-Semitic and inaccurate. The Press Council disagrees and does not uphold the complaint.
The cartoon deals with the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Playing with the word ‘settlement’ the cartoonist has US President Obama telling Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that he doubts whether Israel is committed to a [peace] settlement, and Netanyahu disagrees, showing him a map of all the [housing] settlements they are committed to. Obama’s response is “Men are from Mars – Zionists are from Uranus”. This line is the crux of Mr Morey’s complaint, and one of two complaints about the cartoon received by the Press Council.
Mr Morey complained that the cartoon was anti-Semitic because it compared Jews with human excrement or flatulence. He argued that the word ‘Zionist’ was a pejorative synonym for ‘Jew’, and the term had been used to give the appearance that criticism was politically rather than racially inspired. However, he believed the cartoon to be racial in content, not political.
He said there were many Israeli Jews opposed to the extension of settlements, but the cartoon called them all Zionists “and hence as excrement, regardless”.
He also claimed the cartoon was inaccurate in questioning Israel’s commitment to a peace settlement, saying “both sides in the Israel/Palestine dispute have offered to negotiate, but on terms that the other side will not accept”.
The Newspaper’s Response
The Press editor Andrew Holden said there had been a number of complaints to the newspaper about the cartoon, but disputed that the cartoon was anti-Semitic and a thinly veiled attack on the Jewish people. “While the humour is clearly scatological, the most that could be read into it is that the US President Obama ‘thinks’ that Netanyahu and his political supporters are assholes.”
Mr Holden agreed that while the term Zionist was generally used to describe those who support the creation and existence of the state of Israel, more recently it had come to be used to describe those who want to expand the borders of Israel. In this context, this was the intended meaning of Zionist. The cartoon was a comment on the aggressive expansion of settlements on the West Bank in defiance of strong advice from the United States and many other allies. “If any other meaning is adopted the cartoon does not make sense.”
In further correspondence with the Press Council, Mr Morey challenged Mr Holden’s use of the word ‘aggressive’ in referring to Israel’s settlement policy. “To describe such a policy as ‘aggressive’ is to express a view strongly hostile to settlements.”
Mr Holden also expressed the view that the Council’s principle 1 concerning accuracy, fairness and balance referred primarily to factual articles. Mr Morey sought clarification from the Council about that.
Mr Morey believes the cartoonist to be anti-Semitic and he sees this cartoon as evidence of that. He argues that the use of the word Zionist is a pejorative term for Jew and, therefore, the cartoon is critical of the whole Jewish people and not simply those who support the expansion of settlements. And, further, the comparison Men from Mars with Zionists from Uranus was offensive.
This complaint has raised issues in relation to two of the Council’s principles: 1 (Accuracy) and 6 (Discrimination). The Council does not uphold the complaint on the grounds of accuracy. It cannot rule on whether or not it is accurate to say Israel is committed to a peace settlement. That is a matter for conjecture. Likewise it is difficult to rule on a single definition of Zionist, when the meaning of the term varies according to who is using it, and in what circumstances. It is clear in this cartoon ‘Zionist’ refers to those supporting the extension of settlements in the occupied territories.
The Council’s principle relating to discrimination does not restrict content that refers to religion or race. These are legitimate topics where they are relevant and in the public interest, and as long as there is no gratuitous reference. In recent adjudications the Council has set a high bar in this respect to protect freedom of expression.
The Council’s principles give scope to cartoonists to express very strong, even unpopular viewpoints.
To clarify, the Council’s principle referring to accuracy does not only apply to factual articles. The facts on which opinion or commentary is based also need to be accurate.
For the reasons outlined above, the Press Council does not uphold the complaint.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Tim Beaglehole, Kate Coughlan, Peter Fa’afiu, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, John Roughan and Stephen Stewart.
Chris Darlow took no part in the consideration of this complaint.