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State Department rejects anti-Semitic cartoonist

The US State Department has rescinded the invitation to Majed Badra to participate in its International Visitor Leadership Program because of some of editorial cartoons on his website that were deemed “anti-Semitic and extremely objectionable.” The leadership program brings dozens of political cartoonists from around the world to tour the US for three weeks to “examine the role of a free, independent media in a democracy vis-a-vis political cartooning.”

The cartoonist contends that the cartoons in question are not anti-Sematic but anti-Israeli occupation.

From the The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press website, Badra is quoted as saying:

“I just wanted to express that I’m against the Israeli occupation, settlements, killing, siege and injustice, and how much we want democracy, human rights, freedom and two states solution,” he said via Skype. “I’m open-minded, and I carry all the respect to people in the world regardless of their gender, religion, race or color.”

Badra has removed the offending images from his website so that he can be considered for future inclusion into the leadership program, but some images are still available on the web.

Community Comments

#1 donna lewis
@ 12:27 pm

A bunch of us DC-ites attended a reception last night at the National Press Club. It was really fun trying to communicate with cartoonists who spoke no English. :-)

“Buster Keaton” definitely sounds better with a heavy French accent.


#2 donna lewis
@ 1:05 pm

BTW, these international guys (and gals) are heading to NYC in a few days and then Florida and/or out to the West Coast (I think the group is dividing after NYC. If you can get to one of their functions, they are really enjoying meeting American creatives.

#3 Milt Priggee
@ 1:13 pm

SO, freedom of speech is ‘extremely objectionable…’??? America has indeed jumped the shark….

#4 Jen Sorensen
@ 3:19 pm

I’ve taken a look at the cartoons in question, and while someone at the consulate in Israel is apparently calling them “anti-Semitic,” I don’t think that label should automatically apply in the title of this blog post.

The first one shows Barack Obama in front of a flag combining the star of David with the stars and stripes. It’s criticizing US support for Israel. Obama is drawn a bit buck-toothed, but this is entirely within normal bounds of caricature. The cartoon is fundamentally about policy. It does not seem racist and is certainly not anti-Semitic.

The next one is surely calculated to offend, and I find the use of Nazi imagery tiresome and cliched. However, calling one’s political opponents Nazis has become so widespread in political discourse as to hardly even raise eyebrows anymore — that is, evidently, unless it is depicted in cartoon form. It’s a sign of immaturity, but not a sign of racism. Note also that this cartoon seems to address the government of Israel, not Jewish people in general. There are always those who try to use the “anti-Semitism” line to erase the distinction between Israeli political policies and “Jewish people” as a racial concept. Is calling your political opponents Nazis somehow much worse if those opponents are representatives of the Israeli state? Again, only if you conflate Israeli policies and “Jewish people.”

Badra has contacted me personally, even before the visa fiasco, to let me know he hoped to meet me in Portland. He apparently drew these cartoons years ago, and professes that he only wants peace. He seems to be a perfect candidate for the State Department program, and I think it’s a terrible shame that he’s being denied the opportunity. Rescinding his visa is the sort of thing that only furthers political polarization. I say all this as a (non-observant) Jew.

#5 Carl Moore
@ 12:23 am

Badra couldn’t caricature his way out of a paper bag, but, I agree with Jen that these two cartoons are not racist – just really lousy.

#6 Ethan Heitner
@ 6:37 am

Just wanted to add my voice saying that the title of this post should be changed. The way it stands now you are basically buying the premise of the U.S. state department/Israeli consulate, which I think is highly questionable.

#7 Terry LaBan
@ 10:03 am

Sorry, Jen, but antisemitism is (sometimes) in the eye of the beholder. There’s nothing to indicate the Jewish star on the American flag refers only to Israel. Without any explanatory text, it looks like the cartoonist is saying the US is controlled by Jews, which is not only antisemitic but an extremely common trope, particularly in Islamic countries, where the American flag is shown festooned with Jewish stars so often that there are probably people who think it actually looks like that. As for the Nazi imagery, again, there’s nothing in the drawing that refers to any situation in particular. It’s just a blanket statement that Israelis, and by extension Jews(we know this because the figure, whoever it’s supposed to be, is wearing a yarmulke) are just like Nazis, another extremely common(and extremely offensive) trope. Mr. Badra can say what he wants, but his audience knows exactly what he means. That being said, I don’t think people should be denied visas because they draw mean cartoons. And I think this dude is such a dreadful cartoonist that I’m surprised anyone pays attention to him at all.

#8 Jen Sorensen
@ 1:00 pm

To be clear, I don’t mean to say these are good cartoons. They’re bad. With a nod to what Terry said, the fact that the star of David is used as both a symbol of Judaism and on the Israeli flag creates some ambiguity. (Although I *think* the second cartoon is supposed to be a caricature of a political figure, not just a generic Israeli. That’s my guess, anyway.)

To add some context, I’m going to quote from the letter Badra sent me and others:

I would like to explain that I drew these cartoons more than 5 years ago, I was young. I didn’t realize that my drawings could offend any person on the world especially that I was still young and my views toward life were quite limited to the context where I live. Also I did not understand or appreciate that there was a difference between Israelis and Jews.
Few years later, I?ve grown up and realized that these cartoons are sensitive. I stopped drawing similar cartoons since a long period but unfortunately, the old ones remained published in different websites.I think that there are misconception in explanation and understanding these cartoons, In the fact, I’m not (anti Semitic and anti Jewish)…

I appreciated very much the nomination to travel to USA to meet and learn from people from a different culture especially that I spent all my life in Gaza.

Only as I have gotten older and have studied the issue have I learned to distinguish between Israel and Jews–and of course, having the opportunity to visit the US would give me another way to further learn about and get more perspective about the world, to further improve my ability to express myself and my views through my cartoons…

[end quote]

Given this statement, the obvious disagreements about interpreting some of these cartoons, and the fact that he has renounced the cartoons, I think it’s unfair to label him as “an anti-Semitic cartoonist” as the title of this post implies. Alan?

Moreover, even if he committed some youthful mistakes (dude is in his mid-20s and grew up in Gaza!), it seems to me that it’s better to let him come to the US so he’ll go back with a better understanding of Americans instead of growing more embittered as he’s stuck in Gaza. He’s obviously desperate to come here and learn, and it serves the interests of peace to let him do so.

#9 Terry LaBan
@ 8:28 am

@Jen Again, I don’t think this guy should be barred from the US because he scrawled out the kind of images(I hesitate to honor them with the title “cartoons”) you see on walls all over the Middle East (though usually of better quality). But how can he defend them by saying he drew them 5 years ago? The figure in the first one is, if I’m not mistaken, Obama. Unless Badra is a way better prophet than he is a cartoonist, he would not have portrayed Obama as representing the US in 2006.

I’m glad Badra feels sorry he drew this stuff, but within the context they were made, they are clearly both antiIsrael and antiSemitic, and their intended audience would have understood them that way. Of course, there’s a difference between Jews and the State of Israel. But it’s more important to those who excuse images like this than to those who make them.

#10 Mike Flugennock
@ 3:31 pm

I haven’t seen Badra’s work, so I can’t comment on it, but upon hearing the news of his “disinvitation”, I was not surprised — but still disgusted — at the State Department’s continued kowtowing to the Israeli government. Even more offensive is the Daily Cartoonist’s toeing the official US media line by branding Badra’s work as “anti-Semetic”.

About five years ago, I was one of six American cartoonists to participate in the Holocaust-themed cartoon competition and exhibit sponsored by the Iranian daily Hamshahri, submitting this cartoon:

This piece was drawn shortly after the Israeli brutality committed in the Palestinian towns of Ramallah and Jenin. Anyone with half a brain could see that it specifically questioned Israeli government policy and its leadership, and contained absolutely no denigration of Jews or Judaism — and yet I was astonished at the number of Zionist and pro-Israel right-wing media crawling out from under their rocks to screech their brains out about my “anti-Semetic” cartoon. If anything, it was proof that said Zionists and pro-Israeli State right-wingers cared not about anti-Jewish bigotry, but everything about silencing critics of the Israeli occupation and war crimes in Palestine.

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