Skip navigation

Category Archives: Cartoons


Source: Rafael Medoff, The Daily Beast, January 26, 2016

Just in time for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Iranian government has announced that it will be holding another “Holocaust Cartoons Contest,” in which the cartoonist who most viciously mocks the Nazi genocide will be awarded $50,000. It may be tempting to dismiss such Iranian mischief as harmless foolishness, but Tehran’s hateful contest reminds us that political cartoons increasingly are recognized as powerful instruments of influence.

A cartoon in the New York World played a crucial role in the outcome of the 1884 U.S. presidential race: The Democrats plastered Walt McDougall’s send-up of Republican candidate James Blaine on thousands of billboards across the state, helping to deliver hotly contested New York to Democrat Grover Cleveland (he won the state by just 1,100 votes). In the early 1900s, politicians in several states were so stung by cartoonists’ barbs that they introduced legislation to limit what cartoonists were allowed to draw; in Pennsylvania, for example, the governor initiated a bill to stop cartoonists from portraying elected officials as birds or other animals.

In the 1930s, the Hitler regime used cartoons to incite hatred of Germany’s Jews. The leading Nazi propaganda organ, the weekly newspaper Der Sturmer, was filled with vicious caricatures of Jews as vampires, insects, and especially as sexual defilers of German women. A typical cartoon would feature a huge, leering spider with a Jewish face attempting to ensnare an innocent German maiden, or a swarthy Jewish doctor hovering over a sedated, half-dressed female German patient.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently released a brief YouTube video comparing the anti-Jewish stereotypes in some contemporary Palestinian cartoons to the images used by Hitler. While one should always be cautious about making comparisons to the Nazis, it certainly was disturbing to see a recent cartoon on a Palestinian Authority website showing a leering, hook-nosed Israeli soldier, beginning to disrobe while pinning down a weeping Muslim woman wearing a headdress representing Jerusalem’s most famous mosque. The caption read: “Al Aqsa is Being Raped.”

Israeli officials contend that the recent wave of Palestinian stabbings and car-ramming attacks has been inspired in part by Palestinian political cartoons portraying such violence as heroic and encouraging young Palestinians to use knives and automobiles as weapons.

The best-known examples of the link between cartoons and violence are not the cartoons urging readers to take up arms, but rather the cartoons that were met by violent Muslim protests. These include the riots following the 2006 publication by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of cartoons depicting Muhammad; the 2015 massacre of the staff of the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, which had published Muhammad cartoons; and last year’s terrorist attack on a Texas event that was showcasing caricatures of Muhammad.

Such violence has had a chilling effect in some quarters. The editors at Yale University Press in 2009 removed all the Muhammad cartoon images from a book they published about the cartoon controversy. Several prominent cartoonists, including Garry Trudeau (“Doonesbury”) have asserted that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons about Muhammad were the equivalent of “hate speech.”

But even if that characterization were accurate, the fact is that in America, hate speech is legal. The possibility that someone’s words may offend is no reason to muzzle the speaker. The right to offend is part of the right to free speech. And frankly, offending people is practically the raison d’être of political cartoonists.

That does not mean that every political cartoon deserves the Housekeeping Seal of Approval. It means that it is up to editors to decide if a cartoon is so tasteless that it should not be published. And it is up to readers to decide if they dislike a particular cartoonist so much that they do not want to purchase that newspaper.

Of course there are different reasons people may take offense at a cartoon. Many people were troubled recently when a cartoon in The Washington Post depicted the young children of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz as trained monkeys; there is a general consensus in the political world that candidates’ children should be off-limits. The Post apologized and pulled the cartoon.

But sometimes cartoons that at first glance appear to be tasteless, may not actually be. Charlie Hebdo last week published a cartoon that many interpreted as suggesting that the drowned Syrian refugee boy, had he lived, would have grown up to sexually harass women. Some pundits, however, understood that cartoon to be mocking opponents of Muslim refugee immigration—similar in spirit to the famous 2008 New Yorker cover depicting Barack Obama as a Muslim and Michelle Obama as an armed revolutionary. That cartoon was intended as a comment on how some of the Obamas’ opponents perceived them.

The vigorous reaction and debate over such cartoons is precisely what one would expect in a free society. In Iran, by contrast, the only kind of political cartoons that can be published without the cartoonist being imprisoned are those which the regime approves—for example, cartoons denying the Holocaust or comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Here in America, we ensure cartoonists’ freedom to skewer hypocritical politicians or antagonize interest groups by guaranteeing their right to irritate or offend. And if they cross the line into the realm of tastelessness, then the natural forces of reason and taste usually serve as a counter.

This informal system of checks and balances has served cartoonists, editors, and the public well since our country’s earliest days. No doubt totalitarian regimes will continue to use cartoons to advance their aims, because they know that cartoons are powerful instruments of persuasion. But for that same reason, free societies must continue protecting the right of cartoonists to compete, unrestrained, in the marketplace of ideas.



Source: Matt Schiavenza, The Atlantic, January 31, 2015

Charlie Hebdo‘s decision to put a drawing of a weeping Muhammad on the cover of its latest issue, the edition published after gunmen massacred 12 at its Paris office, has sparked widespread protests throughout Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. But two cultural institutions within Iran have expressed their displeasure in a different way: The House of Cartoon and the Sarcheshmeh Cultural Complex announced last Saturday that they will hold an international cartoon contest centered on the theme of Holocaust denial. The winner of the contest will receive a cash prize and will have his work displayed in the Palestine Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran.

This isn’t the first time Iran has held this contest. After the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Postenspublished cartoons depicting Muhammad in 2005, the two organizers held the first International Holocaust Cartoon contest, attracting over 1,200 submissions from around the world. The entries selected for recognition took two basic editorial positions. The first was that the Holocaust didn’t happen at all. And the second was that even if it did, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is hardly better. The first prize went to a Moroccan cartoonist named Abdellah Derkaoui, whose drawing featured an Israeli crane constructing a wall around Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. A concentration camp is painted on the wall.

The purpose of the contest, according to the organizers, is to highlight Western hypocrisy over the value of free speech. Following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, people around the world expressed solidarity through the ubiquitous “Je Suis Charlie” slogan, indicating a defense of the newspaper’s right to satirize religious piety. Critics of the newspaper, though, pointed out that Muslims weren’t offended by Charlie Hebdo‘s irreverent speech. They were instead insulted that white Parisians mocked religious values held by France’s immigrant population, a group that has long been marginalized within French society. And according to Massoud Shojai Tabatabai, one of the organizers of the 2006 conference, the Western commitment to free speech doesn’t always include denying the Holocaust, which remains a criminal offense in countries like Austria.

“Why is it acceptable in Western countries to draw any caricature of the Prophet Mohammed, yet as soon as there are any questions or doubts raised about the Holocaust, fines and jail sentences are handed down?” Tabatabai told The Observer that year.

But there’s a difference between drawing an offensive caricature and participating in the negation of an established historical fact. And while Holocaust denial didn’t begin with Iran, Tehran’s contribution to the practice has been especially shameful. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president from 2005 to 2013, claimed that the Holocaust was a “myth” designed to protect the existence of Israel. In 2006, the year of the first cartoon contest, Tehran sponsored an international conference to “review the global vision of the Holocaust.” Ahmadinejad’s successor Hassan Rouhani acknowledged and condemned the Holocaust upon taking office in 2013, but neither he nor his suave, U.S.-educated Foreign Minister Mohammed Javed Zarif have expressed regret for their country’s role in its denial. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and the man who controls the country’s foreign policy, has called the Holocaust a “distorted historical event.”

Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest arrives amid worsening anti-Semitism across Europe. In France, Jewish people comprise 1 percent of the population—yet they are the victims of almost 40 percent of all hate crimes in the country. Jewish community leaders say that nearly 100,000 French Jews have left the country since 2010, and many more have made plans to follow them. Two days after theCharlie Hebdo attacks triggered international outrage over terror attacks on free speech, Amedy Coulibaly took several hostages inside a Jewish grocery store. Six died, Coulibaly included, when police raided the store.

The Iranians who organized the cartoon contest believe that shunning Holocaust denial means Western commitment to free speech is shallow. The real hypocrisy, though, is that by the deliberate offense of the world’s Jewish population, the cartoonists are mocking a group that in many ways is as threatened and marginalized as they are.


Source:, January 23, 2015

An Italian artist and activist has ‘Simpsonised’ the Holocaust in a series of unsettling cartoons.

aleXsandro Palombo redrew the beloved Simpson characters as Jews in Auschwitz to mark the 70th anniversary of the concentration camp’s liberation.

He said the project, called ‘Never Again’, is “an invitation to reflection, an artwork to raise awareness, an indictment against intolerance, a punch to inhumanity.”

One image shows Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie emaciated in a gas chamber, while another has the cartoon family looking dejected behind a barbed wire fence.

“We must educate the new generations and tell them what happened. We have to do it without filters, bluntly, over and over again, through the memory of facts and terrifying images that reflect the horror of the Holocaust and the extermination of millions of human beings,” the satirical artist explained.


Palombo continued: “Only the awareness of the horror of that period can create the anticorps to prevent anti-Semitism to spread again. Auschwitz-Birkenau is the symbol of this inhumane delirium, the industry of death. It is only through memory that we are able to fight racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and all forms of intolerance that threaten the society, our the freedom and the respect for all diversity.”

This is not the first time Palombo has redrawn The Simpsons or other popular cartoons to make a political statement.

In November, the artist redrew famous female animated characters, including Marge Simpson, as domestic violence victims for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Graphic illustrations of characters such as Snow White, Ariel and Cinderella with bloodied, bruised faces being bashed by their partners went viral.

In the aftermath of this month’s Charlie Hebdo massacre, Palombo shared numerous political cartoons supporting the victims as well as freedom of speech.


Source: Sylviane Gold, The New York Times, January 18, 2013

It may take a village to raise a child, but what does it take to ensure that that child grows up to respect people raised in different ways by other villages? “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust,” an exhibition combining the efforts of a Westchester County high school and two nonprofit organizations, in White Plains and Washington, suggests a history lesson.

Created in Washington by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, brought to Westchester by the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center and installed at the Museum of Arts and Culture in New Rochelle High School’s new wing, “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust” merits its subtitle, “Art in the Service of Humanity.”

The title itself, however, is a bit of a misnomer. The cartoon reproductions in this small, eye-opening show are not decrying the crimes of the Third Reich. And let’s face it: Holocaust deniers notwithstanding, most of us, even the students who will be visiting the exhibition as part of their course work, don’t need to be told that the Nazis were evil. The cartoonists represented here were, rather, using their art to cajole, embarrass and pillory the politicians in London and Washington who failed to help save Jewish lives when they had the opportunity.

There was the infamous episode of the St. Louis, the stranded German passenger ship whose 900-plus refugees had to return to Europe after being refused entry to the New World, first by Cuba and then by the United States. There was Britain’s unrelenting opposition to opening Palestine to fleeing European Jews. There were international conferences about the Jewish plight that resulted in much talk and no action.

These cartoonists took umbrage. Some, including The New York Post’s Stan MacGovern, responded with simple, scathing images, like the one he drew in 1944, after the Nazis started deporting Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. With the walls of Jerusalem in the distance, a pathetic figure on all fours representing “500,000 Jews in Hungary” reaches desperately for the Palestine visas in the pocket of John Bull’s tailcoat, while a ribbon marked “Delay” drapes the Englishman’s wrists and he says, “Sorry, my hands are tied.”

Other examples are equally blunt but display more finesse in the drawing. In Fred L. Packer’s “Ashamed,” published in The New York Daily Mirror in June 1939, as the trapped passengers of the St. Louis were making headlines, the Statue of Liberty averts her gaze from a refugee ship steaming away from the New York skyline, turned away by the enormous “Keep Out” sign hanging from her torch.

There are also cartoons that serve not just to make a political point but also to display the academic training and sheer artistry of the draftsman, like Arthur Szyk’s “Palestine Restricted” (1944). With a crowd of Jews trapped in front of a locked gate as a Nazi vulture attacks, it isn’t that different in content from the Packer and the MacGovern cartoons. But visually, its ornate composition, rich detailing and haunted faces have more in common with a Rembrandt etching.

Another exquisitely drawn work by Szyk, who arrived in the United States from Poland in 1940, shows Hitler meeting with Himmler, Goering and Goebbels to complain that they are running out of Jews to murder. In a heart-rending postscript, Szyk penciled in a dedication to one of the Polish victims of the genocide: his mother.

Both Szyk cartoons appeared in the New York newspaper PM, a reminder that once upon a time in America, publications like PM and Ken magazine proudly proclaimed their leftist politics in words and pictures. Eric Godal’s sharp line found its way into both journals, deriding oblivious bureaucrats in the State Department in PM in 1943 and, in Ken in 1938, evoking the long history of anti-Semitism with an overhead view of an itinerant Jew straddling a map of Europe.

But mainstream publications could be just as vociferous; The Christian Science Monitor’s Paul Carmack reacted to the 1938 Kristallnacht attacks in Germany with “Best Answer to Race Persecution,” making the case early and clearly for “Assistance.”

In a world where the term “ethnic cleansing” no longer elicits shock, the show offers another answer: education. Assembled by the Holocaust scholar Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute, its cartoons are part of a larger project that will present some 100 similar works in a book to be published in spring. The Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center plans to distribute the text to schools in Westchester and to train local teachers in using the cartoons in their classrooms. But the 16 cartoons in this show, open to the public during school hours whether or not the security guards at the front desk know it, are eloquent enough on their own.