Retraction of cartoon censors legitimate criticism, ignores anti-Semitic aspect of cartoon

letter to the editor
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Shortly after Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz spoke on campus, The Daily Californian published a political cartoon criticizing his support of Israeli human rights abuses. In an editor’s note, the Daily Cal originally wrote, “The artist’s intent was to argue that (Dershowitz’s) recent lecture at UC Berkeley were (sic) hypocritical.” Following a flurry of accusations that the cartoon was anti-Semitic, however, the Daily Cal retracted the cartoon and removed the image from the publication’s website. So, was this cartoon a legitimate critique, or not?

The cartoon was mostly a legitimate critique. One aspect of the depiction, however — Dershowitz’s positioning as a spider — was unmeritorious of publication, given that this echoes anti-Semitic propaganda depicting Jews as dehumanized insects.

The cartoon appears to make these points:

Dershowitz is putting on a show in an attempt to convince his audience that Israel is a liberal state, which is the false self Israel tries to project to liberal college campuses through, for example, pinkwashing. Israel, however, is in fact an egregious human rights abuser, including Israeli Defense Forces’ brutality against innocent and underage Palestinians, assassinations and collective punishment and oppression. Dershowitz is hypocritically complicit in and an enabler of Israeli human rights abuses by distorting reality in his public argument for Israel as a “liberal” state while defending and refusing to condemn Israeli human rights abuses.

The above are fair and accurate criticisms of Dershowitz based on his record.

But Dershowitz’s body is illustrated as arachnid. The Third Reich’s propaganda machine depicted Jews as insects, as members of Bears for Israel point out in their letter to the editor. In its retraction, the Daily Cal states, “We are ensuring that a detailed knowledge of the history of harmful visual propaganda becomes an integral part of how we train our staff.”

Political cartoons that overlap in unnecessary ways with historical anti-Semitic propaganda are at the least insensitive and could be labeled as crossing the line into anti-Semitism. Although we might assume Joel Mayorga, the cartoonist who drew Dershowitz as a spider, is guilty of historical ignorance, not intentional anti-Semitism, historical ignorance is no defense for the editors who published the piece.

According to an article in the Daily Cal, Mayorga said, “No matter how I drew him, the anti-Semitic card would have been thrown. When anybody tries to call out Zionism or military policy, the anti-Semite card is always thrown to delegitimize those critiques.” Mayorga is right, in that Israel’s apologists usually label any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. And usually, these charges are canards.

Given the benefit of historical education, however, redesigning the image so that Dershowitz is portrayed in human form would be all that’s needed to remove any implication of actual anti-Semitism. Imagine Dershowitz as a giant –– say, 26 feet tall, the same height as Israel’s imposing apartheid and land confiscation wall –– who is still crushing a Palestinian with one foot and holding up an IDF soldier who assassinates a Palestinian civilian. This design would emphasize Dershowitz’s outsize and privileged power to persuade the public of a false reality.

Some critics, such as UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, claim the violent elements of the image perpetuate the blood libel myth. I disagree. Dershowitz has metaphorical “blood on his hands” — culpability — as a result of his discourse, which shields Israel from appropriate forms of condemnation and sanction in the court of public opinion. Dershowitz’s pro-Israel propaganda is gaslighting writ large. Israeli soldiers who murder unarmed and innocent civilians, in addition to underage Palestinians, should not be immune from being the subject of political cartoons that depict these atrocities simply because of the past history of the blood libel myth, and neither should a Jewish professor who defends Israeli atrocities.

Put another way, the “blood on his hands” imagery was necessary to make the point about Dershowitz’s culpability, and it therefore cannot be called anti-Semitic. On the other hand, Dershowitz being drawn as a spider was unnecessary.

The Daily Californian’s retraction was an abdication of its responsibility to defend the legitimate aspects of the cartoon. It wrote: “The cartoon depicted Alan Dershowitz presenting as he crouched on a stage, with his body behind a cardboard cutout labeled ‘The Liberal Case for Israel.’ Dershowitz was drawn with twisted limbs. His foot was crushing a Palestinian person; placed in his hand was a depiction of an IDF soldier next to someone the soldier had shot.”

Notably, the retraction doesn’t state the one and only element of the cartoon that could truly be considered a reflection of anti-Semitic propaganda: Dershowitz’s arachnid form. ‘Twisted limbs’ is not the same as insect. The insect aspect, which is dehumanization, was the problem. On the other hand, Dershowitz’s foot crushing a Palestinian and his holding of an IDF soldier who had shot a Palestinian were fair criticisms. Israel’s apologists intimidated the Daily Cal into retracting the entire cartoon, including the aspects of it that represented legitimate criticism. Furthermore, the Daily Cal seems unaware of the difference between actual anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israel, which it conflates in the retraction.

Mayorga said he “disagreed with the retraction and that he felt censored.” I would like to see the Daily Cal invite Mayorga to publish a revised, non-spider-Dershowitz cartoon, still with blood on the professor’s hands, and stand behind it. Actual Palestinians, who are actually suffering and dying as a result of intentional Israeli atrocities, should be the primary concern of the editor, not the bruised ego of a privileged professor who is culpable for the perpetuation of such atrocities.

Matthew Taylor is a Jewish UC Berkeley alum with a B.A. in peace and conflict studies.

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  • ChuSez

    Anti semitism, alive and well at the Daily Californian.

    Go join the alt right.

  • disqus_5YMfqh8A6z


    I read your OpEd and was struck by the lack of intellectual rigor and thoughtful analysis of the situation. While criticism of Israel is completely valid and a part of democratic discourse, your piece lacked credibility because its assertions were not supported by the facts. It also suffered from the sin of omission. Are you interested in learning more about the situation or is your mind set?

  • Anne

    I call bullshit on Matthew Taylor even being Jewish. He’s got a first name from the New Testament and a last name that isn’t even remotely Jewish. I’m guessing he’s another one of these guys who’s got a Jewish great grandfather and figures that makes him an authority on the subject.

  • Ranger82

    Mr. Taylor, Have you ever been to Israel or Palestine? If you have, were you not looking around? I mean you no offense, but I do believe that you need to look around a bit more if you really think that what you are writing is factual and not biased. I care not what funny words, happy phrases, or PC things that you want to print that make you seem like you are an informed and educated observer. I have been there. I have seen the truth of what is factual and what is propaganda. If you think that the “Jews” are so bad, just ask yourself this question: What would the Palestinians do to you if they had their choice? You need to wake up. Sorry if I am the guy that is shaking you….

  • greenman7612

    There must be some intelligence at Cal Berkeley but damn if I can find it! Shear stupidity.

  • Tekyo Pantzov

    In my view the issue of anti-Semitism is actually irrelevant to the Middle East conflict. I am no great fan of Israel myself. If I support Israel it is because Israel is the west’s first line of defense against reactionary Islamic ideology, which for the last 40 years has been expanding and threatening the rest of the world.
    The worst terrorist outrages that ever occurred in Argentina were the bombings committed in the 1990s by Hezbollah at the behest of the Iranian theocracy. Currently Turkey – an aggressive Islamic power allied with Hamas — has the largest army in Europe and is feuding with Holland. If your Google account is in Turkish, Google Translator refuses to translate into and from Dutch.
    This kind of truculent and chauvinist behavior is typical of Islamists despite their claims to universalism.
    In “Understanding Terrorism” (2006), Gus Martin names the precipitating causes for the modern resurgence of the armed and radical jihadi movements worldwide:
    (1) the revolutionary ideals and ideology of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and
    (2) the practical application of jihad against the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan (Martin, 2006, 188).
    As long as Islamic expansionism and jihadism continue, there can be no question of giving in to Palestinian demands.

  • Dan Spitzer

    Alan Dershowitz wrote a rejoinder to Taylor’s sewage and the Daily Cal editors flat out refused to print it. So much for their “apology” for the anti-Semitic cartoon and promise to be more sensitive to Jewish concerns. Ditto the editors’ commitment to free and unbiased speech.

  • Calabasas Guy

    If you’re so against “censorship”, why don’t you ask The Daily Californian to publish Alan Dershowitz’s response to your article? By the way, Dershowitz didn’t want the The Daily Californian to retract the cartoon, he wanted it there because it does a great job reinforcing the antisemitism and anti-Israel bias that is rampant at Cal.

  • Miami Beach Vice

    The leftist “Jew” always takes the anti Israel position as it wants to curry favor with the Islamofascists and Regressive leftists in order to be loved and gain position. Never a peep about Islamists oppressing women, Christians, gays, minorities, journalists. They remind me of the “jews” who tried to work with the Nazis in the 30’s. True sickos.

  • Arafat

    In his History of the Jews in Christian Spain Yitzhak Baer tells us that Abner of Burgos, the apostate cited at the beginning of this essay, not only devised a plan for terrorizing and destroying the Jews which “the enemies of Israel were to carry out in its entirety in the year 1391.” “The aging fanatical apostate who wrote these diatribes,” Baer adds,” launched his holy war himself, not only in words but also in deed.” But our new apostates need not work so hard: they can rest content with being accessories to, rather than perpetrators of, murder. The machinery for destruction of the state of Israel is already in place. It exists not only in Iran, whose leaders explicitly call for wiping Israel off the map with nuclear weapons that they are now almost certain to obtain. The neighbors of this tiny country would be delighted to see it reduced to sandy wastes, as would countless citizens of the Dark Continent (Europe, that is) who cannot forgive the Jews for the Holocaust. If many Iranians and Europeans still deny there was a Holocaust, that is because, as the courageous German scholar Matthias Kuntzel has observed: “Every denial of the Holocaust contains an appeal to repeat it.” The BDSers may be obtuse, craven, morally bankrupt; but they would also have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to recognize the link between their efforts and the murderous intentions of those who regret the Holocaust only because—for a time—it gave antisemitism a bad name.

    There is yet one more calamity that has been brought closer by the reckless Jewish promoters of BDS, a calamity that one might have expected at least the Jewish Studies professors among them to think about for just a moment. “In only one respect,” wrote Hillel Halkin in 2007, “are things [now] worse. In the 1930’s the Jews were a people that had lost a first temple and a second one; yet as frightful as their next set of losses was to be, they did not have a third temple to risk. Today, they do. And in Jewish history, three strikes and you’re out.”

  • Lester Stkl

    Having graduated from Cal w an AB and JD I feel ashamed at what this once great University has become. Notably it has been hijacked by a small group of leftists who despise Israel. The truth is that there is a great silent majority of students who abhor all the leftist nonsense and Jew hating. Yet the administration acts slovenly. Well one think I have done is cut all donations to Cal. Sorry and say good bye to over $10 million over the last 12 years. I am done w the school. Matt Taylor should be accountable.

    • Arafat

      I wish I could agree with you. Matthew is a coward and like all cowards is in the majority.

      This university has been at the forefront in the propaganda war against Israel and it is little wonder Matthew feels right at home here, so much so, that he wrote and published this article in the People’s Republic of Daily Californian.

    • Ranger82

      For my part Lester, I am sorry that this is how a great school has evolved. Maybe devolved is a better way to describe what has happened there.
      Fortunately, there are many worthy places where your donations can and will do some good, and I am certain that you will find the ones that you feel are the best place for your hard earned money. I feel your pain.

  • ModernMaccabi

    Mathew Taylor is the Jewish version of an Uncle Tom. Period. His letter is filled with lies and anti-Israeli propaganda that is not based on actual facts. Disgusting.

    He also appears to be an environmental extremist who was arrested during a protest in support of “tree sitters” at Berkeley in 2008.

  • Jaxter

    Even more horrifying than the anti-Semitic cartoon depiction of Dershowitz, is the ignorant bias and uninformed claptrap coming from another supposedly educated Jew, Matthew Taylor. The critics must be right….the shameful lack of education on US campuses today should be considered a national crisis…and oh yes, Taylor’s degree in peace and conflict studies is worth about as much as a degree from the National Enquirer.

  • SMF

    Taylor writes an interesting response to a sophomoric and truly meaningless cartoon. The issue at hand is that Taylor is a liar; and truly ignorant of anything other than PLO propaganda regarding Israel. The fact that a million muslim or christian Arabs are Israeli citizens, and have the Freedom to leave Israel..and Don’t…… prima facie evidence that Taylor in current parlance is FOS. The PLO and Hamas have chosen war with Israel over peace for 70 years……until that choice changes, there will be little different. After all, the territorial claims of the PLO today were all in their possession between 1948-1967……..and the Arabs chose war….and LOST.

  • Albert

    As a Holocaust survivor I had to learn what Jew hating Antisemitism looks like. You are a genuine Antisemite.

    • Arafat

      I feel sorry for Mattew when I read his so
      called moderation. With due respect, he has the typical historical Jewish
      minority, “PLEASE LIKE ME” complex and it is so pitiful to read.

      Throughout Jewish History especially in Nazi
      Germany there were those Jews who begged to be accepted and liked by the host
      country’s people. “Like me and I will eat ham for you on Yom Kippur. Like
      me and I will put up a Christmas tree and call it a Hanukah Bush, like me and I
      will only pray one day a week, Sunday if you wish (the early German Reformed
      Jews), etc.” The first Jews to be gassed by Hitler were those Reformers
      (“please like me…”) who were viewed as a major threat by Hitler and
      his Jew hating Nazis.

      Fast forward to today: Here he is
      apologizing for Israel who is expected to live a double standard. Never mind
      the rockets and atrocities implemented by the Palestine people. If you read
      your history parts of Jordan are supposed to include part of Palestine–the
      world has convenient amnesia with this one. In the meantime here he is with
      his “please like me” attitude and no matter what he does they are NOT
      going to like him. He can stand on his head, eat ham and cheese sandwiches and
      they are still going to hate him because hi is a Jew, period!

      Matthew look in the mirror and accept that you are a
      Jew. Say it to yourself over and over and perhaps YOU can accept YOURSELF.
      Remember, if Israel disappears (the Jewish Host country) there IS NO place for
      American Jews or the World Jewish community to go in the event of another
      pogrom, anti-Semitic uprising or Holocaust. If there is another anti-Semitic
      uprising you are a Jew to these people no matter how much you apologize or try
      to appease them.

  • Cam

    I agree the retraction censors legitimate criticism. Mr.Mayorga says that no matter what, even if he didn’t draw Mr. Dershowitz as a spider, the anti-semite card would be thrown. Interesting poker tell; Mr. Mayorga thinks he knows how Jews are going to react no matter what he does.

  • Helen4Yemen

    The expression of “anti-Semite” or “antisemitism” makes no sense since no Ashkenazi is a Semite.

    • Nunya Beeswax

      Yes, and the name of the NSDAP proves that Hitler was a socialist, and therefore a left-winger.


    • cattrebuchet

      it’s surprising how few people know this, but all ethnic Jews (yes, even Ashkenazim) have a shared genetic ancestry originating in the Middle East. Hebrew and Aramaic are Semitic languages. Furthermore, the term “antisemitism” was specifically invented to sound more scientific than the previous term, “judenhass” (jew-hate), by people who hated Jews and wanted to legitimize their beliefs, so whether or not Jews are really “semites” is irrelevant. Unless you already knew that and just wanted to derail :)

      • Helen4Yemen

        Larry David = 97.7% Ashkenazi

        Bernie Sanders = 97.8% Ashkenazi

        The only cousin of an Ashkenazi is another Ashkenazi. It is amazing how the DNA results of the Ashkenazi are almost identical to one another. Watch this video the moment when Larry David and Bernie Sanders were told they are cousins.

  • rab

    Why was my comment not approved? Was there something false there?

    • rab

      Everything in my comment was factual and fair. It was a direct response to Taylor’s piece. Of what are you afraid, Daily Cal editors?

      • rab

        Oh well, I thought another editor would come along and reinstate my critique of this deeply-confused article, but I guess not. The short version is: this is nonsense, replete with many of the same ridiculous claims against Israel and its supporters that pollute anti-Israel activism (I’d call it “pro-Palestinian” but these folks don’t seem to care about Palestinians, just attacking Israel). I’d explain why again, but the editors didn’t let it through last time, so just assume it’s such a devastatingly effective argument, they’re afraid to let it be seen. And no, dear editors, just because it’s critical of the author, that is no more a violation of your comment policy than the manner of his attack on Dershowitz.

        • Cam

          I wish I had seen it.